This post was triggered by an interaction on Twitter that I have had with a senior HR professional on 'addressing non-performance'. We agreed that the focus should be on 'getting rid of non-performance in non-performers' as opposed to 'getting rid of non-performers'. Then, he asked me how exactly would I accomplish this. This put me in a fix; how will I say something worthwhile in 140 characters in response to such a fundamental question considering that our senior HR professional would have read (and even created) tons of material on performance management? That is when I came up with this 'Sight, Insight and Foresight method for managing non-performance'.
Though I was only 'semi-serious' when I came up with the above 'method', later I felt that it might not be such a bad idea to detail it out a bit. To be honest, there is nothing particularly new in this - it is 'old wine in new bottles'. It is also more of a 'perspective' than a 'method'. However, I feel that as the product (basic principles of performance management) is good & the need it addresses is real (still relevant), the requirement is just to ensure that remains attractive (appealing) to the customers by means of new packaging (positioning)! Also, I am convinced that when it comes to the basics of life and work, our problem is more to do with 'inaction' and not 'ignorance'! Hence, if new packaging can increase the probability of a good concept getting the attention it deserves, it is definitely worth the effort. So, here we go!
What do the various elements of the 'Sight, Insight and Foresight method for managing non-performance' mean?
'Sight' is about developing a shared understanding among the stakeholders (especially between the employee and the manager) regarding what exactly are the performance objectives, how will success be measured and how well one is doing against those objectives & targets at any point of time. This is not trivial, as there can be a disconnect between the manager and the employee on 'On what good looks like' especially in the case of non-routine and rapidly evolving jobs. While SMART (Specific, Measurable, Agreed, Relevant, Time bound) objectives can help to some extent (especially if they can be made to remain SMART over the entire performance period - no easy task, I must say!), there are deep psychological factors that might lead to a situation where the employee disagrees with with the organization's/manager's assessment of his/her performance ( See Performance ratings and the 'above average effect' for details).
'Insight' is about generating understanding through performance coaching about the factors that lead to non-performance and how to address them. While this would involve providing developmental inputs/opportunities where required, we must ensure that the root causes of non-performance are correctly identified. Often, problems at the structure, process, policy, work planning & leadership levels get wrongly (and conveniently!) interpreted as 'non-performance' at individual employee level and hence get diagnosed as 'individual capability issues' (see 'Training the victim' for more details). By the way, if the diagnosis leads to the conclusion that the root cause of non-performance is 'lack of organizational commitment' on the part of the employee, we must check if we are using 'Appropriate metaphors for organization commitment'! Hence, the 'insight' we are talking about here is for both the employee and the organization!!
'Foresight' is about predicting possible impediments to good performance and dealing with them proactively. These impediments usually become apparent in hindsight*; but, by then, the performance window would have closed and the employee would have already been labeled as a 'non-performer'! It is also about identifying and addressing non-performance early enough - before it becomes a full-blown issue. If the performance standards are very high and 'non-performance' means 'anything other than outstanding performance', then deeper aspects related to person-job fit, employee engagement (See Employee engagement and the story of the Sky Maiden) , culture (See Of reasons, rationalizations & collective delusions) & meaning (See Architects of meaning) also need to be considered!
*Note: It is interesting to note that foresight and hindsight are represented by Prometheus and his brother Epimetheus in Greek mythology. Prometheus means 'he who thinks before' and Epimetheus means 'he who thinks after'.