Pop media has a bad habit of taking a seemingly innocuous observation and blowing it way out of proportion, asserting that one opinion or side of the issue is superior and completely ignoring the advantages of the other. One such instance of this is recent insinuations that “leaders” are better than “bosses,” and that they are mutually exclusive, but can we say that this is fundamentally so? Probably not. Being a leader or being a boss is a specific choice made by managers as a way to adopt a performance management style.
At its core, performance management is defined as “the systematic process by which an agency involves its employees, as individuals and members of a group, in improving organizational effectiveness in the accomplishment of agency mission and goals” (Office of Personnel Management). Performance management addresses many organizational goals, including planning and setting expectations, periodically rating and monitoring performance, and especially encouraging professional development and continuing capacity. Performance management completes these objectives by approaching the process systematically. First, changes to the current program must be outlined using an analytical, practical approach. Next, the company may wish to harvest the opinion of their current employees regarding the existing system. Third, the new strategy is implemented and employee performance is evaluated and reviewed. Finally, the process is streamlined by establishing a workflow that facilitates regular performance management and incorporates technology where appropriate (www.pdri.com).
How Does a Boss Implement Effective Performance Management?
“Boss” has taken on a more derogatory connotation in recent years, and is often portrayed as somehow inferior, or at least underdeveloped than the “leader.” However, we need to reclaim the concept of a “boss” and understand that performance management can require a “boss” mentality as well as a “leader” mentality, given the needs of the workforce in question.
According to an article by Alan O’Rourke from Linkedin, “boss” represents power and control, and this is true, but he implies that bosses automatically abuse their power and control, which is less true. However, the reality is that as companies evaluate and evolve their performance management techniques, they may experience some pushback from some of their employees. In a case such as this, managers may need to wear the “boss hat” and firmly execute their performance management processes. Bosses are more responsible for practical leadership, which they favor over the inspirational leadership of leaders. From a performance management perspective, this results in what can easily be misconstrued as a cold, heavy-handed, or inflexible approach to management.
Sometimes, though, performance management processes demand this approach, especially during the planning and evaluation phases. The planning phase demands a practical look at what the new performance management strategy will measure and what it will determine, which may include decisions like pay raises, department reductions, and employee development. Similarly, the evaluation phase of the performance management process requires that same objective mind that characterizes “boss” leadership. If performance management is meeting its goals, reprimands may be given out with one hand and rewards with the other.
A Snapshot of Leaders in Performance Management
As a manager, other portions of the performance management process hold up better under the guidance of an inspirational leader rather than a practical boss. When gathering the opinions of your employees and especially when reviewing their performances, the inspirational attitude of a leader who believes in the capability of his or her employees is a much greater boon than the potentially demeaning or callous attitude a “boss” may give off.
Opinion gathering is a portion of the performance management process that allows employees to take control of their company and their own performance (prdi.com), which is one of the best things a company can do to improve retention. From a performance management perspective, leaders who involve their employees in the decision-making process communicate that the employees’ opinion matters, and consequently the structure of the performance management strategy becomes a balance between the needs and expectations of HR and the desires of those who will be evaluated. The result? A more inspirational form of performance management that speaks to the strong leadership capabilities of the manager, outside of his or her ability to also “be the boss.”
As for performance review, what day is more nerve-wracking for employees than review day, and more crucial to the future of the company? In this portion of performance management, guiding leadership is absolutely critical to positive, inspiring push towards employee development, which may take many forms, including training or assignments, according the OPM. The manager wearing the leader hat rather than the boss hat makes strides towards collaborating with the employee in order to achieve their shared performance management goals, rather than firing off a few boxes to check and sending the employee back to the floor. Leadership-minded management facilitates growth rather than heaving responsibility onto the backs of employees.
The Balance: Performance Management Demands Leaders and Bosses
In short, performance management is a delicate process that demands a balance between the practical nature of bosses and the inspirational nature of leaders. The good news? Practicality and inspiration are skills that can be learned and applied by managers of all personality types and styles to any performance management situation.
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