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Effective Performance Development for Reduced Psychosocial Harm

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A better way to do performance development

Effective performance development

Traditional performance development systems, which use ratings don’t work well and can lead to psychosocial damage as they can result in the employee feeling anger, anxiety, fear or depression.

The recommended approach is goal-based, which involves setting goals at the start and assessing goal achievement at the end. Any performance system implemented should be simple, short, and free-form.

To make them effective both positive and negative consequences should be applied. Positive consequences may include promotion or additional training, while negative consequences may include of employment to protect the psychosocial wellbeing of colleagues.

A better way to do performance development

Watch the video to understand why traditional performance development generates stress in employees, and how setting clear and simple goals makes it easier to measure and helps staff stay on track and productive.


Watch the first video in this series here:

Part 1 – Psychosocial Risks: Causes and Damages

And watch the previous video here:

Part 7 – Group Generated Behaviour Protocols

And if you know of anyone who would benefit from this video, please share it with them.


Video Transcript

The role of performance development in managing psychosocial risks

Hi, Andrew from SACS, and welcome to video number eight in our eight-video sequence on effective management of psychosocial risk.

In this sequence so far, we’ve talked about a range of different issues.

We’ve looked at psychosocial damage and what it is.

We’ve looked at post-traumatic growth.

We’ve looked at signs of damage, how to find out if people are suffering.

We’ve looked at resilience, whether you can create a more resilient workforce and the evidence is that using evidence-based approaches, you can do that.

Engagement, we looked at that and how that’s a protective factor but also increases levels of wellbeing for employees.

We looked at role clarity because that is a psychosocial risk.

People with low role clarity tend to be more likely to be psychosocially-damaged than those who have high role clarity.

We also looked at behaviours because positive behaviours are definitely a predictor of lower levels of psychosocial risk.

And then, we are in this video talking about effective performance development.

There’s a full sequence that we have in the SACS website and available through our YouTube channel which is all about performance development and it goes through chapter and verse, the things that you should do to optimise your performance development process.

So in this one, I’m going to pick out the key things that seem to be associated with psychosocial wellbeing and to focus on them.

Traditional performance development

Now, one of the things that we have to understand is that most performance development processes don’t work very well, and this is the outcomes of Rock and colleagues from 2014, when they looked at why performance development systems, traditional performance development systems, don’t work very well.

One of the things that Rock was able to demonstrate is that numbering people, giving people ratings like two out of five for this and three out of five for that, can turn on the amygdala and he’s been able to demonstrate this neurologically.

Now, if the amygdala turns on, that is a generator of psychosocial damage because it can lead to the fight response, which is anger, the flight response which is anxiety or fear, more generally, and the freeze response, which is depression.

So these can be progenitors of these kinds of neurological and therefore, psychological responses.

So, the alternative is to dodge numbering systems entirely.

So, you’re avoiding the act of receiving numerical feedback and to use a much more practical kind of an approach.

Goal-based performance development

And so, the approach that we recommend is a very simple approach, and it’s in fact completely free of anything other than goal setting at the start and assessment of goal achievement at the end.

And it doesn’t have to be a rating kind of an approach.

It can be binary.

Either the goal was reached or the goal wasn’t reached.

Now, this requires certain skills from leaders and from the staff that they’re working with, one of them being goal setting.

And these goals can be about the what of the job, which is about job performance, or it can be about the how of the job, which is whether a person is demonstrating the behaviours that are necessary to fit in with a culture of an organisation or to achieve the outcomes that are necessary.

Keep it simple and short

Good performance development systems should be as simple and short as possible.

In other words, something that’s not a big burden for people to undertake.

And there is no evidence, by the way, that making systems simpler causes them to be less effective.

In fact, the opposite is the case.

It tends to make them cleaner in their intent and more focused in what they need to achieve.


Second, should be free form.

In other words, the leader and staff members agree what goes in.

So if you have competencies and ratings and all of that corporate stuff, all that tends to do is to distance the process from the employee and from the leader.

And what you’re really trying to do is to occasion a performance conversation which is about, Have we achieved goals? And if so, great, and are we going to set different goals for the coming cycle? And by the way, not too many of these goals, typically somewhere around five, six of these goals and maybe six, seven measures to see whether those goals have been achieved.

You can imagine a sequence where you’ve got a simple goal-setting process at the beginning, maybe a mid-cycle review, and then a review of whether the goals have been achieved at the end of the cycle, including a resetting of goals for the coming cycle.

Now, also, one of the things that’s really important is that these goals shouldn’t be chiselled on stone.

So if the world changes, the goal should change.

That’s perfectly acceptable from a psychological point of view when you’re interacting with people on these issues.


So they’re goal-based, and you need strong and effective goal-setting training, particularly for leaders.

Sometimes it’s good for staff as well if they’re going to be involved in the process of setting and being reviewed in their own job against certain goals.

But certainly, the leaders should be skilled in setting goals.

And then of course, strong and effective performance conversation training will be really important to make sure that people are able to have effective performance conversations and not do what the David Rock objection is, where you’re turning people’s amygdalae on in the process.

Now, if you create a performance development process which is simple, clean, quick, doesn’t have too much corporate stuff, is clearly about a kind of a contractual agreement between the leader and the staff member on a partnership basis about what needs to be achieved in a certain performance cycle, then you’ve got a chance of making the performance development system really effective.

Positive and negative consequences

And finally, there should be consequences for the performance development system.

Now, I know consequences is often used in a negative way.

People will get fired.

Well, actually, if the performance is bad enough or if the behaviours are bad enough, people should be fired.

You know, there’s no doubt about it that there have been times where people have been persisted with by organisations for so long that they’ve damaged their colleagues.

Well, that’s not ethically acceptable.

If you’ve done everything humanly possible to cause a person to change and they haven’t changed, then from a psychosocial point of view, what you have to do is protect that person’s colleagues from them.

Consequences should also be positive, though, and the consequences might be promotion, or they might be a greater scope of work, or they might be further training, or they might be earmarked for a fast development program within your organisation or something like that.

So, consequences are really important for performance development, though, because probably the greatest and most common objection made to performance development systems is nothing happened.

You know, they will go through a performance conversation, they’re ticking a box, and nothing happens.

Now, if you contemplate the sort of approach that I’ve mentioned, something’s going to happen, because a leader and a staff member sit down in a partnership at the start of a cycle and agree the goals to be achieved.

And then, in a mid-cycle review and at an end-of-cycle review, they’re going to agree whether the goals have been reached or not.

But if they can’t agree, well, frankly, it is the role of the leader from a governance point of view to ensure that the interests of the colleagues and the organisation are protected by being honest with the staff member, authentic with the staff member about whether those goals have been achieved or not.

So you can have performance goals and you can have behaviour goals.

The performance goals give the organisation what it needs in terms of performance.

The behaviour goals create a safe and positive environment, and therefore more psychological wellbeing and less psychosocial risk.

Here are some work-related psychosocial hazards.

This is from WorkSafe Victoria, but across Australia, they’re all in agreement, basically.

The various work cover authorities are pretty much in agreement about what are psychosocial risks and we’re recommending some solutions.

So, thanks for joining us for this sequence on psychosocial hazards and how to manage them.

We hope that this information’s been of use to you and if you need any help of any sort, please don’t hesitate to be in contact with SACS so that we can back up what we’ve put in this video with some practical suggestions.

Learn more about psychosocial risks

Watch the first video in this series to find out more about Management of Psychosocial Risks:

Part 1 – Psychosocial Risks: Causes and Damages

And watch the previous video here:

Part 7 – Group Generated Behaviour Protocols

And if you’d like some help with promoting psychosocial wellbeing, contact us about our Wellbeing Survey.

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