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Rethinking Performance Management - Part 3

18 May 2018

***This is the third in a series of four blogs coauthored with Helen Sanderson and exploring the use of Confirmation Practices as an alternative to conventional performance management approaches***

Tactics for making the most of Confirmation Practices

Making the most of Confirmation Practices is something that can rely on relatively small and subtle tactics. Amongst those that we have found to be most useful are:

  1. Scoring Confirmation Statements on a scale rather than using a binary true/false type of distinction.
  2. Insisting that actions to improve are framed in terms of what will be demonstrated in the next few days or couple of weeks.

Let’s explore these in turn.

Using Scores

Confirmation Statements support and encourage reflective practice. The more that can be done to enable this the better. Using scores, for example on a 5 points scale, can be a great way to do this since it promotes thoughtfulness and a willingness to explore the shades of grey that exist in reality over the false certainty of true/false type conclusions. 

On this approach, individuals score how they rate current performance against their Confirmation Statements and use these as a prompt for discussion. Here are some examples:

Used by multidisciplinary teams in a large insurance firm to guide their weekly team meetings...

Used by health professionals working to improve medical diagnostic services, i.e. pathology...

Used by a community of practice who volunteer their time to creating a movement for more humane business...

Scoring is deliberately subjective because the scores are not what is important; their purpose is to prompt early and accurate identification of issues and opportunities by provoking a gut feel response to be explored and triangulated with others.

By treating scores as a way into surfacing uncertainty and differences of perspective early and often, people can put down the fear factor of ‘having to be right’, instead being able to work from their lived experience and using that subjective judgement as a way into shared sense making. This shifts performance management from being a game of keeping score and making the numbers to being a routine of checking in and sense making together. In doing so, scoring Confirmation Statements puts more traditional, pseudo-objective data about performance in its proper place; as a means to aid shared sense making rather than as a score to be kept.

Framing Actions As ‘What Will Soon Be Demonstrated’

All plans are wrong but planning is useful. Keeping the feedback loop between planning action and learning from it as short as possible is a great way to promote rapid learning and adaptation. Even when some plans are by necessity far reaching and will take time, breaking these down into simple next actions and describing what we will see in the next few days or fortnight enhances people’s sense of responsibility for action and enables us to surface learning in ways that keep even far-reaching plans on track with reality.

Demonstration is a key practice here. It helps to nail down exactly what’s wanted and what its value is, preventing vague actions and vague assurances further down the line. In other words, framing action in terms of what will be demonstrated soon, improves both clarity about what the action is and whether it has been delivered.

So in framing actions be clear about:

  • what are we going to see?
  • when?
  • why is that of value?
  • who is going to do it?

The Link to Coaching and Assurance

These tactics for effective Confirmation Practices link naturally to the role that coaches can play in helping teams into habits of being responsible for the value they create. Through close support, coaches can help teams to enact their Confirmation Practices effectively, helping them to develop clear statements that meet the 2 rules set out in Blog 2, helping them to reflect openly and accurately and helping them to plan and prioritise action in ways that ensure clarity and progress (i.e. in ways that avoid vagueness and drift).

Working this way also opens up a second order use of Confirmation Practices, where coaches confirm that what they see when they observe and support teams to reflect fits with what would be true if teams were actively taking responsibility for value and holding themselves to account (i.e. what they would expect to see if teams were making effective use of their Confirmation Practices).

This second order form of Confirmation Practice can provide a new and powerful mechanism for corporate assurance; where responsibility for value and control are kept in the work but where an organisation can systematically understand how well that responsibility is being embraced and enacted. Using Confirmation Practices in this way can therefore shift the performance management paradigm; dissolving the dysfunctions of accountability for results or compliance with static specifications and replacing them with a focus on helping people to take responsibility and to use it wisely.

An Example From Helen's Wellbeing Teams

Helen writes…

"I know that having weekly goals is important for me and my productivity. When we started the first Wellbeing Team in Wigan, we had weekly tactical meetings with the coaches and Community Circle Connectors to agree actions, and each week we put our top two goals for the following week on our shared Slack group. I thought this would help us stay on track with important goals, and have a shared sense of accountability. This was great in theory, but what I noticed was that people easily fell into putting ‘Attend provider meeting’ (a task they would be doing anyway) as a goal, or ‘provide support to the team’ (part of their role, not a goal). I gave people feedback on these but the problem was also that the goals were not connected to the key priorities for each role. Introducing Confirmation Practices changed this. They enabled us to focus on the essential components for each role, and better actions emerged as a result.

When Andy suggested that the best way to introduce Confirmation Practices was to coach people to use them, I could see the benefit but was unsure that I could commit time or resource to make it happen. For the first month, people met in pairs to do their Confirmation Practices themselves, un-coached. We recorded them on a shared Google Drive and always talked about them in our meeting. I realised though, that developing the level of challenge and support that Confirmation Practices invite, did require further support and coaching. I could see why Andy recommends this, and the investment is most definitely worth it.

Now the Practices are coached each week, helping to keep us focused and productive. While in the beginning one team member had viewed them as a ‘new form to complete’, coupled to coaching they are now seen as a valuable aid, helping us to explore how we are doing in the key areas of our role, and how we can keep improving and developing."

Next Time 

In our next and final blog in this series about Confirmation Practices we will explore tactics for coaches and how different approaches to feedback can unlock radically different behaviours in individuals and teams.


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