Managing Performance – In Challenging Times

purpose and goals

Define and communicate your purpose – as a leader and as a business

Very few organisations can go back to where they were before the lockdown or the onslaught of Covid 19. Be clear about your purpose for the next 6-12 months – is it to stay alive (to quote Jack Ma), is it to find a new business to migrate to, to minimize burn and hibernate, is it to grow and seize opportunities, to protect customers and employees… A simple one-line statement of purpose is a great rallying point for your team(s) and helps everyone to understand – why are we doing what we are doing. A purpose also helps you to assess – are we/am I clear about what we need to do in our business?

Set boundary conditions for performance

Be clear about what you will and will not do to achieve performance. What is the quality of performance you will still ask for whilst you pursue quantitative metrics? What are values and beliefs that you will not compromise on? What are ‘must not dos’ that everyone will adhere to – what cannot be done to cut costs; how will partners and contractors be treated – will there be equity or not; do jobs matter or does performance?

Identify shifts and new/modified accountabilities and goal teams around these

Assess what you need to achieve and how you need to achieve it – you may need to listen to your customers more than ever before; you may need to run your business in a frugal way; managers may need to manage their teams with a higher emphasis on communication, listening and support, shift to digital channels for sales and marketing and more. All these changes/shifts need to be embedded into the goal sheets for the business and teams. Align your performance metrics to the purpose you want to achieve so that there is no dissonance.

Focus on team goals more than individual goals

This is a time when goals, objectives and targets are likely to be dynamic and will need revision every few months or as external and internal conditions change. Get teams to set goals and targets and hold them accountable. Taking the time to set, track and then revise individual goals may not be the best use of everyone’s time. Extend this further to assess if you should consider individual or team incentives and rewards (given the vagaries across markets and geos).

behaviours and outcomes

As a leader, your behaviours and actions will create an environment that can enable or limit performance. Reflect on how you can create the space, energy and inspiration for your teams and stakeholders to perform.

Build trust and create a safe space

This is a time of great uncertainty for many and at multiple levels. Be open, proactive and transparent in sharing information with your team. Be candid in sharing the bad news and what you can and cannot do about it. Share your concerns and limitations – be authentic. When you do so, people will continue to trust you and share issues, mistakes and disagreements in an open manner. All of this is critical to make progress in these times.

Ask questions that demonstrate that you want to understand and listen to what is not going well – that you are not looking for only good news. Watch how you respond to those who bring not-so-good tidings. This will influence the level of candour, dissent and debate that will be expressed freely in your team.

For many businesses, this is a great window to change and pursue new opportunities. People need to know that they can experiment, speak up, fail and move on. They need to feel they belong and are being included.

Encourage and recognize effort and not just outcomes

This is a time where many efforts may come to naught; teams and individuals need the motivation to keep trying new and different avenues. As a leader, you must be able to assess and recognize the quality of effort/inputs as much as you do the outcomes. There will also be teams and individuals who may not be able to achieve much but not for lack of trying. This is a time for small acts and gestures of care and acknowledgment – take the time to connect, speak to and thank all those who have contributed, as often as possible.

Ensure that you are fair and are seen to be so

Some teams may be able to make their incentives as their markets do not have Covid 19 and others may not. Some may be able to work from home as they have support at home and others may not. Bringing in a sense of fairness in how you treat, reward, recognize and manage your people is a huge challenge and there are no easy answers here. What you must not hesitate to do is to make exceptions and treat some teams and people differently – if that is what will make it fair. An environment of unfairness and inequity is a huge inhibitor of performance.

processes and practices

Managing performance in a company is a complex system comprising of many elements. In this section, we mention a few critical aspects only.

Rationalise or suspend elements of your PMS (Performance Management System)

Many leaders feel encumbered by the processes that they must follow to manage performance as per their organisational rubric even in regular circumstances. HR should look to launch a PMS lite for these times, where only useful and relevant elements are retained and the rest are kept in abeyance. More than forms and templates, leaders must lead the charge to ensure that everyone has clear goals and targets and an effective + regular process to review, address variances and course correct. In all likelihood, the R&R mechanisms will need review to ensure equity, the right culture and to address affordability.

Decision Making and Governance

You may need additional time and quick decisions from your Board and Management Committees. Think about constituting a smaller Board Committee that is available, can commit and meet at short notice. More decisions may have to be taken in the field or in parts of the organisation that face large numbers of customers, employees and partners. Revisit your DOA (delegation of authority matrix) to help make better and quicker decisions.

Provide oversight for performance across the organisation and the impetus for making and changing decisions by questioning how you are organised at the various levels of leadership. You may not need all members of a Management Committee to make decisions. Some suggestions – allocate management team members to different businesses and functions to provide oversight and support, set guardrails but empower sales, manufacturing and field teams to do what is best for customers, employees and the business. Bring only critical decisions/big risks/breakthrough ideas back to the committees. Do not mix communication and update events with decision-making. It will impede performance (do away with long presentations and updates!!!).

Information and Metrics – strengthen your MIS backbone

Data and information from the ground and your frontline are critical to steering performance – both to seize opportunities and grow as well as to avert problems. As a leader, assess if your processes, information flows are giving you the right and timely information about your employees, customers, products, markets and the business environment. This is the time to be discerning and stay away from a clutter of information and data. Clarity on what you need to know and track will make all the difference to performance and decision making. Think about whether your dashboards and scorecards need an overhaul. What you track will be what you chase…and therefore what you achieve or don’t.

managing yourself

Your leadership charter

What your performance should be in these challenging times is something you must determine and follow- and it could be well beyond your goal sheet or OKRs. It may be a good idea to sit down and capture the following and use it to guide your performance and actions –

Motivating yourself – the energy and purpose to make every day count

If you are a leader, you are more likely to be the one offering support, motivating others and helping people cope. Creating a charter is one way for you to wake up every morning and remind yourself of why you are doing what you are doing – and in that find the momentum to kickstart the day. Other ways to reinforce the motivation – create more resonance for your purpose | let off steam – reach out to people you consider to be your mentors and talk to them; listening to them will also help you find new ways | share more with your peers; they are likely to be going through similar experiences and may have similar needs | take a walk or keep a journal at the beginning or the end of the day, both to acknowledge what you are grateful for and to refocus.

Thank You!