Archive for March, 2010

Higher performance: it’s all about co-ownership of objectives

March 21, 2010

There is an old joke to explain the difference between being “committed” and being  “concerned” that goes like this. One day a chicken invited a pig to breakfast by saying “you bring the bacon, I’ll bring the eggs”. At this particular breakfast, the pig is committed and the chicken merely concerned!

When we work in an organization, we are all in a value chain and we all sit before a boss at some stage to discuss how we performed according to the objectives set. We are all therefore like the little pig (no insult intended) in the joke above. The individual contributor has his backside on the bacon slicer as he is the one who is committed and the manager is more or less concerned (accepting that the employee has of course real responsibility and is recognized for that responsibility).

And yet, in many organizations the world over, some managers seem sometimes to behave as if it’s the other way round and consider that they are the only ones who are committed and their team members are only concerned. Of course, their team member’s objectives contribute to their own team objectives and so, of course, they have a commitment to ensure these objectives are delivered. However, this overall commitment should not lead the manager to forget that his team member is also a stakeholder. After all, most employees come to work wanting to do achieve and they themselves don’t want to fail.

This implicit “role reversal” quite often reveals itself in the way managers approach the annual appraisal process. Too often, managers simply dictate objectives without taking any time to get their team members’ opinion or input on what needs to be done and how to go about doing it. There may be many good reasons for not always doing so: some team members may not be mature enough to contribute to defining their own objectives or objectives may be simple and recurrent for some teams depending on the work organization or type of tasks. However, in organizations with more and more highly educated knowledge workers tasked with achieving objectives in complex, matrix, virtual teams, it would seem dangerous not to discuss with team members beforehand what they should be doing and how they should go about it.

 

Today, knowledge workers have more expectations in terms of being allowed to contribute to their own career path and this means giving them the possibility not only to give their inputs to their own objectives but also at year end give their own inputs on how they see their performance.

 

Objective setting and performance appraisal is therefore a question of co-ownership and co-commitment: the employee is a necessary stakeholder in his own objectives and the manager is a stakeholder because individual objectives contribute to team performance.

 

Is there really any viable alternative?

If you as a manager don’t begin the performance appraisal discussion by asking the employee what he believes he has achieved and how he sees things, you don’t recognize his commitment and you acknowledge tacitly that he is merely there to execute without exercising and assuming his own share of responsibility. You tell him implicitly that he is only concerned, just like the chicken in the joke. You also tell him implicitly that the objectives are yours and yours alone and not his because you again send an implicit message that his opinion doesn’t count.

The real issue is empowerment and empowerment is a two-way street. Empowerment begins by recognizing that performance is a win-win relationship between manager and employee and that both manager and team member have a commitment to producing positive results. Employees will perform better if they can give their input into what they are supposed to do and give their views on how they have performed rather than just receive their objectives at year start and then, at year-end, receive judgement on their performance.

All engagement studies today (discover Towers Perrin for example) show that employees lose commitment when they feel disempowered and disempowerment begins when they feel they are not listened to by their managers and when they feel they don’t have a sense of co-ownership for their objectives.

 

Co-Ownership is a necessary prerequisite for commitment and performance. If a team member doesn’t have some form of ownership for his objectives and results, he can’t be committed, will feel disempowered,  will lose motivation, will subsequently underperform, etc and the vicious circle continues.

It is this vicious circle that organizations must break if they want to drive performance and all begins by recognizing that employees are also stakeholders in objective setting and performance appraisal.

 

 

To instil this sense of ownership in employees, one must first put first things first as Stephen J Covey said and give each employee first shot at saying what he needs to do according to his understanding of team and company strategy and according to the role he has in the organization.

Here are some simple tips if you are responsible for rolling out an annual appraisal process in an organization or indeed in charge of developing employee performance and engagement:

  • Remember that the manager-team member discussion is the most important thing
  • The better the preparation on both sides, the better the discussion
  • Clarify roles and responsibilities of all team members at year start before setting objectives and then review objectives according to the role and responsibilities agreed upon.
  • Give continuous feedback throughout the year. Poor performance evaluation should never come as a surprise to the person concerned.
  • Recognize your team member as a stakeholder in the process by allowing him to make his own assessment first (because in all events, he will have a pretty good idea in his own mind). Either his assessment corresponds to yours and everything is ok or it doesn’t and the job of the manager is to listen to the employee and note the points where there is disagreement. If the employee’s arguments are sound, the manager may change his mind but again this should be rare because the dialogue should be year round and not simply one shot. However, if your view differs to that of your employee, your job is to understand why the employee has a different view and then to explain why you have come to your conclusion. Your job is to give the feedback frankly and propose an action plan to improve the situation and not simply dump the result on the employee.
  • Always finish on as positive a note as possible and give the employee a chance to project positively into the future. If there is poor performance, set an action plan to improve the situation and tell your team member how you will help him to improve. Failure is in nobody’s interest.
  • Share the objectives set for team members with all the team so that everyone knows how each team member contributes to team goals.
  • Set shared objectives across your team so that all can contribute together as a team.
  • Remember that the annual performance appraisal is not only about evaluation but also about motivation. Many factors contribute to motivating a team member and one key factor is of course ownership. I am more motivated when I have a feeling I own my objectives that if I feel they belong to someone else.

In a top-down approach, the manager does all the work and the employee simply takes the feedback. If you really want to empower your employees because you know you can’t have a manager behind every employee 100% of the time and you know that organizations need employees to take initiative and behave responsibly, then the way you manage people has to be aligned to that vision. Modern global, matrix, multi-cultural, flexible organizations can’t work effectively based on a command and control logic, especially if you want them to go beyond expectations and deliver more.

Consider some of the risks of not acknowledging your team member’s co-ownership of objectives:

  • The team member doesn’t take responsibility for results
  • He becomes disengaged and loses commitment
  • Dialogue between manager and team member is poor or even absent and objectives are not adapted in accordance with changes in the business environment
  • The manager does the evaluation without even consulting the employee
  • Stress levels are increased impacting potentially on performance because lack of ownership leads to a feeling of lack of control
  • The manager doesn’t get buy-in from the employee
  • the manager does all the work and alone decides slowing down decision-making in the organization
  • the team member loses all creativity and initiative and problems remain unsolved or get bigger
  • the team member dedicates himself to other things or less important things
  • High turnover of the best talents
  • Inertia in the organization
  • …..

Getting an employee to self assess his performance doesn’t mean that the manager relinquishes his role as a manager. He still keeps the final say and must decide and validate the performance of the employee. However, what a self assessment does guarantee (and the necessary corollary of getting the employee to propose his own objectives) is that the employee must commit to the objectives and the results because he is involved in their setting and their evaluation.

 

Every time a manager performs an evaluation without first discussing with the employee, he may impose his view in the short term but he is leading the team member down the road of resignation and passivity, disempowerment and demotivation.

 

Here are some leadership maxims that reinforce this idea of co-ownership

 

  • A leader is someone who believes in you and gets you to believe in yourself
  • Honour people and they will honour you. Fail to honour people and they will fail to honour you.
  • Never tell people how to do things, tell them what to do and they will surprise you with their creativity
  • Leaders don’t force people to follow them. They invite them on a journey
  • Authority is a poor substitute for leadership
  • If the highest aim of the captain is to preserve his ship, he would never leave port
  • Real leaders are ordinary people with extraordinary determination
  • Many people would rather you heard their story than grant their request
  • ….

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