Yes, Even Highly Structured Organizations Can Revamp Performance Management

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Authored by

NLI Staff
In many organizations, performance management conversations happen maybe four times a year. NLI knows how to make them a regular part of work life.

Just because an organization has been around for decades and counts tens of thousands of employees among its ranks, doesn’t mean the firm can’t change how it handles performance management.

As NLI has long found, even the world’s biggest companies and government organizations can revamp PM by relying on simple, brain-friendly strategies. These strategies enable all employees, on a daily basis, to personally transform both their own PM experience and that of others.

Below we’ve listed two big strategies that have helped large organizations stay nimble and innovative.

Spark quality conversations

Typical performance discussions happen maybe four times a year. They are highly controlled and don’t often leave either side particularly excited for the months to come. At many firms, these discussions are inevitable, since rigid PM processes serve as the only way for leaders at every level to assess performance.

NLI understands these requirements, but it also knows from the science that managers and employees can actively turn everyday chats into rewarding PM conversations that boost engagement. The trick is maximizing what’s known as “social reward” and minimizing “social threat.”

Generally speaking, the human brain responds to physical threats in much the same way as social threats. When someone threatens our sense of status or fairness — say, by criticizing our work in front of others or excluding us from a project, with no explanation — we feel that pain. Likewise, our cognitive function tends to suffer in the process.

On the other hand, when leaders bestow social rewards, they say and do things that uplift people, make them feel included, and give them a sense of autonomy over their work. These behaviors go a long way toward boosting engagement and helping those four big discussions go over more smoothly, with fewer threatening surprises.

Start asking for feedback

The only way to improve is to learn from past mistakes. That’s a hallmark of building a growth mindset. With only a small amount of time devoted to PM conversations, highly structured organizations can still bake in feedback to everyday interactions by relying again on maximizing social reward.

Usually, feedback stings. It doesn’t feel good to hear about your shortcomings, even if a manager sandwiches them between compliments. But as NLI’s recent research has found, employees experience far less stress and anxiety, both as givers and recipients of feedback, when people ask for it, rather than give it unsolicited.

If thousands of employees start asking for feedback on a regular basis, NLI theorizes they’ll get far more comfortable hearing criticism, and adapt far more quickly to changes that come their way. That means even the largest, most highly structured organizations can still be agile, flexible, and relevant in today’s era of constant change.

To learn even more about the essential habits for leadership, register for this year’s Culture & Leadership Insight Lab.

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