M. Tamra Chandler, a Seattle-based consultant, has taken the time to deep dive into a broken system and figure out how to truly fix it. The result is her book, How Performance Management Is Killing Performance – and What to Do About It. Chandler is the CEO and cofounder of PeopleFirm, a rising consulting firm based in Washington State, that’s on the forefront of driving much-needed change. As she writes, it’s not only possible to custom-design a performance management system to fit your organization, that’s the only way it’s going to work.
Nothing screws up a good work environment like a periodic performance review. An atmosphere that’s creative and productive suddenly becomes shut down and stifled. Staffers who are normally buoyant and motivated lose their mojo. Affable managers tasked with conducting the appraisals turn grave.
Yet while the incredible ability of a performance review to effectively destroy performance is well known, there are few genuine alternatives out there. Which may be one reason why far too many firms still resort to this faulty method to rate workers. That includes Yahoo — whose controversial peer review system and resulting layoffs have been met with a massive lawsuit.
What’s involved in revamping performance management is no less than a three-stage commitment. It’s a big deal, and that’s the point. This is conscious performance management, not a cookie-cutter, neo-1950s approach. It takes rethinking, redesigning, and then rebooting. To make sure it’s clear, and to inspire a can-do spirit, Chandler outlines a stunningly vivid path to change. She starts with an apt takedown of the very foundation of the system, which is bound to create “distrust, disengagement, and wasted effort” from the start, as it’s flawed in eight key ways. That includes Flaw #2: “Nobody opens up with the person who pokes them in the eye.” Others are surprisingly obvious, including the basic fact that we are not machines (elaborated on, and then expanded, into two of those “fatal flaws”).
The psychology of how we process information also plays a role, as Chandler writes: we don’t remember good news the way we remember bad news. In performance reviews, that holds true as well, much to employees’ disadvantage. Moreover, we don’t work better because we’re afraid of a punishment or hoping for a reward. Given current issues trending in HR, and recent studies in what motivates us, the fact that external factors don’t drive employee engagement may not be a revelation in itself. But Chandler delineates just how this faulty assumption also forced traditional performance management to take a wrong turn. Basically, we’re using the wrong map.
What Chandler does in this book is to show us how to create a performance management system that actually drives performance. She sets us back on course, as it were, with a entirely new roadmap of practices and approaches. Her system is based on three common goals: to develop people, reward equitably, and drive organizational performance. Which may sound plain and easy, but it’s not. For instance, as Chandler explains, the concept of fair, impartial rewards is baffling to many: Is that even possible? But countless studies show that employees generally do not believe we are being rewarded equally — and ranking systems don’t help. The range of solutions offered here include putting mechanisms in place to pay for capability and reward for contribution. It’s that simple.
By stressing organizational over individual functioning, Chandler shifts the concept from supervising to connecting, from managing to enabling and inspiring. Organizational performance means that everyone works in alignment, and are aligned with the goals of the company itself. And this isn’t just theoretically appealing material: there are sound management principles behind what she’s proposing. In the second and third sections of the book are the practical tools to put it all together. After spearheading a full and appropriate redesign, it’s time to reboot the organization with the new performance management system in place. There are models to draw from; contingencies to work out; comprehensive solutions for every problem.
How Performance Management is Killing Performance — and What to Do About It is an eloquent, lively manifesto for finally taking the right approach. It details a workplace transformation with warmth, engagement, and humor. Chandler has drawn from a vast bank of knowledge, research, and years of hands-on experience in the field. Suddenly, as she explains it, fixing something broken — and fixing it for the better — is entirely within our reach.
Learn more about M. Tamra Chandler at www.peoplefirm.com