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Fixing What's Broken: Inspiring Employee Performance

Fixing What's Broken: Inspiring Employee Performance

Webcast Details

  • Gallup Called to Coach Webcast Series
  • Season 7, Episode 17
  • Learn from Dr. Ben Wigert how a performance development approach differs from and provides better workplace results than traditional performance management does.

On a recent Called to Coach, we spoke with Dr. Ben Wigert, Director of Research and Strategy at Gallup, about performance management and Gallup's Re-Engineering Performance Management paper, of which Ben was the lead author. Ben discussed feedback, goal-setting and performance reviews, among other elements of traditional performance management approaches, and how they differ from a performance development approach.

Our guest host was Mike McDonald, Senior Workplace Consultant at Gallup.

Below is a summary of the conversation. Full audio and video are posted above.

[4:34] Mike McDonald: So let's start off with this first data point of 27. Coaches, the first data point of 27% represents the fact that when we ask the population inside this research a question, "The feedback I receive helps me do my work better," only 27% were able to strongly agree with that question.

So, Ben, right out of the gate, we've already opened up a huge gap, and I was thinking, How did we get here? How, with all of these well-intended efforts, did we arrive at 27%? It's almost like we were trying to do it poorly, and this is the outcome we were hoping for. What's the context around 27%?

Ben Wigert: This is where we would say, we know the practice of management in most organizations is pretty broken. And like you said, performance management has always been very well-intended to bring objectivity to measurement of performance, in order to create accountability. It's been intended to bring objectivity in equitable ways to pay people. So the idea has always been good, but the problem is people have been really focused on that evaluation and pay piece, which takes the focus very far from everyday performance, everyday collaboration, recognition and development.

So it takes us far from what we really need to do in our jobs every single day. And just to underscore that a little more, I'm going to add my own data points because that's what I do. So this doesn't count against my four (total data points for the podcast). But only about 14% of people feel like they're inspired by their current performance management system. And astoundingly, 95% of managers are also not happy with their performance management system.

To even take it to one more level, managers are even less happy with their own performance reviews than their employees are: About 8% of managers are inspired by their performance reviews. So if you leave it up to the system itself, that's why we're looking at this 27% number of only receiving meaningful feedback that often. Essentially it's because the context isn't there to give good feedback, when we're focused on goals that are set at the beginning of the year, and evaluation that happens at the end. That takes us very far from managers making sure they're in tune with what employees are doing every day, and helping them teach teammates to collaborate well with one another and to continually set priorities that help us get our work done. …

Really effective managers help people understand what their expectations are, they help them continually reprioritize, and they help them make progress toward those goals, giving them recognition and development as they go.

[8:34] MM: Ben, as a senior research director for Gallup, I do want to get into this -- the word play matters. … Tell us about that shift and the reference point of performance management to performance development. I think that's key for our audience and for all of us to be thinking about as the backdrop to what each of these data points tell us and how we move forward and get better as a result. What do you notice?

BW: Sure, so a few key focal points on that shift. The traditional approach to performance management is focused on ratings, evaluation and pay, happening once or twice a year. It's focused on weaknesses and telling people what they did wrong. It's focused on cascading goals from the top down, and on the manager giving feedback or specifically telling someone what to do in a very episodic manner.

The shift from performance management to what we would call creating a culture of performance development would be a shift toward an approach that is more about ongoing expectations and priorities; it's more about individualized development and recognition; it's more about the two-way street of not cascading expectations down but also aligning them up. So you're getting employees to think about their work; how it aligns with the purpose and mission of the organization; how it relates to their team's work; how it relates to other departments' work.

You start to think of some of the biggest problems in organizations like silos -- that's fundamentally created by telling people what they're expected to do, and only rewarding them for what they need to do as an individual contributor, with no relation to what the people around them need to get done.

[10:33] MM: So Ben, let's move forward to that second data point. Because you've got a lot of momentum in where you're taking us. You've touched on a couple of data points that roll into this. But our second data point of 22 is 22% were able to strongly agree that their performance is managed in a way that motivates them.

So again, Ben, you talked about this a little earlier. I'd like to get into it singularly and intently. We think about the purpose of performance development -- there are three features that you've taught us well. One of those seems to be missing more often than the others. But would you tell us what the purpose of performance development is, and then how this data point reveals to us what's missing?

BW: Sure. That's a really good point, Mike. If you re-evaluate how you think about performance management -- performance management should equip, inspire and improve performance. Any performance activity you're doing that's not actually engaging your employees and improving performance should be done away with.

So that's your yard mark right there. If that activity is not actually equipping, inspiring and improving performance, it's not doing what it should be doing. And I'll take it one more level. What our research has very clearly shown is that if we can bring this down to establishing expectations more effectively, continually coaching on those expectations and creating accountability around expectations in a way that's more developmental, that feels more fair and accurate, that's more achievement-oriented, then we've moved the needle -- then we've actually helped people get better at their work and inspired to perform every day.

And I'll kick it up even one more level, and probably take it further than you want me to -- but it can't just be writing down expectations and setting goals. Those also have to be strengths-based and engagement-focused. So we continually have to be monitoring those.

[12:33] BW: And the reason I say that is there's a lot of good science out there that works in a silo but has not been executed well in practice. So I would call out things like smart goals and management by objectives. Goal-setting works; it absolutely does. But most people don't actually execute well in the art of goal-setting.

So when we talk about establishing expectations, for example, you can't just set a goal and see what happens. The science is very, very clear from decades of research: Those goals have to be clear, and that includes understanding the priority of those goals; they have to be collaboratively set (they involve the employee, which gets their buy-in -- this also helps you determine the appropriate type of goal to set. Goals should be dependent on the complexity of the work.

So, for example, in a more complex environment, learning goals or "do best" goals or progressive goals or stretch goals are better in those environments. In a simpler job, where we have more focused measurement, then more specific goals tied to pay can help a little bit.

But you can only get there by understanding if a goal is appropriate; if you involve the other person in setting them; and then, finally, when it comes to goal-setting, it has to be aligned to the work -- of not only yourself but the team and the organization. You should be able to connect it to the bigger picture.

And actually, the final piece beyond just goal-setting -- if you just set 'em and forget 'em, all of those other principles don't matter at all. So if you don't have the continual coaching piece on top of that and learn to talk about progress and to recognize people as they're making progress -- that's where real motivation comes from -- then you don't have anything.

So I just take it back to, there are scientific things that work, like goal-setting, but they're typically not executed very well.

Dr. Ben Wigert's Top 5 CliftonStrengths are Achiever, Strategic, Ideation, Analytical and Input.

Learn more about using CliftonStrengths to help yourself and others succeed:

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