Employee engagement invariably leads to higher performance – true or false?

02 Jul 2012

Helen Giles

When we do exercises around what makes for engaging leadership behaviours, assessing their own self-awareness and emotional intelligence, or practising feedback skills, most participants work on these very happily indeed. Also, after a little more extensive elaboration around the notion of core competencies, most participants get this and take to the idea of using these for recruitment, performance management and development like ducks to water. Those that don't already set 'balanced scorecard' type measures of success for company performance at least 'get' the idea and generally think it a very good one.

But invariably when we get on to the vexed topic of setting SMART performance objectives for individuals, or breaking down routine aspects of jobs into clearly measurable output and quality standards, a pea souper of a fog descends upon the room. Despite being given concrete examples and an assurance that they can adapt these to be as long or short as they like for the context of their enterprise, they struggle. When asked to experiment by drafting a couple of objectives and standards for somebody they manage, it's like watching a room full of five-year olds labouring to write their first full sentence.

It's at this point, when it dawns on them that a key element of any effective performance management scheme means having to describe in objective terms what the good performance that they have a right to expect actually looks like, so that it can be properly evidenced, pockets of rebellion break out in the room. "We won't have time to do all this management stuff in the way you describe. You don't understand the special circumstances of our type of business/ /charity/hospital or local authority department. The day to day work pressures are too much".

Intellectually, they accept that there's at least a degree of plausibility in the proposition that if you are investing in the expensive piece of kit that is an employee who might be costing you, let's say, £25,000 a year, it's wise to ensure your return on investment by setting a crystal clear specification of what you want them to deliver in terms of speed and quality of outputs and outcomes. But they simply find it devilishly difficult to do in practice.

I believe that it's the ability and discipline of doing this, and properly evidencing that expectations have been achieved, that sets consistently great organisations apart from the patchy or poor performers. Yes, employee engagement is important, but I also believe that rigour in the performance management process lies at the very heart of any organisation that is both highly engaged and high performing. From my exposure to data from not-for-profit organisations, I know that it is perfectly possible to command a very respectable employee engagement measure in a poorly performing organisation where the mission of that organisation is about making a difference to people's lives.

So I'd like to be hearing a little less about employee engagement in HR debates and guidance and more about good old fashioned performance management.

And can anyone point me to any written guide to '1001 ways to draw up objectives without even trying', with easy to crib examples?

Helen Giles (pictured) is HR director at Broadway Homelessness and Support



Giving feedback internationally

25 Apr 2012

Jeff Benviniste

Typically, this includes the on-line system, process and form filling that needs to be completed and submitted to HR or line managers. At best the appraisal system helps to 'manage' performance but has minimal impact on actually 'improving' and 'maximising' performance. It's the conversation itself that really counts!

The performance conversation is the constructive dialogue that takes place between two or more people to exchange and feedback, information, perspectives and experiences on their performance.

It's the quality and frequency of these conversations that can make the biggest difference in Indivduals and teams feeling motivated and engaged to perform (or learn to perform) at their very best.

In my experience, both in the UK and internationally, managers and leaders do not like and frequently avoid giving feedback. In many cases they find it difficult, 'unpalatable' and in some cases scary. At best they have the desire and willingness to carry out these conversations but are not always sure HOW to best carry them out and appropriately deliver feedback.

So how should we give feedback and does this differ internationally?

Most of us will not think before we give feedback. Often, this comes naturally and little thought is given to how we deliver our feedback. Probably most people will think that they are following the 'standard international' rules for giving feedback. However, more often than not, this could not be further away from the truth. How we voice our opinions, talk and give feedback is greatly influenced by culture. Our manner of speech, whether we use our hands during talking and whether we use the tone of our voice are all factors influenced by culture. This is something that can be easily forgotten, but can come at great cost if it is.

Cultural differences in giving feedback can lead to misunderstandings and disruption of a good working relationship. For example a South American's dominant style can be highly offensive to an African, while the softer, positive manner of an African may not make much of an impact on the South American. In this respect, it is important to know the main differences in management culture, and how to react to styles different from yours.

There are few globally accepted guidelines for giving feedback but stick to the following principles and you won't go far wrong:

  • Describe the behaviour/actions of the other person (be specific and give examples)
  • State the impact of the other person's actions or behavior on you, others and the business
  • Allow the other person to react and respond to the feedback
  • Ask the other person for his/her perception of the situation
  • Make a suggest or request
  • Build agreement on next steps


Do HR readers have top 20 truly useful HR books of the year

03 Jan 2012

Helen Giles

I wonder what HR magazine readers’ best leadership and management books of the year would be? For me it would have to be Scott Keller and Colin Price’s Beyond Performance.

The authors have carried out an extensive empirical research project over the space of a decade with hundreds of companies. Their evidence shows that only a third of organisations that achieve excellence are able to maintain it over decades and that the successful companies are those that focus not solely on performance, but on organisational health.

They identified 37 practices against nine dimensions that separate organisations that both achieve and sustain excellence and those that don’t. And guess what? Around two thirds of those practices relate directly or indirectly to the way people are managed. Canny HR practitioners can extrapolate the grid as a template for a persuasive approach to organisational development within their companies.

Do other HR readers have Top 20 truly useful HR Books of the Year nominations?

In this issue: August 2015
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Stand and deliver: Fresh austerity measures are on the way – but can public sector HR seize the strategic opportunity?

Eureka moment: HR at engineering firm AMFW

Going for gold: Maintaining the Olympic legacy

On the money: Providing innovative rewards

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