The world of politics attracts regular media attention but, in recent months, the spotlight has been focused more than ever on it due to various political contests on both sides of the Atlantic.
For a profession that’s so focused on performance, it's odd that politicians belong to one of the few employment areas untouched by performance management (PM).
Since the late 1970s, HR professionals have developed the now-widespread process of people discussing their strengths and weaknesses with their managers, being set objectives, and being offered support.
Recently, former HR practitioner and university lecturer Martyn Sloman, who now writes on social and political issues, described a party political situation several years ago with which he was personally acquainted. Martyn explained that a (now former) politician "was a decent fellow but lacked the skills to be effective" in politics. A senior party official advised that local officials should agree on the areas where the politician was deficient, give him every opportunity to improve, and support him in the process. Only after this had failed should there be a move to remove him from office.
"Some years later, as I moved into HR, I learned that what had been described was PM," says Martyn. "The PM model that I used was based on three 'Cs:' commitment, compliance and consequences.
"Changes in behavior are most likely to work when the individual recognizes the problem and is willing to do something about it. If securing commitment doesn't work, compliance involves imposing a solution, and the final step – consequences – involves telling the individual the potentially serious implications of continued under-performance."
Martyn believes that a legitimate criticism of Western political systems is that increasing numbers of politicians have no working experience outside politics. This means that they never been given the "support and challenge" that underpins performance improvement.
Consequently, these politicians can deny their deficiencies – blaming everyone except themselves. Martyn adds, "There's no prospect of commitment and we move straight to consequences – leading to dire electoral prospects."
Even outside the formal PM process, politicians receive vast quantities of feedback. The amount of this feedback can blind them to at least some of its truths. In any case – according to research by Columbia University neuroscientist Kevin Ochsner, cited at a NeuroLeadership Summit in Boston, MA – people (not just politicians) who receive feedback apply it only about 30 percent of the time.
Ken Blanchard – the U.S.-based management and leadership expert, speaker and author of more than 60 books, including The One Minute Manager – is credited with saying that, "Feedback is the breakfast of champions." According to Ken, who, unsurprisingly, advocates truthful, timely feedback, "I first heard that phrase from a former colleague, Rick Tate.
"He explained it in sports terms. Can you imagine training for the Olympics with no one telling you how fast you ran or how high you jumped? That idea seems ludicrous, yet many people operate in a vacuum in organizations, not knowing how well they're doing on any given task."
While we should all accept feedback gladly because it can provide insights to help us to improve our performance, all of us – also – know the fear of feedback because it can be personally destructive. This fear can make us apprehensive about – even resistant to – receiving feedback.
In a work setting, if not necessarily in politics, there are ways to overcome this apprehension and resistance. One such process is: