“When your values are clear to you, making decisions becomes easier”
Roy. E. Disney

There was a time when success was only measured in terms of results and deadlines but now organisations across the world are working hard to build a high-integrity performance culture, where employees put as much focus on the means they take to achieve the outcomes as they do on the outcomes themselves.

This has led organisations to adopt a more holistic approach to measuring individual performance, one that includes the ‘What’ and the ‘How’ – the progress that is being made and the behaviours and actions that got them there. Only by understanding the ‘How’ sustained and consistent performance can occur.

Different organisations have taken different approaches towards embedding What/How discussions in their performance management practices. However, the common challenge has been around implementing an approach that is not only easy to understand and easy to buy into but also robust and value-adding to the individual as well as the organisation.

The traditional approach and its pitfalls

Traditionally, many organisations have used behavioural competency models to incorporate the ‘How’ aspect of performance in individual performance conversations. While this approach is conceptually sound, organisations have faced major implementation challenges in driving it effectively. In practice, implementing this approach requires a set of demanding underlying factors to be in place. These factors include:

  • Comfort of leaders, managers and the larger organisation with using a competency model as the preferred way to discuss and deal with behaviours
  • Well-established organisation-wide behavioural competency model which granularly defines behaviours and proficiency levels for each individual role in the organisation
  • Extent to which employees have bought into the organisation’s specific competency model
  • Credibility of the existing performance management process especially employees’ trust in the way the organisation measures the ‘What’ aspect of performance
  • Well established culture of performance conversations

The reality is, many organisations are still trying to get one or many of the above factors in place as they try to incorporate the ‘How’ aspect in performance conversations. In such cases, using competency models to discuss and manage the ‘How’ becomes cumbersome and does not deliver targeted outcomes. This is where ‘Values’ come in useful.

Bringing ‘Values’ into the performance picture

An organisation’s ‘Values’ are the deeply ingrained principles that guide all its actions; how it deals with its employees, customers, partners, shareholders and the communities it impacts. ‘Values’ serve as an organisation’s cultural cornerstones and allow the company to fulfil its mission. So, it makes sense that they embrace ‘Values’ and bring them to the performance discussion.

From our experience, organisations can use their ‘Values’ as the central component of their individual performance framework to discuss and manage the ‘How’ aspect of performance.

 Case in point
Recently, Korn Ferry partnered with a leading Australian organisation helping them drive major cultural change through strategic improvements in the way they manage individual performance. A key lever for these improvements has been around weaving the organisation’s core values into their individual performance framework in an innovative manner and effectively managing the change around it. This has helped facilitate richer, more meaningful and more effective performance conversations, driven more ownership and accountability for outcomes and has given major impetus to the cultural change effort.

For most organisations, their ‘Values’ are more ‘mainstream’ and have a stronger recall amongst employees than their competency models. So, employees are more likely to remember and consider the organisation’s ‘Values’ when taking actions and making decisions. And ‘Values’ are enterprise-wide by definition – they apply to the whole organisation - so you don’t have to worry about granular sub-definitions of ‘Values’ by job families, by roles and by hierarchy levels.

The secret of implementing a ‘Values’ based performance model successfully lies in weaving ‘Values’ creatively and effectively into the way you manage performance. From our experience with organisations, helping them enrich their performance management processes using ‘Values’, we have gleaned some guiding principles that can be helpful in effective implementation:

  • Demystify ‘Values’ – make sure they are clear, unambiguous and easily understood across the organisation
  • Ensure that the ‘Values’ are authentic to the organisation’s context - they should be the source of a company’s distinctiveness (and not just nice motherhood statements)
  • Ensure that ‘Values’ are a critical few
  • Position ‘Values’ as a key performance category in the performance discussion
  • Plan for ‘Values’ - Drive active focus on ‘Values’ when planning performance and not leave them just for post facto discussion
  • Don’t discuss ‘Values’ in isolation of other goals and objectives; tie them up
  • Understand how ‘Values’ relate to the employees’ day-to-day tasks

‘Values’ is not only an effective way of enriching performance conversations. It helps build the organisation’s reputation from the inside out because employees that are guided by the company’s ‘Values’ can make informed choices as they go out to achieve individual and organisational goals. This helps build a high-integrity performance culture and leads to more sustainable organisational performance. It also improves engagement as when people are personally connected to the organisation’s values they are more committed. And as we all know; employee engagement has a direct relationship to organisational performance. When values are part of the conversation everyone wins.

Is your organisation using ‘Values’ in performance discussions? I would love to hear your views.

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About the contributor

Gautam is a Senior Principal in Korn Ferry’s Organisational Strategy practice. He is based in Melbourne, Australia. Gautam’s passion is helping clients achieve their strategic business objectives and performance improvement through a more effective organisation. This includes engagements covering organisational design, operating model development, workforce capability & career architecture, strategic workforce planning, performance management & rewards and organisational capability uplift.

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