Simon Terry

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Manage Your Performance (in A Network)

“Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you, too, can become great.” – Mark Twain

Organisations are moving away from traditional performance management. Expensive managers are being removed from organisations as they explore ways to be flatter and more responsive. More people are working freelance. 

Managing your own performance is more important than ever. However, managing your own performance involves real challenges both in terms of personal and network value.

A Story of Doubt

Late in 2015 I lost my way. 2015 was a good year measured on my set of measures and most objective measures. I was busy on work that mattered to me and my clients. The work was purposeful, rewarding and recognised so by clients and others. However as the year came to an end after a few needed weeks of rest, I found myself doubting my performance and my momentum into 2016. With distance from my work, I wasn’t sure how well I was actually going to do in the new year.

Quite late in December I found out I was being considered for a Microsoft Most Valuable Professional award to be announced on 1 January. Until this occurred, I wasn’t even aware the award existed. In a matter of days, winning an award had become an important external benchmark to how I saw my performance. This need was an emotional, not a rational process. I slept terribly on the night of the 1 of January (due to timezones the award was announced early 2 January in Australia) and awoke to find no email from Microsoft. I was disappointed and resigned to the outcome as confirmation of my doubts. Dejected, I began reading the comments of winners on social media and congratulating those I know who had won. An hour later discovered an email in my junk mail and I realised a great insight into my personal limits of performance management.

Performance is Personal

Performance management is a personal process that happens between our ears, not on paper. We have already made the personal investment of our time and our efforts when the evaluation begins. We pretend it is rational and objective but we know that we are human with doubts, ego & emotions to manage. The SCARF model from David Rock highlights many ways that performance management can go wrong, by violating our sense of status, certainty, autonomy, relatedness or fairness. Anyone who has been through a corporate performance management process knows that an external opaque process of evaluation of feedback can trigger all sorts of reactions. What looks simple on paper rarely works that way in real human conversations.

Moving from performance management once a year by others to continuous self-management makes the process no easier and far more personal. The movement from an external accountability to a personal responsibility improves autonomy and can reduce relationship stress but it still leaves challenges and removes many external benchmarks. It also creates hard new responsibilities to fairly assess ourselves relative to others. We still have the same doubts and challenges but in many cases we can now struggle to accurately and consistently measure the true value of our work.

Valuing Yourself Accurately

In the era of self-management, workers need the capability to accurately value their work and their performance. From pricing your work, to negotiating your responsibilities, to managing the performance and reward process are all founded on the ability to accurately value your work and be able to communicate this value to others. New ways of working give us new processes to manage performance but fundamentally these processes still rely on our ability to accurately assess our own value and to negotiate that with others. 

When I lost confidence in my own measures of success, I found myself outsourcing these to a partial external event of benchmarking. That made little sense as a process of evaluation. There was only some overlap between the award criteria and how I deliver value to my clients and what I value. The most valuable part of the process was it was a partial measure of reputation in one community (see below). The process was more akin to grasping for a lifeline than genuinely seeking to understand how much value I had created.

This demand for accuracy in valuation challenges us all to tackle the reality of our performance in new ways. Traditionally we both under and over estimate different elements of our performance. Many traditional self-assessment process take advantage of this using benchmarks to knock off our over assessments but leaving our undervaluations. Just like my experience, they work as partial measures of the value we create, over reliant on benchmarks and competitive assessment on narrow criteria. 

Managing our responsibility to be accurate demands we test our self-perceptions continuously, focus on creating greater value and shake those crises of self-confidence that hold us back. We need to genuinely learn from failures and not reposition or hide them. We need to overcome our triggers to hold a true growth mindset. We need to become our own performance leaders, helping ourselves to become as great as we can be.

We also need to start to value ourselves far more as players in a complex system rather than a widget in a mechanistic process. 

Your Value in a Network

The most underutilized resource still waiting for discovery may be our ability to cooperate much more deeply than the systems of work have so far envisioned. – Esko Kilpi

All the value that we create is delivered for others and negotiated with others. We cannot escape the networks in our work. We are not an island widget producing output in a process. We are humans tackling increasingly complicated problems in webs of relationships that stretch through our organisations and out to the networks where our purposes have their effects.

Creating this network value is the key challenge and as Esko Kilpi highlights in the article above this depends more on cooperation and collaboration than competitive mindsets. Most performance management is competitive, dividing a scarce pool as an incentive. Network performance management is abundant, encouraging collaboration and cooperation to create new innovative value for individuals and for the stakeholders who benefit from the organisations purpose. Network performance management starts to bring us back to elements very similar to those of the SCARF model directly:

  • How we gain status (in the form of authority, reputation & influence) in our networks
  • How we react to and embrace uncertainty as a source of value creation through learning and experimentation
  • How we manage our autonomy and translate our opportunities for personal agency into value creation and fulfil our purpose
  • The breadth and depth of our relationships through our ability to broker connection, coordinate activity and access necessary information and capabilities
  • The fairness of our network exchanges in terms of reciprocity and mutual value creation.

Leadership in networks is a critical capability for all of us in the future of work. As Harold Jarche has noted, this kind of leadership is less controllable than traditional management, which presents its own issues for the management of collaboration. Leadership matters because it is the critical element to creating and sustaining value creation in networks as Dion Hinchcliffe has eloquently explained.

Managing performance in networks requires us to focus on both the need for new accuracy in our personal assessments and leadership of collective aspects of the abundant opportunities for greater performance through collaboration & cooperation. Individually and collectively we will need new measures, new confidence and to learn as we go on better ways to work.


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