Having worked as a teacher, middle leader and a coach within education, I have seen various performance management processes with a wide range of line managers and staff. I have had the pleasure of working with experienced teachers, NQTs, underperformers, outstanding staff, coasting staff and ambitious professionals. Each have proved to be excellent learning opportunities!
At a wedding this summer, and after a few drinks, somehow, performance management sprung to mind. Ahhh! Coincidently, it was actually a teacher’s wedding too!
I, along with my wife, didn’t know that many people. It was 10 o’clock. The service, meal and speeches were all well and truly out of the way. The atmosphere was great and everyone seemed to be having lots of fun. The problem was the dance floor was empty, and had been since the music started. You may assume that everyone had simply not had enough to drink, but on my quick assessment, this was clearly not the case!
For me, a dance floor at 10 o’clock should be well and truly underway. After saying to my wife, “I think we need to do something about this music”, she reminded me that I was a “small time guest” and that it was “not my place to do this”. Like is often the case after a few pints, I thanked her for her input and scuttled off to see the DJ.
On route, I had this mad panic of what I was going to request. From nowhere, I said “Can you play Ready or Not by The Fugees?”
The DJ replied, “Sorry, the bride and groom have specifically said no R&B.”
Ok, I thought I’ve never been knocked back by a wedding DJ before, I’ll try again.
“How about a bit of Motown – or something like Superstition by Stevie Wonder?”
Sorry, they’ve said they didn’t want anything like that either. I’ve never heard of a Stevie Wonder ban at a wedding!
Then, from nowhere, I went into coaching mode!
“Tell me how happy you are with the current state of the dance floor.”
“What would you like the dance floor to look like?”
“What do you think the bride and groom would like the dance floor to look like?”
“How do you think the bride and groom would feel if you played Stevie Wonder and 15 people got up dancing and everyone was having a good time?”
“Tell me… what would you like to drink?”
He agreed to play Stevie Wonder! Was this due to the fresh pint of Peroni soon to be delivered, or because he’d realised it was worth the risk to go off his prescribed list of music for the greater good? Only he would know. Either way, he was challenged to think and change his current behaviour.
I was scared. How am I going to get 15 people dancing? I only really know six people in the room, and two of them had banned Stevie Wonder! At the bar, I shared my mission with those around. I explained what track would be coming and the fact I needed 15 people to dance and have fun with!
Superstition came on, the DJ got his pint and we had 19 people dancing – result! Not only was my goal achieved, but the dance floor did not empty from this point on. The requests continued, and at approx 23.30 the groom said to me, “As if I’m dancing to The Fugees!” The dance floor no longer belonged to the DJ, or the bride and groom. It was everyone’s. It all happened because the DJ was prepared to take a risk.
The point being, the bride and groom were telling us what to dance to and how to have fun. I often find that this is sometimes how performance management works. A leader often has an objective they want to achieve, and this is simply passed onto others. There is often no thought of how the skills within the team can be used, or how others can decide for themselves how to achieve this. Like at the wedding, this kind of leadership stifles fun and creativity. It disempowers and leads to dissatisfaction and discontent.
Here are five ways a leader can make performance management interactions like a wedding dance:
1. Each dance should be different
– We dance differently to different music. Likewise, we should talk differently to different staff. Consider needs, stage of career, issues faced away from work and the ambitions of your staff. Not all teachers think like you. A teacher may not want a promotion or extra responsibility. Sometimes, they have different ambitions. Don’t be afraid to explore these. Try asking:
“Other than what we have discussed, what else do you care about?”
“What would you like to change?”
“What aspect are we not as good at as you’d like us to be?”
Questions like this will tap into their desires and passions.
The culture of the meetings must remain supportive, compassionate and challenging, to ensure each staff member feels valued and respected. This needs to be the case, whether the teacher is deemed ‘outstanding’ or ‘inadequate’. You’ll not improve an ‘inadequate’ teacher by patronising or becoming frustrated with them!
Effective performance management needs to address their needs as well as yours. If they want to develop away from their role, try to let them. This can lead to further empowerment and increased motivation.
2. The best dances are choreographed
Although the conversations are different, the process should be the same. Both parties should prepare for a performance management meeting. Take time to think about how you and your team will plan for the meetings. Take into consideration the personnel in the department and how their needs differ. How are you going to support each individual? How are you going to challenge them individually and as a team?
Consider a reflective review of targets and what new targets can be incorporated. What has gone well? What do both parties want to develop or improve on? What training is needed? How can staff skills be used to train others in the department or elsewhere in the school.
When working with large teams, think about how you’ll schedule the meetings. A line manager once said to me, “You’re free P1 on Thursday aren’t you? Can we squeeze your PM meeting in then? I need to send the paperwork by noon on Friday.” This totally undermines the process!
3. Engage with your dance partner
The days of dancing round a handbag are over, as are PM meetings around a computer. To fully engage and maintain rapport, you need as little to distract you as possible. A pen, some paper and your planning notes for the meeting is all you need. Eye contact is key! You have to show an interest in the whole school, the department and the students, but if you don’t engage with the member of staff in front of you, you’ve lost the point. Don’t ever be the leader who types the pro forma as they go to save time processing the paperwork. Although it may save you time in the short term, it will cause more long term harm. Ask your staff how they’d like to ‘dance’ to achieve their targets? You’ll understand how they like to work best and what makes them tick.
4. Share the dance with others
Like any good dance, it is best when seen by others. Sometimes a good old ‘dance off’ works a treat! Whilst performance management is traditionally a private process, it really doesn’t have to be.I had the pleasure of working with some forward-thinking groups of people where the sharing of targets had led to increased levels of accountability, motivation, collaboration and idea sharing. Imagine the impact this can have on outcomes. Consider ‘buddying’ up staff based on strengths and areas to develop, ‘check in’ on targets publically in department meetings to see what progress has been made or what support is out there. You may even ask staff to present their work to date, as this can give real ownership and further add to accountability.
5. Feedback from your dance partner
Effective dancers are constantly feeding back to each other.
I once heard a line manager say, “What can I do better to help or lead you?” The member of staff nearly feel off her chair. She wasn’t expecting this. Her previous line manager had always told her what she was doing well and what she needed to improve on. This question opened up the idea of two way feedback and promoted a more open dialogue. It made the line manager vulnerable, and is a great way to show you are human too!
Like at the wedding, ‘small timers’ (like me!) can play a huge role within departmental and whole-school improvement. You just have to give them a chance and make them feel valued. Be open to ideas, creativity and passion. Once stifled, these things are very hard to reignite!