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Performance jitters

Talent development is better way to assess employee strengths

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June -- it's that time of year again for report cards and performance reviews! And, if your employees are blurting out, "Ugh, oh no, not that time already" and you are seeing them physically cringe, I'd like to suggest that you might well be holding on to an outdated philosophy about employee performance management.

If that's indeed the case, then you are also more than likely applying outdated performance appraisal tools. In fact, the term performance management itself is now considered by many leaders to be old and worn out.

That's because in many cases, the concept of performance management and the performance appraisal process itself has more often than not been isolated and only loosely connected to an organization's overall business goals and objectives. In other words, employee reviews get hung up in various departments and are rarely examined from a global performance improvement perspective. Thus, sad to say, the entire practice of performance management in many organizations is being viewed as nothing more than a useless administrative exercise engineered by human resource managers.

When this approach continues to live on in an organization, employees are disconnected to the larger corporate goals and they rarely understand how their contributions are connected to business success. The result is that both managers and employees alike grow to hate and/or fear this annual process. Employees see and resent the performance review as a top-down exercise. Many managers on the other hand, often don't feel comfortable in the role of evaluators and so they will delay and then have to rush through the completion of their reviews. In either case, the review process is not a pleasant or helpful experience for all concerned.

Thankfully, the views of performance management have been changing for the better. We no longer focus on only one right way to do things; instead, we encourage employees to be creative, to challenge the status quo and to recommend improvements. We strive to create self-motivation and team collaboration rather than the suffering created under the old-fashioned, command and control management approach. Finally, we are now turning our attention away from the term performance management and focusing instead on talent development.

As a result, leaders are paying more attention to the importance of clearly linking their talent development (performance management) to business goals and objectives. They now clearly see that employee performance has both elements of risk and reward. For instance, if employees are not engaged in doing the right tasks at the right time but instead are engaged in unauthorized or unnecessary actions, then the risk to strategic business objectives is increased.

One of the results of the focus on talent development has been the creation of new tools for the performance appraisal process. In particular, the application of competencies within the performance appraisal format has proven to be very effective not only from an appraisal perspective but also from a developmental perspective.

The difference between the competency model and the old appraisal format is that each of the areas being rated are clearly defined and accompanied by clear descriptions. Each competency outlines cumulative proficiency-oriented descriptions for each job level ranging from entry level to those of more complexity and of a longer time frame. Formats typically include four to five levels for each competency.

In my view, the competency-based performance appraisal format offers a number of benefits for both employees and employers. First of all, the strategy is future oriented and focused on employee development. From the employee perspective, the progressive list of competencies helps them to identify the exact behaviours or competencies they need to develop. They can easily see the progression required in skill development to move from one job to another. They can use these competency maps to help guide their career.

From a corporate perspective, a comprehensive vocabulary list that outlines the behaviours for each level of each job category throughout the organization creates a solid, consistent framework for managers to work with. It's a big picture approach that helps managers to more effectively understand the role their employees play in overall success and to develop them for the future. Now these managers can focus on the how of performance and not just the what. Overall, the competency-based performance tool allows managers to do their job better.

While I strongly believe that the competency-based performance system is the way to go, there's work to be done in order to get there. The first step is to identify the competencies required for superior performance in each job in your organization. This is called competency mapping. There are several methods for accomplishing this task. The first and most thorough approach is called job analysis, which could include a questionnaire, interviews with ideal employees and/or a panel of technical experts who will examine jobs and create behavioural competencies for each level of each job category. While this is the most thorough and accurate approach, it is time consuming.

A second approach is to utilize an off the shelf set of competencies that have been developed by various researchers. These are a general set of competencies accompanied by licensing requirements that in turn typically adds an annual rather than one-time cost. Organizations are implementing the exact competencies outlined by their vendor and/or they are customizing them as required. Still others turn to Internet research and simply adapt competency lists.

The challenge with any of these off the shelf approaches is that the internal facilitators rarely test them against the reality of the organization. While this approach may quick start a competency strategy in your organization, it is rarely accurate and so you may well be focusing all of your hiring and development on inappropriate competencies.

Implementing a competency approach is not a singular program but a journey that results in the integration of all elements of your people management framework. The competency-based performance review process will then become a powerful and key instrument through which you can establish your talent development strategies. Employees and managers alike will be able to shake off that old fear and hesitation and welcome a positive discussion that focuses on the future.

Barbara J. Bowes, FCHRP. CMC, CCP is president of Legacy Bowes Group. She can be reached at barb@legacybowes.com

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 1, 2013 H1

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