What Is Performance Management? With a Definition, Best Practices and Common Misconceptions


Steve Shellabear introduces us to performance management and how to create a strategy around quality that will strengthen contact centre performance.

What Is Performance Management?

The primary purpose of performance management is to develop skills and competencies at an individual and group level so that the organization benefits.

It is a continuous proactive process focusing on planning, acting, measuring and reviewing performance.

Used effectively it will enable an organization to plan and develop its staff. Used ineffectively it is often reduced to an appraisal “system” comprising a series of forms completed by overworked managers in a rush to get it done so they can get on with their normal tasks.

What Does a Great Performance Strategy Look Like?

The ideal performance management strategy is likely to have the following elements within it:

  • The vision, objectives and targets of the organization are aligned with individual performance measures for all levels of staff.
  • Objectives and targets include qualitative, quantitative and learning goals.
  • Performance targets are specific, measurable, achievable and challenging.
  • Real-time coaching is factored in to uplift performance and maintain quality standards.
  • Regular and meaningful assessment of performance takes place for the organization, teams and individuals.
  • Managers have access to real-time monitoring systems to facilitate self-management.
  • Regular briefing sessions and procedures enable managers and staff to keep up to date and respond to changes.
  • Feedback loops and troubleshooting procedures are designed and used.
  • Adequate quality control procedures and mechanisms are utilized.

Setting clear expectations for advisors is an important element within aligning objectives and targets with each individual, number one in the list above, which contact centre expert Chris Rainsforth discusses further in the video below.

Find out how you can turn a great performance management strategy into a quality scorecard in our article: How to Create a Contact Centre Quality Scorecard – With a Template Example

9 Things You Need to Deliver a Great Performance Management Strategy

In order to implement an effective performance management system, some essential groundwork needs to be considered.

Take the following nine points for example:

  1. The business strategy needs to have been defined at a senior level with corporate objectives set.
  2. Performance measures are identified, individual objectives agreed and contracts written with individual managers.
  3. A people development strategy for the organization needs to be written to support the business objectives. This would include the development of competencies.
  4. The implementation of the plan in the normal course of work and through special improvement, training and development programmes.
  5. Regular reviews of the business objectives scheduled and held with business managers.
  6. Professional (aka personal) development plans (PDP) agreed with individuals, linked to business objectives and challenges.
  7. Appraisal system established or booked with managers and staff.
  8. Progress against the PDP reviewed alongside business/organizational progress. Personal and professional development considered as well as the achievement of business results.
  9. Reward and recognition planned for and given to individuals on the basis of achievement of business objectives, personal and professional development objectives achieved, competencies developed and applied.

If you are charged with the design or implementation of performance management and some of these elements are missing, be aware that it will likely impact upon your work, the end result and how it is perceived.

For a set of great best practices for performance management, read our article: 10 Ways to Improve Call Centre Performance Management

The Five Keys to Successful Performance Reviews

They enable both parties to assess progress based on past performance, set targets and goals for the future.

Performance reviews are an integral aspect of your performance management strategy. They enable both parties to assess progress based on past performance, set targets and goals for the future.

If they are conducted effectively the discussion will be a genuine opportunity for reflection on what’s been done and how it’s been done.

From this, staff together with their managers can plan ahead.

Each performance and development discussion will be different depending on the people involved.

Accepting differences in style, discussions are likely to include the following key elements:

  1. Assessment: Measure the results and progress against the agreed targets, standards and development plans.
  2. Feedback: Invite the individual to share how they feel they are progressing and provide them with additional factual information on how they have been doing from a management perspective.
  3. Give positive reinforcement and constructive criticism: Point out what’s been done well so it can be maintained or improved upon; highlight areas for improvement.
  4. Exchange of views: A good performance review involves a full and frank exchange on what’s been achieved, the challenges involved, what needs to be done to achieve more, how individuals think and feel about their work, the way they are managed and their future.
  5. Agreement: A joint understanding is required about what must be done by manager and staff to improve performance, develop knowledge, skills and capabilities. Work problems that are raised need to be addressed.

12 Leadership Skills to Implement a Successful Performance Management Strategy

A successful performance management strategy is led by enthusiastic leaders that buy into what we are trying to achieve.

Yet we need more than enthusiasm, as it is also important to understand and learn the following 12 leadership skills.

1. Time management – Many managers find implementing performance management a challenge. The potential for it can often be appreciated; however, existing habitual routines and ways of working often take priority.

Evaluating how much time it will take to provide support at the various stages and scheduling it in the diary is a necessary discipline.

2. Ability to view situations from a multitude of perspectives – Implementing performance management represents an investment for a company.

Time for review and coaching sessions can be seen by those purely focused on the finances as a cost and therefore something to be minimized.

Some staff may feel nervous or apprehensive about their performance, others may not see the benefits. An ability to appreciate these concerns and consider the arguments is necessary.

3. Ability to set a clear and flexible structure – Each organization will have different factors that constrain and enable staff in their work.

Designing the structure for “best fit” may require a few drafts and consultation with interested parties before “rolling it out” through the company.

Most larger organizations have an appraisal process in place. Therefore your first task may be to assess how effective this is and the linkage between other activities, such as coaching, undertaken by line management support.

Set up a central storage area for the data which managers and staff can have access to. This may be held electronically or on a paper-based file system.

Set up a central storage area for the data which managers and staff can have access to. This may be held electronically or on a paper-based file system.

The key is that, as far as possible, it is easy to use and that people use it. It should contain copies of coaching records, agreement on future objectives and personal development plans.

4. Careful preparation – Many managers underestimate the time it takes to prepare for one-to-ones, coaching, and appraisal sessions.

Consequently, they are unprepared, which reinforces staff cynicism regarding your performance management strategy and its importance. So, refer to past records to avoid “second guessing”.

5. Creating a supportive atmosphere – This means giving some thought to the room and desk layout as well as your internal state of being.

The meeting space and furniture should facilitate a collaborative, rather than hierarchical, discussion.

Your thoughts, concerns, energy and body posture may all influence the outcome of the event.

6. Communication and interpersonal skills – These are required to create rapport and to inform colleagues and staff of the benefits.

To do this well, you need to make sure that you:

  • Ask appropriate questions to open up discussion
  • Actively listen
  • Diagnose operational and performance problems
  • Guide the conversation
  • Seek agreement
  • Dovetail objectives
  • Resolve issues
  • Check understanding
  • Summarize and confirm plans.

7. Promoting participation and involvement – In coaching, counselling or performance review sessions this may mean letting the individual do most of the talking.

8. Encouraging self-assessment – Many people will identify what they need to do given the opportunity.

Even if they are unfamiliar with the detail of a task or procedure they will value the opportunity to reflect upon their work, providing a supportive atmosphere has been created.

9. Maintaining an overview – This applies to the performance management system as a whole as well as staff performance for the period under review.

10. Communicating authentically and in good time – Address issues as they arise rather than store them up for a formal review and then launch into a catalogue of criticisms.

11. Assuming positive intention – The majority of people want to make a positive contribution in their work, if allowed to do so.

Be aware of judgements you may have made about an individual and consider how these could be affecting their work.

12. Be positive yourself – Catch people “doing things right” and give praise when it’s due. Be prepared to challenge and criticize constructively.

Find out how to coach really beneficial leadership skills like these in our article: Train Team Leaders Well

The Three Common Misconceptions of Performance Management

Depending upon the organization and culture, you may encounter some of these common misconceptions:

1. “Performance management is about managing someone out of the business”

Many managers only think of performance managing staff when there has been consistent underperformance…

Many managers only think of performance managing staff when there has been consistent underperformance or they have had to instigate disciplinary and grievance procedures.

In such cases, a “development plan” will be written, targets set and employees measured on their achievement.

It is primarily regarded as a defensive action, often when the working relationship has broken down.

Of course, attending to the legal requirements of employee relations in such an example is important, but it is only one aspect of performance management.

How about using performance management to encourage greater involvement, confidence and skills within the business?

2. “Performance management is just about grading people to award pay increases, or justifying why staff can’t have them”

The information may inform pay decisions, but this is not, or shouldn’t be, the purpose of performance management. Its value is in improving performance and personal/professional development.

3. “I manage my people all the time so I don’t need the formal apparatus of a performance management system”

In which case, you may be carrying out some of the aspects highlighted in this article. However, think about where your system could be improved.

A key question to consider is whether you consciously make quality time to discuss your people’s development away from the pressures of the workplace and whether their development is linked to the goals of the business.

A Summary of Performance Management Learning Aims

Here are four key takeaways from this article, created to better help you improve your performance management strategy.

Learning Aim Number 1 – Performance management, as defined here, is an approach to managing the whole business. It requires senior management backing and commitment at all levels.

It is not just a function of human resources or a series of unrelated methods or techniques.

Learning Aim Number 2 – Performance management relies upon the principles, values, beliefs and behaviours of those responsible for its implementation.

Is it used as a tool to empower staff or control them?

Learning Aim Number 3 – All managers are required to manage their staff’s performance so aspects of the system are likely to be in place already.

A thumbail photo of Steve Shellabear

Steve Shellabear

Your task may be to ensure linkage between the different activities and that optimum results are achieved through using all elements of a continuous process, not just reducing it to an annual appraisal.

Learning Aim Number 4 – The purpose of performance management is to develop skills and competencies and so improve individual team and business performance.

Thanks to Steve Shellabear at Dancing Lion – the long established contact centre L&D and training specialists – for sharing this article with us.

References

Kempton, J, (1995) Human Resource Management and Development Macmillan, London.

Morgan, G, (1986) Images of Organisation, Sage, London.

For more on improving performance management in the contact centre, read our articles:

Published On: 27th Apr 2020 - Last modified: 27th Oct 2020
Read more about - Customer Service Strategy, ,


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