Nobody wants to be an anonymous cog in a machine, but not everyone can be the CEO. Constructing a narrative for a career arc that acknowledges the challenges of limited hierarchical growth while providing an outlet for personalization and a sense of worth is difficult. A key tool for addressing this challenge can be the oft maligned and frequently dreaded performance planning session.
What have you done for us lately?
Most performance planning begins with corporate growth targets and moves to how your individual work will contribute to that goal. However, this can result in a feeling is disempowerment (“How could I possibly contribute meaningfully?”) and a stifling of ambition (“I’m unlikely to ever become significant in this organization”).
One way to address this is to focus more clearly on the individual employee, something Siemens has considered in its Growth Talks performance planning. Growth Talks eschews numbers, instead looking to identify what the employee can accomplish in a given planning period and how that work will execute in the context of the organizational goals.
Thinking top-down and transferring the goals of the organization to the individual employee can create difficulties for individuals struggling to find a space in the workplace.
Nobody wants to be a replaceable part, nor do they want to feel like their own goals will be subsumed by the larger needs of the company.
To avoid this challenge, Growth Talks can be used to invert the process, first discussing personal goals, then looking at how those goals can be achieved in the context of the team’s composition, the team goals, and finally the organizational goals.
It’s all about me!
Everyone has a vision for their career, but articulating that grander vision often doesn’t help with the next step. To start performance planning sessions, we usually start with a simple question:
What are you good at right now?
While you might have already discussed this in a previous performance planning session, it’s still a great question to ask. Work experiences may have led to unexpected adventures, opening new interests or surprising growth. From this opening, we can start exploring: what do you like about what you’re doing? What would you like to do more of? What part of that activity is most appealing?
At this point, we don’t discuss the team or the company; this is all about personal growth and interests, establishing a baseline for all further conversation.
Putting the ‘I’ in team.
Work is not usually an unfettered journey of self-actualization. In the end, we have goals which we must accomplish together. Linking our desires and those of the organization involves discussing how our team works together. We start this portion of the conversation with another question:
In what ways do you want to be seen as valuable or expert by the team?
Again, we’re talking about you: how you want to be perceived, how you want to be valued. However, this is now linked to your integration into the team. At this point, it requires a bit of deftness and creativity from both the manager and the employee. For each of the growth targets we identify, we need to link tangible team activities that can provide a space for that growth.
For instance, if you have expressed an interest in becoming a valuable project manager, we might suggest that you assist in the management of an under-resourced project with the goal of taking on a subsequent, small project at a future date. This allows you to learn along the way, filling the gaps in your knowledge, gaining experience, and fulfilling your goals while also contributing in a meaningful way to the team. In turn, the team observes your growth as self-evident, increasing their perception of your value and expertise.
Ideally, this creates a set of opportunities for organic growth, learning from mentors and leaders to fill needed gaps in the organization. Under less-than-ideal circumstances, secondary growth targets may need to be promoted. Perhaps we already have a plethora of project management expertise, but need a systems expert, something you’re also interested in developing.
Squaring the corporate circle.
If the team projects and activities are well-aligned with the needs of the company, the job is done. You can draw a direct line from your unique contribution to each activity you perform to the success of the company. Speaking from experience, this is incredibly valuable when there’s an opportunity to acknowledge the success of a team or employee, since the individual accomplishments are already recorded directly in the performance planning.
From a management perspective, it’s challenging to corral the disparate interests of the team members into a singular narrative where each team member is contributing meaningfully to the greater progress of the organization without any holes. However, one benefit from this approach is that gaps in team composition become extremely clear, providing excellent fodder for headcount discussions.
It’s valuable to not just point to gaps in your organization, but to produce clear evidence that each team member is already filling a needed role.
Siemens Growth Talks lend themselves well to this inverted performance planning format, but they’re not unique. The primary components – a record of goals, qualitative measures of success, frequent conversations – are present in other modern performance planning approaches and can similarly lend themselves to upside-down performance planning.