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Managing expectations

Source: Public Sector Executive July/Aug 2012

Kate Ashley reports from a roundtable event highlighting challenges and potential solutions in the sphere of performance management.

The public and private sectors sometimes seem like different worlds – but many obstacles are common to both, with lessons learnt in one field equally applicable to another.

One such area is performance management, as highlighted by a recent roundtable event attended by HR leaders from across both sectors.

The event, organised by 3c and attended by PSE, was attended by heads of HR from Legal & General IM, DeBeers, Land Securities, Anglia Ruskin University, Metia, NHS Workforce Locality Board, People In Aid, Bank of Tokyo Mitsubishi, Pitney Bowes Limited and YouGov.

Peter Cheese, then chair of the Institute of Leadership and Management (ILM), opened the event, describing the latest developments in performance management.

Cheese – recently appointed as the new chair of the CIPD (Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development) – outlined the demand for detailed career feedback as well as a focus on high-performance culture. He said: “We are living in very interesting times and the context of what we’re trying to do now has never been more important. The world has changed.”

Generation expectation

Some of the drivers for this change include “far more diversity in the workplace” and a younger generation with a new set of expectations.

“Just having vague conversations once in a while about the work I’ve been doing and what I haven’t been doing, with no clue about what I might be doing next, is simply not good enough,” Cheese said.

Young recruits want year-round feedback, with specific focus on where they have gone wrong, how to improve and an understanding of where their career is heading. Clarity and clear direction are vital, Cheese added, as this becomes the norm for expectations, creating pressure for change from the bottom-up.

He said: “The most important things we need to get right is what we measure and how we have the conversations with our people at all levels on how they are performing against those measures.”

Measuring this ‘how’ is all about behaviour, he explained.

Complete purpose alignment

Although pressure may be building from the bottom-up, performance management must achieve purpose alignment through a top-down approach, Cheese said.

“You’ve got to get the flow down from the top. You cannot expect people to do things, as managers or employees, if you’re not doing it yourself.”

He said that people would do what they are measured to do, although getting the right alignment of these measures was “tough”.

Cheese also admitted that moving the responsibility and ownership of HR from the head of that department towards business managers requesting the tools and carrying work out by themselves could take “long, hard work”.

People vs technology

The HR directors shared their experiences on a number of fronts: senior management who remained resistant to change; the gap between skills taught at university level and those required in the workplace; and managing staff who are highly technically skilled but lack leadership skills.

This linked into the tricky problem of recognising workers’ limits; how much time and effort should be invested in a person to improve their performance management when it becomes evident they are never going to be good at it?

Some technical experts either cannot or will not manage people to any degree of effectiveness, and this presents a significant challenge in systems that increasingly link seniority with managerial responsibilities.

Dual career paths was one suggested solution: one for those with the right ‘people skills’ and another for those who were more technicallyminded. Some of these individuals could also be encouraged to pass on knowledge via a mentorship role instead of formal management.

Some questioned whether management responsibilities should be removed from certain senior roles to celebrate specialist progress within an organisation, and to acknowledge that you cannot force people to work against their capabilities.

Career paths could thus become more flexible, rather than being limited by the company, and should recognise staff diversity and strengths. “Don’t try to put people in a box”, one director said.

Age-old issues

The table also debated whether age is an issue in organisations; with a cultural bias against some young managers, due to lesser experience. However, ingrained managers could be stuck in certain patterns and age alone should not be used as a measurement of success, they agreed.

Dealing with new recruits can also provide a challenge, with the younger generation presenting different, more demanding, expectations.

High unemployment is evident, especially in the young who can often have high theoretical knowledge, but are lacking in experience and a strong work ethic, as well as enthusiasm and joined-up thinking, they said.

This could be due to different perspectives from the older generation, and it is difficult to separate objective facts from subjective bias.

Making more of apprenticeships was hailed as positive way forwards and some HR directors even suggested teaching could work both ways, through the implementation of reversementoring.

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