By Roger Addison CPT, EdD, Carol Haig, CPT, Lynn Kearny, CPT
An organization implemented a new employee development process to document employee evaluations, identify high potential workers, improve employee retention, and ensure a pipeline of promotable people for future needs. It included such typical components as:
· Set performance goals and expectations in an initial meeting with each employee
· Provide feedback at regularly scheduled intervals
· Evaluate employees’ performance annually using a formal evaluation form coupled with a discussion
· Identify opportunities for skill building and gaining experience
· Set mutually agreed upon goals with the employee for the next performance period
Unfortunately, the new process failed to meet its goals. Initially, the concerned HR manager investigated the employee development process to see if it contained any design flaws or if managers were not following the process. When nothing indicated a problem with the process and fully 98% of managers were using it, the HR manager was stymied.
When a process isn’t “broken” it is time to look at how it is actually utilized—the practices employees follow when using the process. In our example, many managers waited until the last possible moment to write up evaluations or plan skill-building opportunities. These practices resulted in shoddy documentation and employees who felt slighted. The managers also emulated the example of their senior leaders and substituted emails for face-to-face evaluations, perpetuating a practice that was detrimental to the process and its goals.
In the world of performance improvement, practices are patterns of behavior that are rarely documented in company materials, but are communicated by established employees to newer people or are learned through observation. They are part of organizational culture and represent what is important to the organization. Practices are how work gets done in organizations.
Making Practices Visible
So if practices exist under the radar, yet are responsible for performance issues that undercut goals and programs, how do we find them? Fortunately, we performance improvement types are skilled at making the invisible visible because we have tools. Some are:
· Culture maps – to break out the defining elements of an organization
· Flowcharts – to show work processes or specific steps in a process
· Swim lanes – to display the interaction of multiple processes within a system
With our observation skills, performance improvement practitioners can enlist one or more of these tools to document what employees do and say—both process and practices—to capture how work is actually accomplished.
It is relatively easy to sabotage a well-intentioned process with inappropriate practices. In the failed employee development process we began with there was nothing inherently wrong with the process or its adoption. It was undermined by the practices of the managers using it, in imitation of their superiors, we might add. When an organization’s processes and practices are aligned, performance is likely to improve. When alignment is lacking, there is work to be done.
For more about process and practices and other challenges at the Work: Process/Practice Level, please see chapter three in our new book, Performance Architecture – The Art and Science of Improving Organizations.
Roger Addison and Carol Haig write the long-running TrendSpotters column in this publication. Roger leads Addison Consulting. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Roger blogs at http://rachekup.blogspot.com .
Lynn Kearny leads a performance consulting firm that assesses organizational needs and design and develops performance improvement solutions. Contact her at email@example.com.