This four blog series is coauthored with Helen Sanderson and explores the use of Confirmation Practices as an alternative to conventional performance management, examining how they dissolve common problems and help people to see through the fog of everything that could be managed to focus on what really matters. The aim is not to dwell on the problems of performance management, but to provide practical insights on what Confirmation Practices are, how to use them and where they can be useful.
The Problem In Brief
Conventional performance management relies on defining performance against specifications, objectives and numerical goals then holding people to account for the fictions these create. Since the subtleties of life don’t easily reduce to numbers and plans, responsibility for managing reality is replaced with accountability for doing as instructed. But the boundary where internal organisation meets external reality is exactly where freedom and responsibility are needed to sense and respond. In locating the direction of accountability and control ‘up there’, freedom is removed and the more important responsibility to ‘out there’ - to delivering value - is dulled, diminished or outright broken. There is therefore a profound need for a better way to manage performance; one that puts control into the work and that helps people to hold themselves to account - to be responsible - for the value they create. This is where Confirmation Practices come in.
Introducing Confirmation Practices
Confirmation Practices are simple routines for systematic reflective practice. These help individuals and teams to hold themselves to account. Coupled to coaching, they provide a way to simultaneously hardwire responsible, flexible, innovative practice and to provide organisational assurance.
In their most rudimentary form, Confirmation Practices provide a set of statements about what would be true if an individual or team were achieving their purpose. In developing then reflecting on these statements, those using them are able to clarify what success looks like, what’s getting in their way and what action should be taken - all in terms that are meaningful to them.
This provides a mechanism for shared sense-making that goes beyond the narrow view that specifications, targets and objectives offer, encouraging people to use their peripheral vision, to surface their uncertainties early and often and to offer each other constructive challenge along the way.
An Example From Helen Sanderson Associates and Wellbeing Teams
"In Wellbeing Teams we are using Confirmation Practices in pairs before our weekly team meeting. For each role we have a ‘Progress’ document, which is a self-assessment that team members use to understand their progress against the key elements of their role. We used this to determine Confirmation statements, so that they reflect the essence of the role.
Here are some examples:
Role: Ensuring our Wellbeing Teams are delivering compassionate, person-centred, safe care, and continually developing their practice.
Example Confirmation Statement: I am confident that everyone in the team has the knowledge, skills and confidence around their safeguarding responsibilities, are completing reports accurately and raising any concerns with me.
Role: Ensuring Wellbeing Teams are skilled and confident in self-organising and focussing on their wellbeing.
Example Confirmation Statement: I am confident the team are effective in raising and acting on issues that impact on their work.
These simple statements may not sound like much but using them is helping us to stay focussed on the most important elements of our role, forcing us to be specific about how we are doing and why we think this. By conducting these Confirmation Practices just before our team meeting, we can then directly take any issues or tensions to this meeting to problem-solve together."
Using Confirmation Practices offers organisations a simple way to shift from the traditional upstairs/downstairs dynamics of hierarchy, where performance is specified and controlled (read: constrained) from above. In the new reality that Confirmation Practices help to create, shared sense making and reflective practice unlock responsibility while enhancing real control by creating the flexibility to respond to new understandings and a changing world.
In our next blog we will describe rules of thumb that can help when setting up new Confirmation Practices. In the meantime, here’s a short video summarising what they are and what they are for.