Understanding your travelling companions on the journey to Agile Performance Management

We've started out on our journey to Agile Performance Management and overcome the hill climb to get our people on board with our direction. Now we need to get a better understanding of the colleagues we're travelling with.

This is where we start to see that Agile Performance Management is not about a destination, it's about the journey itself, and most importantly it's about the empathy we find with our travel companions.

It's going to be a life-long trip, so let's get comfortable!

I'm going to highlight 3 things to help overcome your biases to others. Through these you'll gain a deeper understanding of co-workers so that everyone can achieve their peak performance. The tools I'm suggesting are strength finder, engaging the whole person, and adjusting communication style.

Finding strength

Traditional performance management commonly looks at weaknesses, developmental needs and how to coach everyone to a preordained level of competency based on their role.

In contrast agile performance management looks at the unique gifts and talents of individuals and continually seeks the best fit to align these to the mission of the company. By concentrating on strengths, agile performance management aims to enable each employee to do their best work every day.

The Clifton Strength Finder has been used by almost 16 million people worldwide as a way to discover what they naturally do best, and how to turn these natural talents into strengths.

When we know the unique talents of our travel companions, our job is to make sure we provide the opportunities for these to be applied and nurtured, and avoid situations where talents are stifled and people become frustrated.

Gallup has the data to show that strengths-based development works.

You can download the full report of outcomes by companies that use it here, but the highlights are

  • up to 7% increase in customer engagement,
  • 15% increase in employee engagement,
  • up to 29% increase in profit, and
  • up to 72 point reduction in staff turnover.

If your company isn't able to fund it, consider a personal investment in discovering your strengths. Research shows that people who use their strengths are 3 times more likely to report having an excellent quality of life.

Knowing the natural talents of your travelling companions will make sure you get the most rewarding experience from being with them,. Without some help, talents can remain well hidden at work and therefore unused.

Engaging the whole person?

Henry Ford apparently once said “Why is it that I always get the whole person when what I really want is a pair of hands?” Quite a fitting point of view when traditional performance management approaches were first used in the 1930's and haven't changed much since.

What has changed since then is the degree of freedom for the modern employee to choose how, when, where and from who they earn their living. Instead of people working for companies to earn a wage (as they once were forced to do), today people work for people, and they choose to work for people that believe in them.

Just getting paid can happen anywhere. Knowing that you're making a difference can't.

So how should we engage the whole person so that they know they are making a difference? 

There is no formula, except to say you must really be interested in them and vested in their wellbeing as another human not a resource

  • Do you know the highest priorities and deepest drivers or your co-workers?
  • Do you help them link the work they do to those priorities, and to the goals of the company?
  • Do you contribute back to their communities and the causes they believe in?
  • Do you rally around to lift the pressure at work, when you know there's pressure at home?
  • Do you continually reinforce how they are valued through praise and appreciation?

If you answered yes, you'll have no hesitation to ask each of your colleagues "Why are you here?". You'll most likely already check in like this regularly, and enjoy the positive reflections. You'll also be using this as an opportunity to deepen their meaning and further strengthen their sense of belonging. It's how we create emotional connections.

If instead you feel that asking that question would return shrugging shoulders, or negative sentiment, it's time to create meaningfulness around you. Whilst you can't force your colleagues to be engaged in their work (globally only around 1/3 of employees are) you can help them discover their purpose. That’s a fantastic place to start even if it means parting ways with some people who come to know that they are in the wrong place.

An interview with Brian Walker, CEO of Herman Miller explains how they maintain less than 4% employee turnover through a mindset of stewardship of their team, their community and their business.

If you enjoy the company of the group you're in, then creating meaning and emotional connection is the best way to have them stick around.

Communicating with style

I don’t generally like to label people but most relationship or personality style diagnostics do assign labels. DISC® uses colour and labels, Myer-Briggs uses 4 letter acronyms, even the Strength Finder we've discussed uses 4 major themes for the 34 talents that might result in you being labeled.

Whilst labels can encourage a fixed mindset which we want to avoid, they can also be a convenient way to recall what you've learned about someone when you're getting to know them better. Labels can often help in support of effective communication.

At a basic level our brains continuously seek answers and explanations to resolve uncertainty. However, the way we do this varies.

  •  Analytical communicators like to know the facts. They want to hear data first and resolve uncertainty by the numbers.
  •  Personal communicators want to understand the emotions of a situation. They resolve uncertainty by knowing if people feel the same way as them about a situation.
  • Intuitive communicators want to fit this discussion into their big picture. If at face value it fits (confirmation bias kicks in here) nothing more need be said, and
  • Functional communicators want to know the sequence of events that built up to this, and what must happen next so they can be certain they're doing the right thing

Knowing the communication style of your co-workers will help you present your feedback to them in the most impactful way. 

If you're sharing feedback 1:1 you will get best results by tailoring your message to the style of the recipient. This is why 1:1 feedback is so highly encouraged in agile performance management.

If you're using team wide or public feedback then you'll need to include something for every style in your message. Look carefully for signs you're not getting through to someone.

The key thing is that labels are not an alternative to emotional intelligence. Being able to read the situation and use the right communication style for the moment is how to avoid well intended feedback from backfiring.

This is critical to the success of agile performance management because it is mainly the fear of conflict that makes people hesitant to give authentic and detailed feedback. Feedback of substance rather than the safety zone of platitudes is just the kind of feedback we must foster to get better results, so we need to learn how to relate to our travelling companions to land it appropriately.

Enjoying your journey

You'll have a more enjoyable journey on the road to agile performance management if you and your travel companions

  • Know each others strengths and use this to ensure personal needs are met
  • Seek to know the whole person and not just their 'workplace persona'
  • Relate to each other as individuals in the way that suits communication styles

If your seeking these behaviours and the kind of results I've highlighted, the team at Pay Compliment would be excited to show you how.

We deliver individualised performance management that allows each member of your travel party to do their best work every day, and know how to do this at enterprise scale.


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