Performance Management and the Pony Express
“We know how great managers manage. They define very clearly the outcomes they want, and then they get to know the person in as much detail as possible to discover the best way to help this person achieve the outcomes. Whether you call this an individualized approach, a strengths-based approach, or just common sense, it’s what great managers do.
This is not what our current performance management systems do. They ignore the person and instead tell the manager to rate the person on a disembodied list of strengths and skills, often called competencies, and then to teach the person how to acquire the competencies she lacks. This is hard, and not just the rating part. The teaching part is supremely tricky — after all, what is the best way to help someone learn how to be a better ‘strategic thinker’ or to display ‘learning agility?’ …
… the chief problem with all of this is that it is not what the best managers actually do. They don’t look past the real person to a list of theoretical competencies. Instead the person, with her unique mix of strengths and skills, is their singular focus. … the person’s messy uniqueness is the very raw material they must mold, shape, and focus in order to create the performance they want. Cloaking it with a generic list of competencies is inherently counter-productive.
Some say that we need to rate people on their competencies because this creates ‘differentiation,’ a necessary practice of great companies. … True differentiation means focusing on the individual — understanding the strengths of each individual, setting the right expectations for each individual, recognizing the individual, putting the right career plan together for the individual. This is what the best managers do today.”