Rob Burn, President, L & L Solutions

Rob BurnRob Burn founded L & L Solutions, which is a business consulting firm focusing on the people side of the business. L & L Solutions was founded on the premise that every organization has a competitive advantage, and that competitive advantage is its people. Rob specializes in helping companies utilize their Human Resource capabilities to find practical solutions that are specific to each organizations’ needs and has been helping companies in this area for over twenty years.

Rob is certified as a Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR) and a Senior Certified Professional (SHRM-SCP) by the Society for Human Resource Management. He has over 20 years of experience in management and human resources from the service and industrial sectors. He earned his Master’s Degree in Business Administration (MBA) from Robert Morris University and his Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology from Illinois State University.

How important is Performance Management (P.M.) in today’s high-flux organization?

I feel performance management is extremely important in today’s environment; however, not in the format we traditionally think of performance management. The traditional approach is a combination of annual performance reviews and counseling sessions when things are not going as planned. This combination does not support modern business. Performance evaluations are mostly backward looking and many of them focus on things that should be managed throughout the year. For example, most have a component for “attendance” or “appearance”. If I am approaching performance management correctly, items such as these should be addressed during the year when the person behaves against culture (arriving late or showing up in flip-flops). Granted, a few performance management systems set goals for the upcoming year; and many, if not most, are forgotten until the last quarter of the next review cycle. Counseling reports are the same way. You are not performing, so you need to fix it. You are showing up late, you need to fix it. You are throwing sand in the sandbox, fix it. None of these conversations are positive or have the end result we want. All they do is make the employee feel worthless and the manager is only following HR policies to start the paper trail. In other words, trust is broken between the employee and manager/company. What I see working with more companies is moving away from the traditional performance review. You set baseline expectations (attendance, quality or quantity of production, appearance, and so forth) and expect those to be met as a condition of employment. If the employee behaves in a manner that violates those expectations, you have a conversation about the behavior, work collectively to understand what is happening and then gain a commitment to fix the behavior.

Overall, I see a movement towards Performance Coaching and identifying goals that support 1) the business 2) the department or immediate project and 3) individual growth. These conversations should be occurring at least quarterly, if not monthly, and be goal oriented. They should be flexible enough to be changed as business changes while providing guidance to the employee about expected behavior. Compensation decisions are then made on an individual basis based on contribution to the business.

Whose responsibility is Performance Management?

This is something that should be entrenched in company culture. Employees should be able to call other employees out on non-productive behavior, simply because the behavior violates company culture. Managers should be having performance-related conversations on such a frequent basis that all performance related concerns are addressed, both positive and negative. By nature, employees want to be successful and have a chance to win. They want to have performance conversations and get better. In my experience, when a leader starts to have these types of conversations on a frequent basis, the employee starts to look forward to them and if one or two are missed, they start asking why.

So, who is responsible for performance management? The answer is anyone who is responsible for the culture of the organization – so everyone.

What are the key gaps in current industry practices in managing employees’ performance?

The better question to ask is, where is the alignment? Once we know (not just think) that employees know what is expected of them and what their goals are, it is up to leadership to get out of the way to let people perform – while removing any roadblocks that may be encountered. Performance should not need to be “managed”. Performance should be an expectation of employment and it is the leaders’ job to create an environment where maximum performance is possible. If employees know what is expected of them and they have the knowledge, skills/abilities, and the proper tools/equipment, the onus is on the employee to perform. Leaders are there to guide and provide insight into “why” things are done. Given these conditions, if an employee is not performing or behaving within company expectations or cultural norms, they are either in the wrong job or the wrong company. None of this can be accomplished without a clear understanding of the desired culture as well as having tools in place to ensure you hire, train, reward and ask people to leave based on culture. When this alignment occurs, performance management becomes an afterthought as people are moving to help the company succeed.

Other than better pay or job roles, what are the main reasons why people change jobs?

In my experience, a small percentage of people actually leave a job because of pay or job roles. Employees, with a few exceptions, knew what the job is and how much it pays when they accepted the job. However, these are the two most commonly cited reasons for leaving a company. Most employees say this because it is an easy out to avoid a difficult conversation. If you want to know why employees really leave, ask them what happened, or what was going through their mind when they first decided to go to Monster or Indeed. That is the real reason someone leaves a company. Once they start looking at other opportunities, then they may realize there is more pay or better job roles, but they are rarely the reason they made the decision to leave. If you go to that question of what happened when you first decided to look at Indeed or Monster, chances are you going to find something that broke down trust. A lack of trust is at the root of most people leaving (voluntary or involuntary).

What makes a really effective P.M. programme? Any best practices to share.

There are several components to an effective performance management program.

1) The first is designing a tool and process that supports the business and employee. It should be designed to support both short-term (month) and long-term (annual) goals. The focus of the tool should not be punitive in nature and should be nothing more than a tool to support the conversation about the business. Remove such items as attendance and appearance as those should be addressed ongoing.
2) The culture should support having difficult, but constructive conversations. For example, employees should be able to correct non-productive behavior. Performance Coaching (monthly meetings) should be focused on problem-solving and identifying why goals have not been met.
3) Compensation should be based on documented value-added contributions to the business. Only those who add exceptional value should receive merit increases.
4) Carefully and deliberately set performance and behavior expectations at the beginning of the employment relationship. Remove people who behave in a manner that goes against your culture. Be slow to hire and be quick to remove those who are not a fit.

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