In the first of my series on the theme of ‘difficult conversations’, we looked at how the performance appraisal, far from being outdated, can be a powerful and essential HR tool if managers are trained to use it properly.
In that piece, one of the key points was how to make everything more measurable. It is very difficult to appraise how well an employee is living up to the organisation’s vision and values, and it can be an unfair challenge to expect line managers to do this.
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But if they are trained instead to translate these values into something more tangible, i.e. behaviours, they will then be able to measure demonstrably how an individual is performing by the presence or absence of those behaviours.
This is an issue in both performance management and disciplinary procedures, which managers need to be trained to handle: if you expect people to live up to your organisation’s values, you need to be able to define desired behaviours that demonstrate this – then targets become clearer.
Some organisations work hard to do this – but many don’t, yet they complain when people don’t live their values. They have them on posters and murals but they never really get them off the wall and into the culture.
The L&D department has the key here. We need to train managers to identify and break down the values they are looking for, and then give feedback that is well rounded and looks not just at task but also how someone operates in their job.
How do you explain to someone that whilst they might be delivering what they’re required to do in terms of the functional aspects of their job, they’re not behaving in a way that is in line with company values? Appraising the whole person, not just the completion of task – giving feedback on approach, or how a person does their job – this is a tough challenge in the real-world workplace.
For example, a manager may have to have the difficult conversation with an employee that they are not ready for a leadership position because they don’t engage stakeholders. If the manager breaks down the conversation to what they see and what they hear, they can bring tangible examples and targets into the conversation, on which the employee can work.
We recently undertook a management development programme with our client Momentum Instore: working with them to bring their values alive, we embedded thinking about the values throughout the programme, asking the delegates to identify what they really meant for them. Here are some examples from the approach we took with them:
If an organisation’s value were to be “agility”, ask the manager to decide what it means in their particular context. Then ask them to identify what they would see or hear a person doing if they were demonstrating it. If “agile” were to mean “finding solutions to challenges” for that manager, the demonstrable behaviours might be initiating discussions about existing processes and looking for improvements.
Or if the value were to be “customer focused”, ask first who is the customer in this context, then what would I see or hear a person doing. Behaviours might be making reference to the customer’s perspective – such as “If I were our customer, I would…”
L&D will add value by getting involved at each stage of the employee lifecycle:
Beginning with recruitment – train managers to interview in a way that looks for evidence of behaviours demonstrated in previous roles. How do you evaluate answers? This will be very much the preserve of the resourcing team, an area that L&D traditionally may not infiltrate, but of course it should.
Next, look at the induction process and consider what exercises you could incorporate to bring the organisation’s values alive.
Consider how to make the values become more relevant to the employees as part of “business as usual”. Would a “value of the month”-type initiative help to make them become more visible among peer groups? This initiative would require L&D to work closely with the internal communications team. .
Look at your leadership frameworks, leadership development programmes and high potential programmes. How do we help our leaders and high-potential people to manage according to values?
For example, in the event of a project team being set up to manage a new site or a new customer proposition, there is a role for L&D to show people how they can live the values by getting involved in that project. This helps to sell roles on the project team but also to help people’s development by allowing them to get feedback on how they’ve performed, not just what they’ve done.
At board level, the principle of living the values can be delivered through executive mentoring. And if your senior people are mentors, make sure they too are equipped with the above techniques to identify behaviours. This extends the reach of L&D all across the organisation.
Similarly, coaching (for board level or high-potential individuals) usually brings in external coaches. L&D need to link up with them to make sure they’re working along the same lines. Often the L&D department will be asked to identify and source coaches for certain individuals. They need to make sure the briefing of these coaches needs to include values and behaviours that evidence them.
Ultimately, this process can improve the entire culture of your organisation. By getting your values off the wall and onto the floor, you will enhance your people – and your whole employer brand – in a measurable way.
About the author
Vicky Roberts, is the head of V-Learning at Vista