Partnership Not Parenting

In the early days of Cogendo we created a list of principles to help guide us as an organisation and also to form part our product’s DNA. We’ll work through all of our principles in coming blogs, but today I’m going to focus on “Partnership Not Parenting” (PNP).

A recent HBR blog post by Amy Gallo, “Making Sure Your Employees Succeed”, lists her guiding principles (for helping ensure that employees are successful), and we noticed one which is similar to one of ours, but with some (subtle?) differences.

In summary, Amy’s article flushed out 6 principles:

Do:

  • Connect individuals’ goals to broader organisation objectives
  • Show employees that you are a partner in achieving their goals
  • Learn about and incorporate employees’ personal interests into their professional goals

Don’t:

  • Allow employees to set goals alone
  • Take a hands-off approach to high performers — they need input and feedback to meet their goals as well
  • Ignore failures — be sure people have the opportunity to learn when they don’t achieve goals

It was the Partnership line that caught my eye. We think that it’s more than just showing an employee that you are a partner in them achieving their goals, it’s actually being a partner. Our PNP principle also factors in the “Don’t allow employees to set goals alone” principle of Amy’s.

So what does ‘Partnership Not Parenting’ mean to us? Traditionally objectives have been a very top-down affair: the manager tells their direct report (DR) what to do, and the DR gets on with it. This approach works fine for the armed forces, but employees are less likely to mentally sign up for an objective that they’ve had no part in. They may even believe it’s not a very good objective, but figure it’s their manager who’ll take any flack, so they’ll just keep their head down.

PNP starts with definition of objectives. This should be triggered by the CEO publishing the organisation’s top-level objectives. In our experience this will trigger a combination of top-down, bottom-up, and middle-out creation of objectives that relate to the overarching objectives. The manager may have some ideas for the DR’s objectives, and the DR may also have some ideas. At this point they should work on the definition of objectives together, refining, expanding, as they go. The bouncing back-and-forth often results in a better objective than either could do alone: the manager providing a broader corporate view, and the DR often having more in-depth knowledge or expertise. As a result both will feel ownership, and the DR will feel like (s)he had an equal voice in the process, increasing engagement and likelihood not only of success, but also of quality and productivity.

Wherever possible, the DR’s objective should be related to one of the manager’s (or their group’s) objectives, and the manager should be able to make clear how his objective relates to one or more organisational objectives. Thus the DR gets to feel that (s)he owns a part of a larger objective, and the manager sees that success on his objective requires success on the DR’s.

The manager and DR should sit down regularly (e.g. a weekly one-to-one), and review progress, with the manager passing on any updates relating to the broader objective, and the DR updating on progress on their part. Both should be thinking in terms of whether the two sides are still aligned, and whether they need something from the other to stay on track.

When the objective has been completed, they should sit down together to review it: and record data from both parties.

Goal setting and defining the stepping stones to achieve them should be a collaborative effort between a manager and their direct report. The same with reviewing performance – although I hate to use the word review as it suggests I mean a sit-down ‘so how did we do?’ meeting that inevitably gives rise to little surprises. In a true partnership there would be no surprises, the review would be to simply document the important stuff you both already know. Only then will you achieve the levels of employee engagement that lead to peak performance. Collaboration is the essence of the partnership, contrary to the ‘old school’ parental mandate.

You still need a framework to build this partnership on and an understanding of how to apply it. The framework could be your employee appraisal process (assuming you tie in all the way down to 121s) or of course PerformanceHub. The understanding for me came from experience, but could so easily be taught. However, in all the hours I’ve spent on management courses (sent on by my past corporate employers) I don’t think I’ve ever been explicitly taught this. A shame really, as it would have been a great accelerator in my early management days.

Rob Wheatley

Cogendo

 

 

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