21 Jun 2018

By Bruce Posner

Employee Performance

In a recent article in MIT Sloan Management Review, London-based leadership consultant Nik Kinley and Shlomo Ben-Hur, a professor of leadership and organizational behavior at IMD in Lausanne, Switzerland, argued that managers need to find better ways to help employees develop. The problem, they wrote in the summer 2017 issue, isn’t identifying which behaviors need improvement. Rather, it lies in helping employees change their behaviors — and making the changes stick. They noted that only 28% of the managers they surveyed felt confident about their ability to get employees to change their behavior. What’s more, Kinley and Ben-Hur observed, companies often focus on rewards and penalties instead of tapping into intrinsic motivation, which can be more effective.

Although the article struck a chord with many readers, several readers wanted concrete suggestions for improving the performance management process. Soumen Sarkar, an educational technology entrepreneur in Bangalore, India, commented that changes in performance management are always accompanied by the “promise of improving objectivity, transparency, and efficiency…. However, every year both the managers and the employees dread when the time comes for” performance appraisals. Aaron Peterson, a strategic management analyst in Tempe, Arizona, sought specific guidance. “I understand intrinsic motivation, but as a manager, how do I help an employee tap into that resource if they aren’t already doing so?”

We invited authors Kinley and Ben-Hur to respond. “The dread many managers feel is understandable,” they wrote, “but it can be minimized when you have something concrete and useful to help direct reports improve their performance. Many managers either don’t talk about how employees can improve their performance or jump straight to what people need to change, without offering much in the way of suggestions for how. What we have found is that to genuinely help people improve their performance, managers need to do two things. First, they need to understand the inner and outer context for people’s performance — why they are performing the way they are. After that, they need to offer practical ideas for improvement.”

Kinley and Ben-Hur developed a model to help managers diagnose which elements of an individual’s context most influence performance. Although they didn’t have space in the article to go into depth on improvement ideas, their book Changing Employee Behavior: A Practical Guide for Managers (Palgrave Macmillan, 2015) includes a variety of techniques drawn from fields such as behavioral and cognitive psychology, as well as behavioral economics. “For example, we show how giving someone a broader sense of choice can improve their motivation,” the authors noted. “We show how knowing whether the person is driven by a desire for competence or a sense of challenge can help managers frame opportunities. Even slight changes in how managers describe the relevance of tasks or how they deliver praise can make huge differences.”

“Getting performance management right is an old challenge,” Kinley and Ben-Hur observed. “Most managers focus more on the ratings than on the conversations. In our view, meaningful progress cannot be
made until greater emphasis is placed on the quality of conversations that managers have with their direct reports.”

Read the full article here.
This content was originally published by MIT Sloan Management Review. Original publishers retain all rights. It appears here for a limited time before automated archiving. By MIT Sloan Management Review

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