When you get right down to it, Performance Management is about negotiation. Each side wants something. Management wants employees to work harder, work smarter, work more and moreover, really care about what they are doing so they’ll sacrifice their personal lives for the greater good of the company. Employees want more money, more recognition, more career opportunities, more flexibility, better benefits, more autonomy, more coaching, more stock, etc. They also want to feel like they are part of a team, something greater than themselves. And as in any negotiation, both sides tend to bluff a bit. Management pretends to have a bevy of rewards that are specifically earmarked for top performers and employees pretend that their daily activities are aligned with corporate goals and that their performance was instrumental in helping the company meet them.
Not that these things are never true but the point is that even when they aren’t true both sides politely pretend that they are. Let's face it, it's human to want to put your best foot forward and 'Pay for Performance' has a much better ring than 'Punish Medicrity' or 'We Have No Money This Year But Thanks For All Your Hard Work.'
But here is a revelation that should shake the foundations of how we think about Talent Management: The key player in making this process successful is the manager. A good manager is more than someone with decent social skills who does an acceptable job of consolidating team metrics. A good manager is someone who makes employees feel important and valued. A good manager motivates people to either take on more responsibility or else be satisfied with the responsibility they have, as needed. A good manager makes employees believe they have a career path and that they are rewarded in accordance to their contributions, which is especially important when times are tough and there are no promotions or raises to be had. In other words, a good manager is equally versed in the art of mentoring employees and stringing them along.
Put simply, a good manager is someone who is able to broadcast the message: “I am interested in you, I believe in you, and I am doing my best for you.” And be believed.
From a corporate point of view the quality of managers is the single most important thing you can get right. Think about it: This is the person you are counting on to coax the best possible work out of average performers, motivate or identify and eliminate underachievers, and retain the loyalty and channel the energy of top performers. If we believe that people are important, how can manager performance not be a vital component of business performance?
Talent Management places ample focus on upper management, as evidenced by the adoption of succession planning at upper levels, cascading goals, benchmarking tools, etc. And there is plenty of focus on individual contributors - in fact most of the top performance management solutions offer various ways to drive edicts from on high downward, then measure if everyone’s following them. And I don’t want to argue with these – at the moment – because I find what’s missing more interesting than quibbling about what’s there. And what’s missing in all of this Talent Management analysis is focus on the manager, who of all people in any company should arrest our attention.
And yet as we review the various talent management solutions we see that they are depressingly focused on automation rather than interaction. Even more depressingly, it seems that many companies are looking for software solutions to supplement poor management rather than improve it, rather like treating the symptoms rather than looking for a cure.
Personally, I am riveted by the manager and I don’t think HCM specialists can continue to ignore this fascinating character. Not all managers are equally interesting from an HCM perspective, however. Truly great leaders are born, not made. So arguably, the best thing HCM solutions can do for the great manager is try to stay out of the way. A poor manager can do untold damage and would make an interesting topic for HCM but most companies are smart enough to weed out terrible managers on their own once enough people have complained or quit.
That leaves us with the average manager, who in many cases is quite decent, means well and does relatively little harm. The average manager offers ample scope for driving additional business success and is therefore interesting from an HCM perspective.
How can Talent Management solutions do a better job helping companies assess and develop the skills of the average manager?