October 26, 2008

Why conversation trumps "Performance Management"

I hear it time and time again. People lamenting over the lack of open conversation and trust with their managers. Sometimes you hear someone say...."I used to have a great relationship with my manager, but I have a new person and rapport is not so good...." or "I left my job because my manager was impossible. I just couldn't get through to him..".

It is a serious and persistent problem which ostensibly has an easy fix. But I guess if the fix was easy, the problem wouldn't persist.

Companies of any size now implement sophisticated performance management systems to improve the performance of their employees. These are important (I think). Well, OK, they help. But the bottom line is this: if a manager cannot have a direct and sensitive conversation with his/her direct reports and build the kind of trust that is needed for effective team and individual productivity, then the performance management system is window dressing. I've seen it. You have probably seen it. Anonymous surveys confirm this. Yet somehow, we seem unable to fix the problem.

I firmly believe that it is the Manager's responsibility to build that trust and open communication and that is true at every level of the organization from the Executive ranks to front-line supervisors. There is a power differential between a Manager and his/her direct reports. As a Manager, you cannot expect your staff to be open and honest with you unless you take responsibility for setting the tone, especially as they know you have the power to "hire and fire".

What do we need? Managers, as well as all of us, need to learn how to talk with one another. How to listen effectively. How to develop self-awareness, so we know when we are alienating those with whom we are trying to connect; how to balance assertive and accommodative communication; how to resolve conflicts in a win-win way. These are the things that will build trust, increase employee morale and improve productivity.

But first, we must somehow be convinced that something as simple as learning to communicate effectively is worth the attention, time and money we pay to sophisticated performance management systems.

Now that is the real challenge !

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