Staff development is vital to a healthy business. Yet the way we approach it is still rooted in the models of fifty years ago. Despite a world of rapid change we expect objectives to be relevant for a year, when many will be out of date within months. Millenials used to swift, relevant feedback from a communications-obsessed world instead find appraisals occasional and slow. Few organizations take account of the growing number of emergent cross-department teams.
While every modern organization has a performance management system to support staff development, only 14% are happy with those systems.
How can we do better?
Focus on relationships
The old world was built on hierarchies. The new one, filled with social media, contingent workers and flattened organizational structures, is built on relationships. Building good relationships, and encouraging staff to do so, is therefore a vital part of development.
Managers should work on knowing and understanding those working for them, not just their peers. Get out into the workplace. Listen to the concerns of the people you manage. Spread your values and aims directly through these conversations – in the era of Twitter, when even the most famous are a key tap away, people expect this informal communication, and will take more away from it.
Work together with employees on challenges to show how they can tackle them, and to show that you understand their work. Take the opportunity to provide instant feedback.
But make sure that these exercises aren’t about showing yourself off. Humility inspires loyalty and improves teamwork, so apply it yourself in conversations and make sure that it appears in your leadership training program – it will lead to better relationships all around.
Keep things simple
The world is increasingly complex and we are overwhelmed with choices. This applies in work as well as beyond it. Which task to tackle first? Which email to answer next? What questions to raise in the short time available for a meeting?
You can make things simpler. Have a clear set of values that are simple and enduring, timeless goals that will remain relevant in a changing market. Build development plans around them, and remind staff that, when in doubt, they can always turn back to those values. Rather than cluttering everyone’s thinking with a dozen different directives, give everyone a direction and trust them to steer the right path in their own work.
Performance manage your performance management
With your values and purpose firmly in place, evaluate your performance management system to see how well it achieves those goals. Too many companies keep using the same old approach they always have, just adding another objective here and there, tweaking rather than fixing, adding to the complexity you’re now trying to avoid.
Compare every part of the performance management system with the values you are building staff development around. Does each part support those goals? Do any contradict them?
Don’t just trust to instincts – that’s how these systems got to be such a mess. Get feedback from staff on how they use the system and what difference it makes for them. Collect data on actual behavior. Has customer feedback improved since you added those objectives about better telephone manners, or has it just become another box to tick?
A good system is about more than just looking at individuals; it should help you to identify patterns. Is unnoticed and unintentional gender bias holding your female employees back? Are you failing to develop middle managers for promotion? Turn your performance management system into a way to develop your organization.
Staff development has fallen behind the times, tinkered with rather than fully reformed. Take the bull by the horns and see your organization improve.