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Performance Management-a phrase that inspires fear, anxiety, frustration, impatience and sometimes anger none of which is the general intention of this phrase. Or at lease that is the working assumption in this posting. As a Change consultant, I have seen this phrase used as a departure tool for employees that shall we say were not a good fit for the company. Alternatively, this phrase is also a tool that offers a method for professional development planning. It also offer managers a way to have a conversation about what is working and what needs to change.

From where I sit, it is the most misused phrase and tool in the working world. I don’t care if it is a multi-billion dollar corporation with hundreds of thousands of employees or a small business with five employees—it is misused and misunderstood.

So, let me clear this up.

True—some companies use this as a way to fire employees.

True—some companies use this to develop and manage employees.

True—it is felt to be a mundane exercise in bureaucracy  by employee and manager alike.

If both the employee and the manager feel it is a waste of time, then it is not the right tool. Performance Management needs to be more than one tool and needs to asses, evaluate, create space for dialogue, innovation, and creativity. Most importantly—yes most importantly it should be a reflective exercise for both the employee and the manager to evaluate what has been accomplished and an opportunity for the employee to feel re-engaged, supported, and encouraged to develop their own passion, and share their creativity with the company.

What a concept—letting employees discuss and identify what they are passion about and letting them run with it.  One of my client’s is a small business owner with 5-10 employees. Most of the staff are Millennials (they do not call themselves that nor understand why the rest of us are talking about them) and have a variety of hobbies, interests and passions. The owner hears a lot of, “I am performing in a play and can’t work or I am dancing in a drag show and need the night off.”

Part of the issue is striking a balance between employees feeling supported and encouraged to pursue passions outside of their job while leveraging their passion or special skill to generate business. In this case, both employees who work in the theatre are truly gifted in how they welcome and build relationships with customers. In this retail business, these relationships are critical. The other side of this issue is for the owner to communicate to the employees that there must be a reciprocal relationship in that the owner is growing and developing the employees while the employees are prioritizing their work commitments not over or under their other passions but in a way that works for both owner and employee.

As a consultant, who is a Generation Xer, I was taught to give it all up for the job, work hard not smart. When I started work at 14 in the local pizza shop, I did not tell my boss about my extra-curricular activities and build my schedule around them–I built my schedule around the job. This continued through college in that during that time, my work schedule was built around when my classes were offered and the hopes of pursuing any other passions or interests fell by the way side because I had to work. I did not learn balance. So, when I listen to my Baby Boomer and Gen Xers clients complain about their Twenty-something employees who would rather leave early to play in their soccer league than work late, I nod and smile and understand.

My default reaction is to go back to what I learned and what I knew. However, that is the beauty of being a Change Consultant—I continuously learn new perspectives, and make new connections through my work.  The 20-somethings need coaching on how to communicate what they want, when they want it and how to ensure they are being reciprocal in their engagement with their job and their passions outside the job.  Did you ever ask your employee in one of those Performance Management meetings—What are you most passionate about in your job? What do you like to do outside of the office? As their employer, you want employees who have work/life balance and who are giving you their best. They can’t give you their best if they hide their passions, stay late not out of necessity and desire but out of fear, and see you their manager as someone they report to and not someone they work with and for. You would be surprised at the number of possibilities that can be connected through an employee’s outside passions and their jobs and the larger company.

Performance Management plans, strategies, implementations, blah, blah, blah must work for both the employee and the manager. If they don’t, then throw them out and identify what they need and want. Everyone’s engagement will increase, employees will think twice before pursuing other opportunities, and your business will do better (however you define it).

About Joy Rain

Joy has been a diversity and inclusion consultant and mediator for over ten years. Prior to consulting, she was professor of Psychology and Women Studies. Joy has a Master of Arts in Psychology (Boston University) and a Master of Education in Social Justice Education (UMASS Amherst).

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