I recently attended the World Gymnastic Championships in Glasgow, where I witnessed athletes performing amazing routines. It didn’t matter what country the athlete was from or what event they were participating in, each and every one of them put their heart and soul into every move they performed, fighting for every tenth of every score. At one point, a gymnast fell flat on his face from the high bar, and instead of giving up he jumped right back on to finish the routine – proof of true dedication and commitment.
This led me to think about performance management, to ask myself, what are they doing right in gymnastics to motivate their athletes to perform so well, even when things go badly? What could we learn from them and use in our performance management systems?
Lets begin with why
Why do we manage performance? In the case of gymnastics, it is so athletes can safely and effectively perform tricks and routines. If they didn’t do this, coaches would put their athletes at risk or make them less effective in their performances. In the business world there are similarities - aren’t we trying to help our employees perform their ‘tricks’, reducing the risk to them and the business, and helping them perform? Often we lose sight of this, and need to focus and remember why we are doing it in the first place.
Performance management ??are we calling it the right thing?
My next question may be a bit controversial, but I’m going to raise it anyway: are we calling it the right thing? The definition of management is ‘dealing with and controlling things or people’, is that really what we should be doing? Do we really want to be controlling our employees? Coaching, on the other hand, is defined as ‘supporting a learner in achieving a specific personal or professional goal’. If I take a step back and think about it, shouldn’t we call it performance coaching and not performance management? Something to consider for the future don’t you think?
How do we manage performance?
My final question is how, how do we performance manage (or coach)? Going back to gymnastics, the coach very clearly sets the goals and objectives for each practice session, gearing the athlete up for future performances. The athlete knows exactly what they need to do to perform, and receives constant feedback from their coach at every stage of the process. This is exactly what we need and should be doing with our employees. We need to be clear in how we set goals, making sure that these reflect specifically what needs to be done to perform well and reduce the risk for the employee and the company. We need to provide constant feedback in the way a coach does, making sure that our employees are clear throughout the process as to what is working and what is not working. And finally, we need to have the right ‘equipment’, meaning the right tools, processes, training, etc. to assist us along the way.
Here’s an example to illustrate these points listed under ‘how’. Think of a gymnast learning a flip on the balance beam. You wouldn’t have them go on the beam and try the trick, would you? No, you would set them goals such as performing it successfully on the ground first, then a low balance beam, and finally the high balance beam. Do the same with your employees, give them goals so that they can learn and achieve the ‘trick’, coaching and encouraging them whilst they practice and learn. Give them feedback along the way, and use ‘equipment’ that will help them achieve their goals.
Let me end this article with a quote from Kohei Uchimura, who won an unprecedented sixth World Gymnastic Championship gold for the all around at the recent competition. He said “I am trying to become a super gymnast who can do the best performances in any competition at any time". I think he’s got it right when it comes to performance – he works hard so that his performance is practiced and consistent, being able to ‘win’ at any point in time. So let’s think like coaches when we develop and manage our ‘athletes’ and make sure we support them in achieving their goals and performing to reach their potential.