Why We Need to Enable — Not Manage — Performance

Few organizations are better authorities on the evolution of performance management than Betterworks, whose annual State of Performance Enablement report dissects what employers are doing right to empower better performance — and where they have room to grow. One of the first steps: Moving away from the term “performance management.”

“We are still using a term for something that really is not useful to the modern world anymore,” says Michelle Gouldsberry, senior content marketing manager at Betterworks. Annual reviews no longer make sense in today’s fast-paced, strategy-driven workplace, which is why Betterworks instead promotes performance enablement.

“Performance enablement, as an approach, respects the fact that the world is a changed place,” says John Schneider, chief marketing officer at Betterworks. “The valuable work people do today is much more abstract and less transactional. In addition, they are working distributed work environments. And that makes this type of work, where the quotient is on creative thinking and connection with others, requires that people feel motivated beyond the paycheck.”

I asked John and Michelle to explain what sets performance enablement apart from traditional performance management — and why that distinction matters in today’s workplace. 

Relationships Drive Business

People crave connection and relationships at work, and these are key ingredients of a high-performance culture. “Post-pandemic, people value things like having a sense of belonging, wanting to be connected,” Michelle says. “We’re made to be in relationships with each other.” 

Although your people still care about pay and benefits, we can overrate money as a differentiator. Employees today also want career growth opportunities, a sense of purpose, and a positive culture. “There are those softer things that people value, softer relational things that CEOs and executives and those on the board have to pay attention to,” Michelle says.

I talk a lot about the importance of connection and community in our relationships. Connection and belonging are also key outcomes generated by performance enablement. While employees have low trust levels in HR and leadership (26% and 32%, respectively), those numbers jump to 41% and 49% when employees believe their performance reviews as fair and successful. 

It’s clear that when leaders manage performance effectively, they create trust and motivation for their team members. “You have to relate to the human being first,” Michelle says. “When they see you care about them, then they want to perform.”

Managing performance, like any relationship, requires high touch. It’s a relationship built on frequent conversations, real-time feedback between managers and employees, and recognition. When you lack these touch points, you undermine trust.

“Your job as a manager is not to manage people,” Michelle says. “It’s to help them problem-solve, to troubleshoot, to get through bottlenecks — to make their work easier.” 

Fairness Is Fundamental to Employee Experience

Fairness is critical to a positive employee experience, according to the State of Performance Enablement report, which found that 55% of employees ranked fairness as the most important factor. “You’re not going to believe in your leadership team if you think there’s a lack of fairness in how they are managing the company and treating people,” John says. “It’s not pay; it’s pay equity.” 

Everyone wants a fair shake, especially when it comes to assessing their performance. “It’s actually a pretty high bar in the sense that you have to then apply it to all these things and make sure you ask yourself, ‘What does it mean to create fairness in this value metric of what employee experience is?’” John continues. “They’re all going to have their dimension to it that’s unique.”

Performance enablement works because it’s built on relationships, trust and real-time conversations. Employees are more likely to perceive it as a fair process than traditional performance management. They’re more likely to feel heard and valued for their contributions.

Unfortunately, we can all think of organizations where people don’t feel supported in their careers. “Only 38% of employees feel that both their performance and career aspirations are fully supported by the organization,” Michelle says, citing the report. “Fewer than one in two to see a clear path for advancement. When asked who is most likely to care about their career growth, 56% said ‘my manager,’ 13% said HR. ‘No one’ was 30%.”

Look around your organization. Are you being fair in your policies, your processes and your interactions? If you see biases, you might be keeping people from growth opportunities and hurting your business at the same time. Performance enablement solves this problem with career paths that are unique to each team member, based on their strengths.

People Don’t Fit Into Neat Boxes

If you want to be a human-centered leader, everything you do needs to be about your people. In traditional performance management, calibration isn’t designed for people. “It was invented by the CFO, not by the CHRO,” John says, and has had more to do with standardizing raises than thoughtfully evaluating “high performance.” 

It’s time to take that process away from finance and lean into the human element, John says. “How do humans want to be handled and treated in a proactive way? How do you tell a manager to throttle their expectations of their employees because of payroll and compensation? You want a manager who says, ‘I’m going to make every person on my team great all the time.’”

Once you put someone in a box (literally, if you use the nine-box calibration model), it’s hard for them to break out, Michelle says. But adopting a performance enablement model helps you capture better data about where performance at work actually happens, such as in your CRM.

Empower Performance to Unleash Your People’s Potential

Performance enablement unleashes your workforce’s performance potential by creating a fair, human-centered process that puts people first. When you focus on building relationships, strengthening trust and improving performance in the flow of work, you support your people in their roles while preparing them for impact throughout their careers.

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