3 keys to designing a performance management system

If you’ve ever played a video game, whether on your phone or a full-blown console, you know that “leveling up” is a big deal. No one wants to stay on Level 1 forever. The higher you go, the more you’re invested and, ideally, the greater the payoff in satisfaction and knowledgeability.

So it should go with your organization. You’ve got to keep pushing upward to reach that next level of success, hopefully keeping your distinctive challenges at bay and competitors beneath you. So how do you get there? One important step is creating a performance management system — that is, a systematic approach to enabling your leadership and employees to work effectively toward accomplishing your strategic goals.

There are many ins and outs to a performance management program. A variety of things could go wrong when trying to execute one — though, at the same time, many opportunities also exist to get it right. Here are three keys to consider when designing a performance management program.

  1. Picking the right people

To get started on the right foot, appoint a representative design team. Don’t exclude employees from the development process. No truly effective system can be created without their input.

Pick representatives from all key organizational units and employee groups. Look for workers with differing viewpoints — such as long-term vs. newer employees or left-brain vs. right-brain thinkers. This way, your internal team will represent your entire organization, not just one or two departments. Also, choose employees who:

  • Communicate well,
  • Can devote sufficient time to the process, and
  • Elicit respect throughout the organization.

As time goes on, don’t be afraid to make changes to your performance management oversight team. This doesn’t necessarily have to be a punitive thing. In many cases, team members simply get burned out and can use a break. Regularly offer opportunities to step down for a while to get some rest so fresh voices can speak up.

  1. Stating clear, actionable goals

Clarifying leadership’s expectations plays a crucial role in your performance management system’s success. If you don’t initially solicit input from your managers, your system might either fall apart or simply languish unimplemented.

For example, say an organization handpicks eight midlevel managers who spend roughly four months crafting and fine-tuning a new performance management system. But when the team presents its final product to the organization, leadership summarily rejects it. Now the entire project must begin again from scratch — more than likely with some bad feelings involved.

You can avoid such a devastating result by keeping leadership informed throughout the process. Before starting the project, instruct team representatives to interview each manager and executive regarding his or her expectations. To reinforce a common understanding of project goals, conduct a series of informational meetings led by the performance management team and attended by leaders and staff. Also ask your team to keep management updated throughout the process using meetings and written summaries.

Although these initial steps can establish expectations, they don’t ensure success. With time, performance management teams can drift away from management’s expectations. So, conduct a “sanity-check” meeting with leadership midway through the design process. Here the design team can present its current progress and its anticipated direction. In response, administrators can address their concerns regarding the system.

The subsequent need for redirection may frustrate design-team members. After all, they’ve put considerable time and effort into the project. But the frustration will prove worthwhile when management eventually embraces the revised system.

  1. Keeping everyone in the loop

Some organizations only initially obtain input from leadership and staff. But then months pass without any meaningful additional feedback. And when they finally introduce their new system, employees often respond with apathy or resistance. Then design teams and management face the daunting task of motivating employees or forcing system compliance.

To prevent this dire scenario, solicit staffwide feedback regularly throughout the design process. Encourage supervisors and employees to contact design-team members at any time to ask questions and express opinions. After each meeting with management, distribute written summaries to everyone. Design-team members can also provide periodic progress reports — typically during departmental staff meetings.

Last, allow the design team enough time to reflect on its ideas as well as the feedback received from leadership and staff. Reviewing organizational input slowly and methodically allows the team to fine-tune its decisions throughout the design phase. As a result, your new performance management system should contain few surprises when you implement it.

Patience, always

No matter which specific methods you choose to design it, an effective performance management system takes time to develop. So, to give your organization its best shot at success, you must supply more than just time and money. All parties involved must exercise ample patience as well.

And here’s the best news of all: You don’t have to go it alone. Improving organizational performance is our specialty — the word is right there in our name! We can work with your internal team to create a system that everyone in your organization understands and will use.