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Performance Management Process: Strength or Deficiency focused?

Summary:

Do we emphasize weaknesses, problems, or what cant be done at the expense of not recognizing and building on individual uniqueness, strengths, and what is being done right?  Indications are that the respondents to our internet survey see their Performance Management Process as focused more on problem solving deficiencies instead of building on strengths.

  1. Thirty percent felt the foundation assumption for their Performance Management Process as that a persons greatest room for growth is in the areas of his or her greatest strengths versus twenty-six percent who felt it was in the areas of his or her greatest weakness.  Forty-one percent felt employees could develop the competencies needed for the position.
  2. Fourteen percent felt the manager/coachs role during performance management meetings was to affirm what the employee is doing right.  The remaining eighty-six percent felt it was to improve performance, define needed training, or help solve employees performance problems.
  3. When performance is below expectation, sixty-one percent felt the most likely action would be to define an improvement plan while only nineteen percent felt finding a different role in the organization that played to his or her unique talents was the appropriate action.

In Now Discover Your Strengths, Buckingham and Clifton found only 20% of employees working in large organizations felt that their strengths are in play every day.[1]  Why?  They conclude that most
organizations practices in managing people are based on a deficiency model which focuses not on strengths but weaknesses. The Performance Management Process is one way of evaluating if building on strengths or fixing deficiencies are being emphasized

Our internet survey was designed to help determine the focus of the respondents Performance Management Process: what are the assumptions, what is being emphasized, de-emphasized, or ignored. The ten questions were based on Buckingham and Clifton's recommendations for practices which will lead to a strength revolution." The survey has been reformatted into an internet quiz that you can take and receive a score on how your performance management process is aligned with the "strength revolution."

http://coachingandmentoring com/Ouiz/FocusOfPeformanceManagementQuiz.htm

During the second quarter of 2004, 132 individuals responded to our survey. The entire survey and responses follow this narrative. We didn't ask for any demographic data so it is impossible to know how many of the respondents were managers, individual contributors, employed, unemployed, or their level of work experience. Recognizing these limitations, the data suggests that Performance Management is focused on fixing weakness. Specifically:

Basic assumption: Twenty-six percent felt the foundation assumption for their Performance Management Process was: "A person's greatest room for growth is in the areas of his or her greatest weaknesses" while 41% felt that "if you know the competencies required for superior performance you can develop the employee to succeed." Taken together 67% felt the basic assumption was focused on fixing individuals or as Buckingham and Clifton would say putting in what was left out. All is not so bleak, 30 % or slightly less than a third felt the foundation assumption for their Performance Management Process was: "A person's greatest room for growth is in the areas of his or her greatest strengths. For this group the goal is not to fix what was left out but identify each person's unique strengths and provide the skills and knowledge to hone these strengths. These conclusions are not as neat when the specific practices of the Performance Management Process are examined.

Manager/coach's role: While 53% would agree that managers are encouraged to spend more time "casting employees in roles that utilize their unique strengths and talents, " 30% felt that this time should be spent problem solving with employees about performance problems" and 13% felt the time should be spent "helping poor performing employees improve." In another study Buckingham and Coffman found that for great managers casting is everything.[2] If you want to turn talent into performance, you have to position each person so that you are paying him or her to do what he or she is naturally wired to do.  You have to cast him or her in the right role.  Their central belief is that everyone has the talent to be exceptional at something.  The trick is to find that something. The trick is in the casting.

On a related question, when asked what best describes the manager/coach's role during a performance management meeting, only 14% felt it was "to affirm what the employee is doing right." Combining the responses to the other three choices for this question, eight-six percent felt that the manager/coachs role was dealing with deficiencies not strengths (41% "to help develop a performance improvement plan", 30% "to define future training or skill development needed" and 15% "to help solve employee's performance problems"). It may be unfair to assume that these activities would focus on the weakness versus strengths of an employee. A performance improvement plan and future training or skill development needed could be aimed at building on strengths. Our experience is that improvement" and "development needed" are usually euphemisms for overcoming deficiencies not building on strengths.

Performance Standards: Only 33% of the respondents felt that the performance standards "focus on outcomes, allowing each person to find his or her own route there." Individual discretion to determine the best way to reach a performance standard implies each person is unique and can best determine how to use their talents and strengths. Contrast this with the remaining 67% who chose some form of legislating the work style of employees, forcing them into a stylistic mode: 27% felt that performance standards be "based on the competencies (read standard behaviors) needed for the position, 30% felt they should focus on a mutually agreed to stretch objectives, while 10% saw performance standards focused on how the job should (read standardized) be performed. A strength based Performance Management Process allows the individual employee to focus not on the steps of the journey but the end of the journey. This conclusion is softened when one looks at the response to: "if more than one person were performing the same job..." 57% felt each person should be treated as a unique individual while 32% felt that everyone should be treated the same with consistency."

When performance is less than 100%: Two questions were aimed at this dilemma. When performance was consistently below expectation 61% felt "a mutually defined improvement plan" was needed, 14% felt a coach was needed to help the person improve and 6% would fire the person. Only 19% selected "finding a different role in the organization that plays to his or her unique talents." These responses are consistent with Buckingham and Clifton who found 8 out of 10 employees felt that they are miscast. They prescribe searching for a role where the employee can shine versus trying to fix a deficit. On a different question where the employee is at the 95% level of performance, 55% of the respondents felt the performance discussion should focus on identifying the positive things done to achieve this level of performancei.e., what was done right. Unfortunately the other 45% would focus the performance discussion on identifying problems standing in the way of 100% level of performance. The half full or half empty analogy comes to mind-strength based management focuses on building on what is done right not on problems or problem solving.

Individual Development Plans:  From a strength revolution base this was the brightest part of the survey.  66% of the respondents felt that the objective of individual development plans are to discover the persons unique talents and hone them with additional knowledge and skills.  The remainder felt they were to develop the competencies needed for a position or a more well rounded person.  The majority may well agree with Buckingham and Clifton that fixing weaknesses is not development, it is damage controlit can prevent failure, but never elevate performance to excellence.  Building on unique talents is the key to excellence in performance.

Pay: Buckingham and Clifton argue that pay for a particular position should have no cap, a world class performer should not have to be promoted to receive a salary increase. Only 16% of the respondents feel "there is no cap on the maximum salary a superior performer can receive." The remaining 84% feel their pay for performance system is either limited by competitive pay ranges, a cap or time on the job. A strength revolution advocates rewarding excellence in work. Lawyers figured this out a long time ago. World class performers (Senior Partners) earn a very generous salary without having to become a CEO, they are compensated for their strengths.

Lest we leave this issue on a negative note, in a separate question when asked "what was the best way under their performance system to gain more recognition and make a lot of money" 77% chose either "become a world-class performer in your present job" or, "reach or exceed performance expectations." Still 22% felt this could be achieved by continuing to get promoted to a higher and higher level jobs." Pay and prestige for Buckingham and Clifton should be commensurate with the person's growth in their career without promoting him or her up the organization ladder and out of his area of strength. Unfortunately, for this group of respondents, this doesn't seem to be the norm and suggests support for the Peter Principle.

Granted, some of the choices for each of the question are close, however we asked for the respondent to select the one which best describes their Performance Management Process.  The focus on deficiencies versus strengths is not surprising given the problem solving nature of the managers role.  Personally we also want to improve and take our strengths for granted.  Yet, if one subscribes to the belief that there exists a reservoir of untapped strength in organizations, we need to refocus the managers, employees and systems perspective to identifying and building on strength not fixing weakness.  Granted there are required skills to perform any job, train for these developmental needs recognizing that without an innate talent, the individual at best will achieve adequate performance.  Superior performance results from honing ones talents into strengths. Skills and knowledge with an innate talent equates to world class performance.

Survey questions and responses

Percentage of responses based on 132 respondents,   is the Strength based response.

1.

Which of the following best describe the manager/coachs role during a performance management meeting:                                                                                                                                     

 

To help solve employees performance problems

15%

 

To affirm what the employee is doing right

14%

 

To help develop a performance improvement plan

41%

 

To define future training or skill development needed

30%

 

2.

Are the performance standards for each employee:

 

Focused on how the job should be performed

10%

 

Focused on a set of mutually agreed to stretch objectives

30%

 

Based on the competencies needed for the position

27%

 

Focused on outcomes, allowing each person to find his or her own route there

33%

 

3.

The objective of individual development plans are

 

To develop a well rounded person

8%

 

To capitalize on each persons ability to learn to be competent in almost anything

7%

 

To discover the persons unique talents and hone them with additional knowledge and skills

66%

 

To develop the needed competencies for that position

19%

 

4.

If more than one person were performing the same job does your performance management process and management encourage

 

Treating each person as a unique individual

57%

 

Treating everyone the same with consistency

32%

 

Spending the bulk of your time with those who need the most help

7%

 

Setting a tone of competition between the employees

4%

 

 

 

5.

If a customer service employee received a 95% satisfaction rating from their customers, what would be the main focus of the performance discussion

 

To brainstorm a list of potential obstacles or problems keeping the rating from being 100%

10%

 

To plan for follow-up phone calls or focus groups to identify the problem

1%

 

To identify the positive things done to achieve the 95% rating

55%

 

To develop some different approaches to customer service aimed at attaining a 100% satisfaction rating

34%

 

6.

How is the pay system related to performance?

 

What competition is paying for comparable jobs determines the pay ranges for a given job

17%

 

There is a cap on the maximum salary a superior performer can receive in any given position

22%

 

Performance and time on the job determine the salary level of a given employee in any given position

45%

 

There is no cap on the maximum salary a superior performer can receive

16%

 

7.

If a person is consistently performing below expectations, which of the following would be the most likely course of action?

 

Mutually define an improvement plan

61%

 

Find a different role in the organization that plays to his or her unique talents

19%

 

Assign either an external or internal coach to help the person improve

14%

 

If all else fails fire them

6%

 

8.

Under the performance system the best way to gain more recognition and make a lot of money is to

 

Continue to get promoted to higher and higher level jobs

22%

 

Change companies often

1%

 

Become a world-class performer in your present job

25%

 

Reach or exceed performance expectations

52%

 

9.

Your performance management process encourages managers to spend more time

 

Helping their poor performing employees improve.

13%

 

Problem solving with employees about performance problems

30%

 

Sponsoring for promotion their top performing employees

4%

 

Casting employees in roles that utilize their unique strengths and talents.

53%

 

10.

Which assumption is the foundation for your performance management process?

 

A persons greatest room for growth is in the areas of his or her greatest weaknesses

26%

 

A persons greatest room for growth is in the areas of his or her greatest strengths

30%

 

A persons greatest motivator is money

3%

 

If you know the competencies required for superior performance you can develop the employee to succeed

41%


[1] Marcus Buckingham & Donald 0. Clifton, Ph.D. Now Discover Your Strengths. The Free Press, 2001

[2] Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman.  First, Break All the Rules:  What the Worlds Greatest Managers Do Differently.

 



Center for Coaching & Mentoring Inc.
Contact Matt Starcevich at matt@coachingandmentoring.com