Creating a Culture of Conversations

8 May 2017 | Feedback high performance culture

In the rush to take a wrecking ball to outdated ways of assessing employee performance, there has been too much focus on process – and not enough attention given to changing the managerial mindset. Here’s what organisations need to create a culture of conversations.

The dictionary definition of a conversation is an ‘exchange of sentiments, observations, opinions, or ideas.’ Be honest: when is the last time you had one of these at work?

Research suggests that companies today are spending thousands of hours annually talking to and about their employees, as they join the move away from a system of once- or twice- yearly discussions about performance to much more regular check-ins. But how many of those hours are spent on meaningful conversation, and how many are caught up in process?

Taking a Wrecking Ball to Traditional Performance Management

When Accenture took a critical look at its performance management systems in 2015, it discovered that it was spending 75 percent of the time allocated to the review process talking about employees instead of conversing with them. Deloitte crunched the numbers and found that it was spending two million hours a year on its review process, prompting its move to abandon annual reviews.

Today, spurred on by the example of Deloitte, Accenture and others – including Microsoft’s 2013 move to axe ‘stack ranking’ of employees—as many as six percent of Fortune 500 companies have eliminated ratings in favour of a system of more frequent, less formal check-ins. Hardly a day goes by without another headline about the changing shape of performance management.

But in all the discussion about organisations taking a wrecking ball to the old, ineffective ways of measuring performance – traditional systems of assessing employees have been found to dull creativity and trigger resentment among even high-performers – there has not been enough thought given to how to change the managerial mindset, or the set the conditions for the kind of deep, cultural change that is needed.

Shifting the Managerial Mindset

To really allow their people to flourish, we believe organisations should be striving to create a ‘culture of conversation’: an atmosphere of meaningful, continuous engagement, coaching and feedback.

Simply instructing managers to move from once- or twice- yearly discussions about performance to monthly, or even weekly, ones is not enough. Sure, anyone can talk for an hour about performance. But it takes skill to use that time for meaningful engagement: to learn how to communicate regularly and be clear about expectations; to show appreciation for a task that has been done well and to provide timely, relevant and useful feedback – as well as guidance and support - for one that hasn’t.

Getting it right is crucial: research carried out in December 2016 by CIPD shows that if an employee feels “unfairly treated, unsupported or demotivated the day after an appraisal”, the process is in danger of unravelling.

What Does a Culture of Conversation Look Like?

In a culture of conversation, managers and individual contributors all have a deep understanding of the benefits of continuous coaching. Organisations, in turn, recognise that fostering that culture takes time away from their technical roles and – for some managers - a whole new skillset, from learning how to set goals, to giving strength-based feedback.

In this kind of environment, everyone benefits: relationships between employees and managers improve; feedback is timely, relevant and useful; work becomes more purposeful; the organisation thrives.

Challenging Questions

Transitioning to a culture of conversation can provoke some challenging questions for organisations. What type of managers do we need to hire? Is managing people something they actually want to do? Do they have the skillset we require to support a culture of conversation? How do we shift their mindset and skillset to allow them to create an environment that supports their team?

Allowing a culture of conversation to flourish as a continuous, mutually enriching two-way engagement, rather than a one-way process-driven system, is not just about choosing the right managers or empowering them to manage. It’s also about getting people in every area of the organisation on board, and recognising that changing gears to an environment where managers and their reports engage much more meaningfully, clearly and frequently, can provoke initial uncertainty and even resistance, which coaching and support can help to alleviate.

Deep, Cultural Shift

The other requirement is time. According to research, it takes an average of 66 days for a new habit take root. Multiply that out across an organisation, and it’s clear that the kind of fundamental change needed will take constant iteration, practice and feedback.

Simply moving from three conversations a year to 11 won’t change anything. There has to also be a deep cultural shift in the mindset of the organisation. Nobody said this was going to be easy. But with the right training and proper supports for managers as they help their teams navigate the transition; the time and space to develop their own skillsets, and the education to address the questions and concerns of employees, this kind of cultural change is within reach of every organisation.

For companies prepared to make the effort, the rewards can be tremendous.

Meet the hpc coaching team and get in touch to find out how we can help your organisation to develop a culture of conversation.

Authors: hpc team

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