How can you increase performance and productivity without excessive structure and process?

At first, it may seem that performance management and agile values are at odds with each other. And certainly, if you are thinking about “old school” approaches to performance management – that is certainly true. Rigid planning and evaluation cycles, performance ratings and standardized forms don’t fit with an agile organization. But a results-based approach to performance can provide great benefit. Let’s look at how this works.

What is Results-Based Performance?

Essentially, this is where the leaders define WHAT needs to be delivered but gives flexibility to employees (and teams) as to HOW it’s accomplished. This enables teams and individuals to leverage their strengths and try out new methods. One of the better known results-based approaches is OKR. An acronym for “Objectives and Key Results” this framework focuses on measures for performance.

Rather than saying that your employees need to follow certain procedures, it defines the measurable results that need to be achieved. These measurable results are sometimes called KPIs (Key Performance Indicators). While OKR provides a framework and terminology, there are many ways it can be implemented – from highly structured to agile.

Monitoring: Check-ins and Continuous Improvement

While setting measures and KPIs is key to defining WHAT needs to be achieved, an agile organization knows the importance of frequent check-ins and opportunities to continuously evaluate and improve upon results. Team leaders and individuals need to keep each other informed. While this might happen informally in stand ups, a bit of structure can go a long way for communication, catching and solving problems early. And if you have geographically distributed team members, you need to agree upon how you will keep them engaged and in the loop.

Develop Team Leader Skills

Consider that work teams are more than just a collection of talent. Team members need to be able to work collaboratively and build on each others strengths. They need commitment and accountability to the team. And while there is an expectation that teams might be self-directing, there is still a great need for leadership.

In his article Lance Ng points out that “leadership and culture, not expensive tools and software” are they key to success. Thinking Portfolio, in their article identify poor leadership as the #3 reason agile projects fail. So, we can see that effective leadership is important for agile teams.

Agile is often associated with software development – but the concept could certainly apply to other types of operations. For example, small businesses often find advantage in being agile and adaptive to changing changing. Rather than having strictly defined roles, employees may shift into different roles as needed. They may develop a wide range of skill sets, using them as and when needed.

In these types of organizations, we may see the desire to give advancement opportunities to employees – which is certainly positive. But what can happen when we promote high performing employees into supervisory positions? While they may be highly competent and confident in their technical skills – managing people is a completely different world! Engaging team members, resolving problems and conflict and holding people accountable for results are critical skills for agile team leaders. So it’s important to provide them with performance tools AND training in how to use them.

OMM: A simple performance tool

While there are a number of tools and software on the market, they may not meet the needs of smaller and agile organizations. Some of the problems include:

  • Too much structure and rigidity
  • Expensive and complicated to implement
  • Focus on the tools rather than the “relationship” between supervisor and employee

I believe a few things can go a long way for performance in smaller, agile organizations.

  1. Less focus on terminology and more on concepts can open up perspectives.
  2. Adding a monitoring/continuous improvement component to keep teams on track and catch problems early.
  3. Focusing on developing team leader skills

I have developed the OMM approach to integrate these components into a “just enough structure” approach suitable for agile organizations. OMM is based 3 cornerstones of results-based performance:

  • Outputs: The strategic results that need to be achieved
  • Measures: Objective, observable data that shows we are on the right track
  • Monitoring: Regular check-ins, reporting, problem solving and continuous improvement

A simple, scalable and flexible approach for performance

The main focus of OMM is the relationship between Work Group Leader (could be manager, supervisor or team leader) and his/her team. The performance tool is comprised of very simple templates, providing “just enough” structure to do this.

Work Group OMM

A template for managers, supervisors and team leaders to set strategic objectives for the work group. The scalability and flexibility lie in the definition of “work group”. It could be as large as a department, or as small as a project team. The bottom line is that leader of the work group sets the WHAT and WHEN (similar to OKR) – then engages their team to define HOW.

Individual OMM

This template provides an individual performance plan. Based on the Work Group OMM (and team input, where appropriate), each employee will identify how they will contribute to the work group objectives.

Skill Development

The key to success is training managers, supervisors and team leaders on how to use the tools effectively. And equally important, we focus on developing leadership skills for team leaders to engage with their team and individuals. We provide a workbook on how to use the templates, and training on how to apply leadership skills to engage team members and improve performance.

Benefits of this approach include:

  • Can be implemented very quickly, without the need for software or systems
  • Focuses on developing managers skills in performance management, including soft skills
  • Promotes greater collaboration and communication between managers, employees and work teams