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Perspective
Enhancing the Supervisory Toolkit
BEHAVIOURAL COMPETENCIES OFTEN THE KEY TO SUCCESS

The other day I was asked to advise in a situation where an employee had a history of absenteeism going back a year. Could the supervisor issue a letter of expectation with regard to attendance? My first question was “have you compared this person’s rate of absence to others in the group?” My second question was “have you talked to the employee to find out what’s going on?” The answer to both questions was no.

Kate Moore, RPR
MQ Editor
Sometimes the most important thing you need to have as a supervisor is common sense. The second most important is human concern for your staff. Here we have an employee that had never been a problem before, but is suddenly missing a lot of work on a regular basis. Would your first thought not be to sit her down and ask what’s going on?

The problem is that in today’s litigious society, supervisors are scared to ask about anything, especially if it’s health-related. What if the employee files a grievance or a harassment complaint? They are almost paralyzed to the extent that they would rather issue an impersonal letter to someone than sit down and have what might be a difficult conversation.

The best thing we can do as HR professionals is to give our supervisors the knowledge, and most importantly the competencies, that they need to manage effectively. All the team building training in the world will not work if the supervisor cannot give honest and authentic feedback to staff. I have worked in provincially-run, non-profit, and for-profit organizations, as well as the Federal government and I have yet to see a company that does this really well.

Sure, there is training, but it focuses on knowledge – policies, procedures, legislation. Supervisors need a completely different set of behavioural competencies, the most vital of which is communication; often they are chosen because they are the best at what they DO, not because they have these competencies. The only way to strengthen these competencies is by learning the behaviours and then practicing them in a safe environment. Yes, the dreaded role play.

People mock it, but you can’t learn conversations from a book or a video. In order to internalize what is learned, they need to have actual conversations with partners who respond in unpredictable and/or emotional ways. Directing these conversations, keeping them on track, managing the emotions and hopefully keeping the tone as positive as possible are the main objectives.

Fortunately, as you will see in Mike Moreau’s article in this edition of MQ, the word is getting out that in order to be effective supervisors, employees need a different toolkit and a separate skill set. This is only half the battle of course – the other half is assessing for these skills and competencies and investing in training for them.


Are Performance Ratings Necessary?
DETERMINING A RATING CAN BE A BARRIER TO THE REAL CONVERSATION

The question about whether performance ratings are critical to enhanced performance has been a troubling one for me, in particular, because of feedback from employee focus groups when designing performance management systems for a variety of industries, and from participants in management training classes conducted over the last few years. It appears that in the majority of cases, the time spent discussing and agreeing to a mutually acceptable performance rating has been an impediment to open and full discussions during performance appraisal meetings.

Rather it focuses the discussion on past performance or history and justification for the rating versus a future focused conversation regarding next steps in the employee’s development of required competencies in preparation for meeting performance expectations and enhancing results during the upcoming performance period.

Barbara Adams
HR architects
We could assume that this negative feedback regarding the effectiveness of performance appraisal meetings is due to the lack of management training in effectively writing and conducting performance appraisals, the number of new managers, or the ineffective design of the company’s performance management system, but that doesn’t account for the consistent feedback regarding the “correctness” of the assigned performance ratings, the lack of open and honest discussion between the employee and the manager regarding the employee’s development of personal competence to enhance his/her future results and in addition, prepares them for potential career opportunities within the organization.

Hearing this feedback, I thought about the components of common performance appraisal systems and whether the design of these systems was conducive to future focused discussions or instead forced the manager and employee to concentrate on historical performance. The key factor that I feel causes the discussion to focus on the past versus the future is the requirement to rate employees. And that started me thinking …do we really need to rate the level of performance or can we discuss the employee’s competence and performance just as well without the rating? If managers didn’t have to justify ratings on past performance could they instead spend that time discussing what the employee needs to maintain, enhance, and develop for future performance?

I would say to you that the inclusion of performance ratings within a performance appraisal system are not critical if you include a process for clearly establishing and communicating ongoing performance expectations related to day-to-day performance and goals aligned with department and/or organizational goals at the beginning of the performance period. And in addition, if formalized coaching sessions occur throughout the review period to recognize the employee for achievements and/or identify opportunities for competency development or behaviour changes that help the employee meet established performance expectations and goals. Ongoing coaching sessions discuss what’s happening now – the employee’s current level of demonstrated performance as measured against the established performance expectations and goals set at the beginning of the performance period. If we can do this when conducting coaching sessions without the need to rate performance why can’t we do the same at the annual appraisal meeting?

One component of an annual performance appraisal meeting should a summarized version of what occurred throughout the past performance period. If the employee and his/her direct supervisor have been meeting on a regular and ongoing basis, it should not require a lot of time to review this performance. And if the performance management system eliminates the requirement to set performance ratings, the discussion could focus the majority of time on the future. In other words, the employee is still hearing how well they did over the past performance period, what they need to do to maintain and enhance their performance over the upcoming performance period, but the performance is not rated. This avoids the negative impact of performance ratings that an employee does not agree with and creates a more open discussion forum.

I’m not totally sold on the idea of eliminating performance ratings in all situations but a number of clients have moved in this direction and it’s proving to be a positive approach for both managers and employees. The common trait among these clients is that they believe that developing the employee’s competence will enhance that employee’s performance and this increased performance will lead to better department and organizational results. And so far, so good - the assumption has been proven to be correct. A strong caution is that you just don’t eliminate performance ratings without considering your performance management process in a holistic manner. As you move from a system that rates past performance to one that develops future competence for enhanced performance you must ensure your system includes a more formal approach to employee development. This could include the introduction of a competency model, competency development matrix, and personal development plans. It also requires a more formal approach to organizational employee development that supports training linked to required competency areas versus what I would call “nice-to-know” training versus “need-to-know” training.

Barbara Adams is Managing Director of HR architects. Barbara can be contacted at hrarchitect@shaw.ca or 604-881-1080. More information is located at www.hrarchitects.ca.


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