CREATING FERTILE GROUND FOR PERFORMANCE MANAGEMENT
Updated: Jun 25
Part 3 of a series on performance management for education leaders.
Can a high-functioning performance management system grow in the barren and infertile soils of a control system?
Let’s play out this narrative in the interest of developing the metaphor as a useful tool for understanding the challenges human resource professionals face shifting from the traditional control model (marked by ritual, serving as a method for separation, at its nexus) to a model grounded in student learning and educator effectiveness. If it’s to be the effective lever it’s proven to be in the most successful of organizations, its cost needs to yield a high return. Given the high cost of not functioning at the highest level (personnel costs range between 85-90% of school district budgets), it stands to reason that harvesting talent would be a priority in school districts today. But since adaptability is not a core organizational competency in education, the task of creating a culture for a high-functioning performance management system to grow can prove to be daunting.
Growth is dependent upon its environment. Think of the ultimate glass of wine. It’s a product of the perfect climate and optimal fertility. Acquaint it, if you will indulge me, to the French concept of that perfect place reflected in a glass. If the terroir is less than perfect, so will be the product. Fans of Jerzy Kosinski’s classic novel, Being There, an allegory about a simple-minded man, can appreciate this pithy metaphor. Creating optimal conditions for growth is what savvy leaders do. In fact, it’s the best they can do. Leaders can do no better than find the right people, create a positive workplace culture, and trust them to perform. If you're not developing talent, you're wasting it. If we learn anything from Chance, the gardner, it’s that he adapts himself to the environment, despite his simple nature, or perhaps because of it. School district HR teams can learn a lot from Chance. HR professionals tend to overthink.
Keep it simple. Whether you recognize the KISS design principle as Keep it Short and Simple, Keep it Simple and Straightforward, or its most popular translation, the acerbic Keep it Simple, Stupid, it all speaks to the objective to deliver the simplest possible outcome. In Part 1 of this series, I declared that my team and I have set out to develop a performance management system for our school district, following basic design principles. Among the four principles I intend to illuminate in Part 4, the KISS Principle best captures the approach I expect will prove to be the perfect terroir for a high-quality system to emerge. Readiness precedes the actual work.
Before construction begins, we'll set out to determine what to measure. The "What" follows the "Why." We learned how important that distinction is from the work of Simon Sinek. In the leadership vernacular, following closely behind the “What" is the "How." And don't forget the "Who," after all, it's a human resource model we're developing [As a purveyor of classic comedy and an Abbott and Costello fan, throwing around all of these adverbs and pronouns made me think about their famous bit, Who's on First?, if you're interested].
The "How" is only possible because the value of trust is established early in the process. In the Halo Effect & the Problem with Performance Management, I introduced two elements that employees trust are at the epicenter of any evaluation or appraisal process: fairness and consistency. The design of a performance measurement system is built upon both of these employee expectations. Trust is developed through interactions. Appraisal by an expert is replaced by a dialogue between professionals. The focus is on learning. Trust develops. Any performance management system, then, will only be as good as the proportion afforded to the value of trust through the design principle of collaboration between the two primary actors (Design Principle #2). When the system is designed interactively, professionals enter into mutual agreements that serve as rules of engagement, commonly referred to as norms.
Though education has left the “Personnel” tag behind with the metal filing cabinets, we’re still closer to Human Resources 2.0 than we are 4.0. Collaborative design and professional agreements are still the domain of private sector industries led by human resource teams strategically titled Human Capital Management, People Operations, Talent Management, People, Employee Experience, Partner Resources, or other titles foreshadowing their focus and preoccupation. Their focus is not on control. Instead it's on creating an efficient human resource strategy to support the organization’s mission and vision. Our objective is to move beyond the single perspective, which results in a distorted image due to a multiplicity of contradictory criteria, given the variety of audiences. The design principle of variety (Design Principle #3) provides sustenance to performance measurement and contributes to the legitimacy of the process. When performance is viewed from multiple perspectives it becomes more meaningful and effective.
Circling back to HR 2.0 vs. HR 4.0. Why are HR strategies evolving in the private sector while they remain more or less static in the public sector? I argue that in the public sector, specifically education, we've not had to concern ourselves (or have chosen not to) with the same environmental stressors present in the competitive marketplace, namely permanent volatility, cost pressures, increasing competition, rapid industry shifts, and skill shortages. School districts tend to be closed systems, characterized by pervasive isolationism, insensitivity to external developments, and self-monitoring. It's a system that has proven to be largely immutable to change. The growth of the choice and charter movements are evidence of consumer demand and education's slow response.
The problem related to performance management in closed systems is what scholar and management guru Henry Mintzberg coined the non-intervention principle. Given multiple levels of mutual dependencies, educators tend not to intervene in the activities of fellow educators. To counter that, an effective performance management system must be dynamic as evidenced by cycles of continuous improvement. Dynamic systems are agile, flexible and adaptable. They are responsive to the internal and external environment, while remaining stable. Dynamism stimulates closed systems that tend to suffer from institutional inertia. The design principle of continuous improvement (Design Principle #4) is characterized by bounce, vibrancy, and liveliness. Performance management systems designed with this principle are marked by an element of tension, productive activity, and constant change.
Agile HR models are not only a contemporary phenomenon, they're indicative of the fast pace of change that has forced HR professionals to rethink how they approach the future. Emerging practices cannot be afterthoughts in education. The Law of Decreasing Effectiveness (aka Law of Diminishing Returns) has rendered the control system ineffectual at best and counterproductive at worst. That is not debatable.
A fresh model designed on the principles of simplicity, collaboration, variety, and continuous improvement grounded in the values of trust, fairness, and participation is emerging in school districts committed to a human resource strategy that can aptly be titled, People Operations.