We threw away all the rules and started again: re-writing performance management

I was doing some work with a business that did all the “right” things – they had a bunch of people work for them – mostly young adults – and they did all the “right” things – they did performance reviews, set objectives, dolled out bonuses for performance, and paid for regular team building – sounds good huh

Only it wasn’t

It seems every few weeks they were getting calls asking for more money and the next pay rise

They went through a good number of staff trying to find the “right ones” – which did yield some success to be fair – but there was no end to this kind of thinking

They tried paying more – which certainly attracted better talent – it made recruiting easier and they were better out the starting blocks

But there wasn’t anything pushing them all on – the rather drab performance process with its SMART objectives and annual reviews didn’t turn out to be all that smart after all – it didn’t actually consistently drive up performance – but you knew that right……

And what about when it went wrong? They occasionally dolled out a good grilling to keep those rogue wanderers in line – even though it didn’t really work changing long term behaviour

As owners of a relatively small business they were doing well by general standards – but the same old problems that face corporates every day existed there too

What to do

So – I helped them tear up the rules and start again.

Annual performance reviews and objectives – gone

Angry phone calls – gone

Random “can I get a pay rise” phone calls – gone

So what did we do?

We moved the goal posts – I helped them create what is called Pathway – a pathway that clearly lays out the Skills, Soft Skills, Experience and Character traits for every single role – and we layered it up so within each role one can progress through the layers – and as a result attract more salary – and here is the thing – we then created a development plan focused on their learnings – a growth plan you might say – we made it clear that growth or learning requires mistakes – we started to help them to learn much more about self reflection – seeking feedback and observing themselves more often – then observing more closely things that really don’t go so well for them – or events that didn’t go so well – we got them to start documenting these events and their associated learnings, and we started to help them see how this helps them to grow into the next layer of the pathway

With each layer you are expected to be able to cover or deliver the layer below – we discovered that some we most definitely being paid above their layer – and they knew it – in most cases this was because there were some basics that some were not getting done – this caused a few squirmy faces

It’s ok

What we were asking for was one simply thing: The willingness to learn and grow

We will meet you where you are, all we are asking for is the willingness to keep growing, keep learning, and keep learning from your mistakes – and in some cases – flat start doing some of the basics that we know, and they know, they should be doing


We teach with simple consequences – so we tie this all into an Early Warning System – verbal “warnings” (so you know what I’m talking about) will be much more frequent – we no longer need to shy away from such things because they aren’t used to beat you – they are used to help you learn

We need more feedback – helpful, corrective feedback

And each time you go through this it’s more meat for your development plan – what happened – what did you learn – what can you do next time

The only way you reach the end of this “Early Warning System” is if you refuse to learn and grow – the end of that story is pretty certain.

Some of them found all of this disconcerting – some found it quite liberating

If you have someone who is delivering lots of value to the business then they are WORTH paying more for – these business owners understood this – everyone can reach the top of these pathways with work he said – great I said – and you are happy paying them all if they do I said? – definitely he said

Complacency will not work in this organisation any more, and it’s easy to manage that.

Staying stuck, not growing, not learning, getting away with the status quo is almost impossible to get away with

It’s a win-win – the business has a clear path of development, raising the bar bit by bit by bit, they removed anger and contention, they have a way of addressing performance issues day by day, as they arise, in a non-confrontational way – we can implement zero tolerance rules that actually SUPPORT the growth of the person involved – the more responsible we are the happier we are – as for their people – they get BAGS of support – they have an environment where they can openly learn, talk about their mistakes, seek guidance, receive feedback, share themselves, and have a clear pathway to a pay rise to boot.

The organisation will never be the same again – they have discovered they can manage their people better, while at the same time significantly reducing the time it takes to do so and increasing performance as they go