Issue #19 March 2012

Telling people how it is

They say there’s no business like show business.  But when managers have to show their assessment of an employee’s performance via a formal performance appraisal interview, it can be an uncomfortable experience.
There’s probably no greater test of workplace communication skills than that found in the process of performance appraisal, which although not universally adopted – and certainly not universally liked – is a reality for most senior managers.  And for many managers, it’s where the rock comes up against the hard place.
So what makes it difficult, and how can performance appraisal systems work more productively and less stressfully for those involved?
At one level, there are relatively easy answers which, given the evolution of performance management systems over the last 15 years or so, are really a set piece for any advocate of the process.  If you were starting from scratch to implement a performance appraisal system, current best practice would encourage you to provide for:

  • Mutually agreed performance objectives
  • Specific goals to be achieved – and agreed ways of measuring whether they had been achieved
  • Ongoing review of performance against goals – not just six monthly, not just annually
  • Assessment of how the performance was achieved – not just what was achieved – to ensure consistency of performance behaviour against company values
  • More than one source of assessment – for example, staff and other colleagues as well as the boss providing input to the process
  • Identifying future skills development needs and opportunities for the employee concerned.

None of these features are really contentious to most people – with the possible exception of having other colleagues and staff involved in the process – because they are, in today’s work environment, key management principles exercised by the best managers to ensure people are doing things that have to be done, doing them enthusiastically, doing them on time and doing them to the standards required and beyond.
However, at a deeper level, for any individual manager, what sits behind how successful – or how stressful – the process is, is the issue of how well that manager deals with a performance that is not up to scratch.  And this comes down to how well they deal with the threat of interpersonal conflict.
Many people run a mile from having to give negative feedback to someone else, on the basis that it’s very likely to provoke some level of discomfort or conflict between the two parties.
It’s all very well for the theorists to say that the performance appraisal process should provide for continuous feedback so that there are no surprises at the end of the review period.  In practice, managers that avoid potential conflict, or can’t capably manage a clear discussion of performance problems, will avoid dealing just as much with the small problems along the way as with the bigger performance failures that may arise as the review period draws to a close.
While most of us may prefer to avoid personal conflict and feel some level of stress in providing feedback on poor performance, it’s a fact of life that this is part of a manager’s territory.  Managers need skills in this area.  The good news is that managers can learn communication skills and processes to handle poor performers effectively and make performance appraisal processes work for them.  And the bottom line is that it’s all about the ability to show and tell.

Online – Now!

I was reading a press report from Martin Ferguson's office about what a great job Tourism Australia is doing by spending 20% of its budget in China - great news for the airlines and big hotels but not as much fun if you are a smaller property or tourism operator (you know, the businesses that make up most of our tourism industry). Anyway, what really caught my eye was the claim that only 35% of Aussie tourism businesses currently accept online payments for instant confirmation of bookings. Are we seriously saying that I can ring up and pay with my credit card or walk in the door and drop cash on the counter of  65% of Australian tourism businesses, but I cannot make payment and confirm my booking using the interweb thingy. You have got to be kidding!

For many people, using the Internet to organise a holiday is not a task, but a hobby. They spend hours searching and researching to ultimately either book themselves or cause some poor travel consultant a nervous breakdown. As for shopping online, last Sunday when I realised the filter for our vacuum cleaner was stuffed, I jumped on the Dyson website and within 5 minutes had a new one organised and on its way. Shopping on the web is now the way of the world and what our key FIT markets (Northern Europe, USA, UK, Canada, New Zealand) want and expect.

I also recently read that an economist who has been most accurate in forecasting currency changes, has predicted the A$ will reach $1.10 over the next 18 months. This means the future of Australian tourism must  lie in competitive pricing and service excellence. So, not allowing your customers to purchase your product over the Internet does not seem like excellence in service to me.
Want to discuss this issue? – call Colin on 4771 4566