September 20, 2022

Equipping Your People Managers to Drive Employee Performance

Katie Parker

You’ve laid the foundation for growth and performance in your organisation by launching a career framework.

The next step is making sure the framework is embedded into your business so that it can achieve what it set out to do—drive better performance.

You can do that by equipping your people managers with clarity over the framework’s purpose and the skills they need to lead. 

After all, your managers are best positioned to unlock your people’s performance. Because they interact with their reports daily, they are the ones who know the true impact their team members have in their roles.

But you can’t just introduce the framework and hope your managers know how to empower your people to perform at their best, you need to train and support them.

How We Define Performance

To drive performance, you first need to understand what performance means.

At Learnerbly, we say performance is ‘the extent to which we are meeting the expectations of our current role over time’. 

In simpler terms, it’s the impact our people have on our business.

So what do we mean by impact?

  • Maximising value add to the business while minimising risk
  • Contributing to OKRs to reach business objectives
  • Getting the business closer to delivering on its mission and purpose

Performance isn’t just about what we do, it’s also about how we do it. Both are important when fostering a high-performance culture.

That’s why we measure employee performance through the lens of both:

  • WHAT: For us internally, and for all the users of our career framework everywhere, the expectations of someone’s current role is defined by their level and role expertise and describes WHAT impact is expected in their role.
  • HOW: Our Values are how we do what we do, the behaviours we expect to see everyone champion as they bring their role to life.

This approach prevents us from having 'brilliant jerks' on our team, folks who are great at what they do but could damage how we work as a team because of the way they do it.

In too many organisations, values are nothing more than empty words. If you want to drive performance, your values need to be clear and actionable so everyone knows how to show up against them.

You can read through our resource hub on how Learnerbly evolved its values to better guide actions and behaviours here.

Equipping Your Managers

Providing Clarity to Your Managers 

For your work to land, for your managers to translate it to their teams, and for their teams to be bought in, you need your managers to have clarity themselves on what their role is, how they can drive performance, and to be fully bought into your performance work.

We started by taking our managers on the career framework journey with us:

  • We looped them in on our work every step of the way to the launch of our career framework and overall performance process.
  • We gave them an early bird show and tell, about a month ahead of the company-wide show & tell. That way the info would still be fresh, but they’d have enough time to digest it and ask any questions. 
  • We hosted a Q&A session with all of them as a group in what we call our bi-weekly ‘manager forum’ – a space for managers to become a community, enabling them to learn and align as a peer group. 

Basically, we aimed to make sure they had the clarity they needed ahead of the curve and be bought into the work and how it adds value for them, so they could translate that to their teams effectively.

Upskilling Managers: Manager Accelerator Training

After clarifying expectations we went to an expert to help our manager population action them. From theory to practice!

We could have built the training internally but that would have taken time we didn’t have and deep down we knew it would never be as good as what an expert in the field could deliver. That’s why we turned to the best: JooBee Yeow from Learngility

She handled everything related to our manager accelerator program, and did not disappoint! Our manager cohort rated the course each day against ‘I can immediately apply what I've learned today’. On average we had a whopping 4.5/5 rating.

If you’re stuck for budget and can’t bring in an expert, start building training content yourself giving clarity on at least these three topics:

  1. How do you enable autonomy? 
  2. How do you link the role to how it helps the business?
  3. How do you protect purpose?

Sounds a bit cryptic? Let’s take a closer look at what each of those mean and why they matter.

Enabling Autonomy

Autonomy does not mean ‘do whatever you want!’.

Instead, it’s about how the manager can empower their report to use their role to make an impact on the business. 

This means putting in boundaries and constraints to provide clarity and expectations to their reports. This results in people feeling free to act with all their capabilities to contribute towards a common goal.

Linking the Role to How it Helps the Business

For autonomy to work you need alignment. They aren’t mutually exclusive, rather you need alignment for autonomy to work.

Alignment happens through the common language used in the career framework, meaning you can set expectations with people about what’s expected of them. This provides the clarity needed to empower your people to work towards clear shared goals. 

Protecting Purpose

Often at times, we’re so focused on what and how something needs to be done, we forget to communicate WHY it needs to be done. 

Eventually, when things get tough, and we’re bogged down with so much to do, we end up losing the connection to why we were motivated to do it in the first place.

If you’re only going to teach one thing - teach your managers to ‘protect purpose’. This enables their team to always understand ‘why’ they do what they do. 

People managers need to connect the work their team does to your business’ ‘why’ - your mission, vision and purpose - by knowing why you exist, and what you’re trying to achieve. If every team in the business is clear on how their work helps achieve the wider goals of the business, then you're that much more likely to achieve those goals.

OKRs can be a useful tool to focus and coordinate efforts towards a common goal.

Creating a Forum for Learning

Do your managers come together as a group at any point to share experiences and learn from one another? 

At Learnerbly, we created a manager forum, a 45 min peer learning group where all people managers, who aren’t people leaders, come together biweekly. The forum enables them to connect with other people managers and for our People team to share key updates to pass on to their teams like:

  • Who’s joining soon so they have it front of mind
  • Who’s leaving so they can update their team
  • What PX is working on so they can have a say

It helps to empower managers to build the context, knowledge, and skills they need to enable their teams to perform and thrive. It’s a space for people managers to discuss their challenges, learn from and coach one another, and the chance to ask the People team anything - from context to advice.

Upskilling for Continous Growth

Your managers need to perform too. They need to continue their ongoing learning to maintain and further enhance their skills post-training.

Upskilling is the process in which people acquire new skills and learn how to apply them, and it usually refers to workplace learning. In the workplace, self directed learning happens when people can access learning resources that align with their individual learning needs. 

Learnerbly’s platform, for example, functions as an online marketplace of pre-vetted providers who supply online courses and learning resources that people can browse and complete at a time and in a way that suits them.

The platform enables manager performance by:

  • Enabling them to look up capabilities around what's expected at their level based on our career framework - e.g. if they haven't joined the training
  • Upskilling or refreshing on specific aspects of the training
  • Letting them see what other managers request
  • Giving them the option to recommend resources to each other
  • Empowering them to create playlists to inspire and guide others 
  • Allowing them to learn at their own pace and in the flow of work

Driving Performance by Upskilling Others

Now that your managers have clarity, how can they give clarity to their team so that they know whats expected of them, where they are on the performance spectrum, and what they can do to improve their performance in or beyond their level? 

The Importance of Good Feedback 

Feedback matters because we all have blindspots, biases and room to grow. 

It helps to empower one another to take action about where they can improve. It helps your people close the gap between how they work and how they can perform against what’s expected in their role as outlined in the career framework.

Most managers know how to give tough and constructive feedback, but they don’t always give good feedback when it comes to praise, so they need to know how to do that in equal measure.

So, what do we mean by good feedback? Not just ‘great job’, ‘you’re doing good’, or other blanket statements. We mean specifically: what are they doing and decoding the success of their actions, especially when the feedback is in the form of praise.

Giving feedback “formally” can feel unnatural to anyone. 

By introducing the AID feedback model (seen above) at Learnerbly, we smoothed out that experience. It’s as easy as A B C… or rather A I D and allows for a shortcut to driving performance with meaningful, actionable feedback.

We asked one of people managers, Galina Grkovikj, about how the AID feedback model has been a crucial part of improving her team’s performance. 

How to Have Powerful Performance Conversations

Great performance conversations will leave your people aligned, enabled and energised.

We introduced the 4 F’s framework at Learnerbly, which has been the key to nailing our monthly performance snapshot conversations. Your managers can refer back to it when planning how to approach their conversations with their team members.

Want to understand how to guide your managers on the 4 F’s framework? Let’s take a closer look.

Frame the Conversation

Always start with why, by signposting what’s going to be discussed, when and why it’s important.

Managers should also share any relevant information up front so everyone is starting from the same place and no one gets antsy or worried about getting to the important news.

Give Feedback

When sharing feedback using the AID model we introduced earlier in the article, managers will be able to point their reports in the right direction based on specific actions and behaviour, not assumptions or personal characteristics.

We’d also recommend managers should seek their report’s perspective here – feedback should be a loop, not a line. This is a conversation, not a speech!

Make Space for Feelings

People will have an emotional response, whether you make space for it or not. The Label, Listen, Learn model is useful to support this:

  1. Label what they’re feeling to support them to identify what it is they are feeling and why.
  2. Listen and Learn about what’s driving their emotional response: what really matters to them, what’s frustrating them, where are they uncertain, anxious or confused? This will help you champion their growth.

Managers should also make sure there are boundaries in place. They’re not responsible for fixing their report’s emotions, but allowing space for emotions will help you understand their perspective: which is key to empathic leadership.

Managers may need to move back and forth between Feedback and Feelings - it’s a loop, not a line.

Talk About the Future

Managers shouldn’t rush to this section.

If they rush to discuss the future before they’ve explored feedback and feelings (they might be in this loop for some time!) then managers are more likely to have to sell their reports what the next steps should be. If the next steps organically emerge from the conversation on the back of the report’s own reflection, they’re more likely to learn, grow and… be bought in straight away, because it’s their idea!  

Reviewing the past is useful for fuelling what’s next. What can their report learn, develop and use from the past year that will empower them in the future? What are the expectations when it comes to next steps?

The manager’s role is to leave them clear and empowered - not to fix everything for them there and then.

Embedding Continuous Performance Conversations

Ultimately, all of this is a loop. Managers will go back to what’s expected of their report and give feedback about what’s actually happening. Doing this continuously helps to embed performance into your culture.

Once they have the skills and knowledge needed to manage performance, they need to make this loop a ritual in their flow of work.

This happens through ad hoc praise and constructive feedback, monthly performance snapshot conversations, and even in weekly 121s.

We ask our managers to ask three questions to their reports every week during their 121s:

  1. what are you proud of since we last spoke
  2. what have you done differently since we last spoke
  3. what are you going to achieve this week since we last spoke

Coming back to these three questions helps drive accountability on the individual for their performance. They’ll have to acknowledge if a week has gone by where they haven’t achieved anything, or where they’ve made a monumental impact.

This keeps the conversation focused on performance, and makes it part of the fabric of your 121s.

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