• Vanessa Anstee

Refresh your performance management - be more squirrel

It’s that time of year where Autumn is upon us and we’re moving quickly towards those shorter days. Over the last two weeks squirrels have been very prominent in my world. Esther, my miniature Schnauzer is obsessed with chasing and barking at them.

I walk regularly in the woods and I’ve noticed how busy these little guys are gathering all the acorns that have fallen to the ground. You can also hear this fabulous little nibbling sound as they munch away on their finds.

This year I have had a number of requests for help with performance management training. It’s come primarily from a realisation that the way we do performance conversations often doesn’t actually help performance. The requests sound like, "our performance management process is transactional, process driven, task focused and dry. How can we do it better where we really engage in a meaningful conversation instead of going through the motions?"

Being someone that is inspired in and by nature, I am struck by how our performance management cycles often don't follow the natural seasons. Many performance processes still set annual goals in January, a time where the natural world is still hibernating, dark and reflective. If I apply that logic to Autumn and use the squirrels as an example, right now they are incredibly busy gathering getting ready for the long winter months ahead. They are really focused and productive preparing for what's coming. This got me wondering, if squirrels were our power animal right now, what could we learn from them and how can we honour the season of gathering our own nuts?

3 simple ways to be more squirrel at work:

1. Gather your positive stories of what's worked this year

John Gottman and Robert Levenson remind us that conflict is inevitable in every marriage. Their longitudinal study of couples in the 1970’s discovered that the difference between happy and unhappy couples was the balance between positive and negative interactions during conflict. They found that for every negative interaction during conflict, a stable and happy marriage has five or more positive interactions. This is often referred to as the magic formula of 5:1.

In most of the organisations I work with, positivity is one of the things that is remembered in the good times and frequently overlooked during uncertainty or struggle. As we move towards end of year reviews what better time to go out and have conversations with colleagues about what we did that had a positive difference. Don’t email bland feedback requests to prove your brilliance, instead book a 10 minute conversation with your colleagues and ask them how did I positively impact you. This builds relationship and invites them to notice the positive and creates a dialogue where you both can understand what is really valued in the relationship.

2. Check the focus is on what matters

Often we set goals at the start of the year and focus on those relentlessly, even when the landscape has changed. Now is a great time to review whether the focus for the last quarter of the year is still relevant instead of making assumptions because that’s what’s expected and your performance is measured on.

Be more squirrel and get laser focused on what really matters … now. Check-in and ask stakeholders a simple question, “is this focus still relevant for you or do we need to adapt or make a different turn?” Delivering on work that you know is not going to have impact is futile. Self-empower and check-in don’t assume your stakeholders will.

3. Change your routine to optimise performance during the shorter days

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is often linked to reduced exposure to sunlight during the shorter autumn and winter days. The main treatments for it include getting as much natural sunlight as possible, exercising regularly and managing your stress levels.

Many of us eat lunch at our desks and fail to take regular breaks. We often drink less water in the winter months and it’s easy to convince ourselves that it’s not worth venturing out to exercise when the weather is unfavourable.

Be more squirrel, stay hydrated and get physically active. Take a power walk outside at lunchtime, take the stairs rather than the lift and work in no more than 90 minutes sprints and then get up and move.

Performance and humans aren't static. Our performance management needs to be dynamic, flexible and connected. It's amazing how our lives can shift in an instant. Make sure that you are talking and really connecting deeply with your colleagues around real things. We can all hide out in surface niceties. Take time to check-in. Genuinely ask someone how they're doing and if they avoid or skirt these questions, stay with them, give them space in the conversation and create an alliance together which is based on supporting them to show up and be their naturally brilliant self.