I touched upon this topic in last week's post on making performance management work better where I examined recent research by Mercer and seconded their selection of executive commitment as one of the key drivers of performance management success. As I reflect on the different organizations where I have helped develop and implement performance management programs, and as I focus particularly on those situations where the resulting program had a real and tangible impact, I know that this is the one thing that ultimately made the difference.
One particular case comes to mind.
I remember the retail company with a very strong and charismatic CEO. Let's call him Vinny. Vinny kept a close eye on everything his HR department (which reported directly to him) did; he didn't seek a lot of hands-on involvement in program development or review, but he insisted on final approval - or veto - of any changes, updates or new program components. As so, as we moved to a final recommended process and set of tools for the new performance program, we found ourselves in a long meeting, presenting the new program details to what initially appeared to be only a semi-engaged Vinny. I still recall him sitting there, silhouetted in profile against his floor-to-ceiling office window, eyes nearly closed as he listened in silence to his HR VP talk through each element of the recommended program. Then suddenly he snapped to attention.
"Wait a minute, wait a minute," Vinny said, wheeling around to face us. "I have an idea!"
The HR VP and I, caught off guard by his sudden outburst, just stared at him in surprise.
"This program!" he said. "Why couldn't this program be the way that I communicate to all employees my vision and plan for the year? Why couldn't I use this program to lay out what we have to accomplish as a company, and then what each department, and - ultimately - what each employee has to do in order to help us make that happen?"
At this point, he stood up and began pacing around his office. "This could be just the kind of program I need to get important information to everyone who works here, and get them all on board to get the things done that will make us all successful! And to help them see where they can grow and improve their performance, and even their career with us!"
"What," he said, turning back to us, "do you think of that?"
In what I thought was a stunning display of self-restraint, the HR VP and I managed to bite back any response except, "What a good idea!"
With that, Vinny sat back down, grabbed the copies of the performance form and policy that had been sitting, ignored, on his desk, took out his pen and began editing.
Long story short, Vinny helped us tailor the program in a way that reflected his management style and communication preferences. The program that we rolled out shortly afterward not only had his mark on its design but also - more importantly - had his full unqualified support.
And the difference that this made was nothing short of remarkable.
A number of other organizations and stories come to mind, including the CEO of a financial services company who took the time to sit in on every single one of the six management training sessions and the ten or twelve employee orientation sessions that we held in preparation for the roll-out of the new (potentially controversial) performance program. Not just for the initial five minute intro, but through each and every hour-and-a-half session. Not because we begged and pleaded, but because he instinctively understood that this was necessary in order to make it clear that 1) this was for real, 2) he meant it, and 3) there would be consequences for those who didn't follow through on their responsibilities for the new program.
And I am convinced that it was this gesture - a huge investment of time for a very busy and, yes, important person - more than any other thing, that made the program have the incredible impact it did for this company.
And so, life and these lessons in particular have taught me to be an evangelist for executive commitment to performance management.