It ain’t just what you do, it’s the way that you do it!

By Deborah Moon, Reward Blogger

As yet another glorious summer of sport starts to draw to a close, many people may well be reflecting on what might have been. England’s performance in the World Cup, the loss of the cricket test series to Sri Lanka, Andy Murray at Wimbledon and our leading cyclists in the Tour de France have all raised and the dashed hopes and expectations (although, as I write this blog, the home nations’ performance in the Commonwealth Games and a resurgence in the fortunes of our test cricket team may well serve as a redeeming feature!)

Commentators, so-called experts and pundits have expressed a range of views and opinions on why these levels of performance have occurred, many focussing on whether this may be due to individual/team technical skills and abilities or to attitudinal and behavioural issues (witness, headlines referring to a “test of character”, mental toughness and belief in oneself), as well as debating what may be the key to unlocking talent and achieving future success.

We are often party to similar discussions in the workplace as we seek to create the conditions necessary for developing a high performance culture and find ways of motivating, managing and measuring employee achievements, including for pay purposes. Like our sportsmen and women, this will undoubtedly include thinking about both “technical” skills and abilities and behaviours and attitudes, considering both what has been achieved and how the individual has gone about this.

We also seek to understand and tap into what motivates individuals to strive for better and improved performance, utilising a variety of mechanisms to recognise and reward employees in order to secure maximum impact and effectiveness.

A recent CIPD Reward Forum workshop considered these issues, exploring the role of performance pay in building performance cultures. A combination of practical case study examples, combined with a summary of the underpinning academic evidence, provided a range of insights and learning points.  These included:

  • the need to think about both strategy and culture in determining the approach to performance management and pay and the importance of the particular organisational context (with a reminder that there are often multiple cultures/sub-cultures within any one organisation);
  • the need for clarity in how you define “performance” and what this may include;
  • how well individual performance is aligned with business values and outcomes and how you help employees make this connection;
  • ensuring you are clear about the business drivers underpinning your approach and the importance of organisational ownership of this;
  • the importance of treating employees as individuals – taking the time to understand and take an interest in their ambitions and aspirations;
  • that performance pay needs to be part of the broader, total reward package and cannot be seen in isolation;
  • the importance of fairness and consistency in application, seeking to demonstrate both distributive and procedural “justice” (but, ultimately, this will be dependent on how employees themselves perceive this);
  • the key role of the manager in the performance relationship –this includes having regular on-going dialogue/”quality conversations” with employees and providing other forms of guidance and support (the manager as a “coach” to use another sporting analogy!).

Whether in the business, sporting or other arena, achieving a high performance culture is undoubtedly something we all aspire to. What is meant by “performance”, how you manage and measure that and whether/what contribution pay and/or other forms of reward can make in building that type of culture will always depend on the particular context.  Whilst (simple) systems and processes may play a part in this, it’s how you actually go about the practical application and delivery that is most likely to achieve the desired results.

NB: the next Reward Forum will take place on the morning of 30 September: Executive pay: why is it still so high, what’s the impact and how should it change?

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