Most of us who have been corporate soldiers are all too familiar with the annual performance review ritual. It’s a regular source of frustration of course, especially in companies that force-fit employees into a predetermined performance distribution that ensures some proportion of people are kept feeling anxious about their jobs. One particular aspect of this process that bothers me is the way Stretch Objectives can become a distraction from the core purpose of someone’s role.
I was recently asked by the management team in a Biopharma research facility to help them identify the causes for falling morale, as reported in their annual employee survey. I interviewed a number of people at different levels and, without breaking confidences, the pattern that became clear was that management were perceived as being distant from the work being carried out in the laboratories. Walking round the labs themselves, I found indirect evidence of this everywhere: inefficient utilisation of the key pieces of equipment, contamination problems, clutter everywhere. When work runs poorly like this – whether it is a laboratory, a manufacturing site or an office – it’s a symptom of a management problem.
And so it came back to a tactful conversation with the people that had brought me in, and an all-too-common explanation: there was such a long list of higher priorities on the ‘stretch’ part of their performance objectives – reorganisation, new initiatives and a facility change – that there was hardly any time to pay attention to how the day-to-day work was being carried out. It had in effect been deprioritised. Of course, there was a reasonable expectation that scientists are capable of organising things better – but also a rather less reasonable expectation that management’s apparent lack of interest would not affect performance on the bench.
There are three steps to engaging leaders in the daily work, whatever the industry:
- Make it easy for management to see how the work is performing with visual controls: workplace organisation and performance displays that increase the visibility of problems. This helps you to accomplish the second step:
- Implement a system of Leader Standard Work for the management team, that codifies the expectation of what they need to be reviewing when they visit the workplace, and how frequently. Visual controls make the task manageable for the leadership team, and the next step gives the activity a clear purpose:
- Establish a system for capturing daily issues and following up on them. This typically takes the form of a problem tracking board and morning meetings to review progress and establish accountability for finding solutions to them.
This approach provides a framework for involving leadership more effectively in the workplace, so that they see a clear purpose and structure to the time they spend.
Making them want to do this is another matter though, and requires a proper understanding of the harm done when leaders at all levels fail to engage in the core work of the business. And of course, a great start to that is to give the daily performance of the workplace its proper place in the pecking order of managers’ performance objectives – Number One.