Discover the big disconnects in performance management today in the 2024 State of Performance Enablement report.

Want to Really Drive Performance? Put Your People First

By Mayra Rivera
February 6, 2023
3 minute read

What makes a great business so effective? That’s a question HR industry analyst Josh Bersin has devoted nearly a decade’s worth of research to answering. His latest book, “Irresistible,” uncovers the secrets of the world’s most enduring, people-focused organizations.

We’ve invited Bersin to break down what that looks like in practice during the next session of our People Fundamentals webinar series. He’ll be joined by Ben Putterman, vice president of learning and talent development at Rivian, for an engaging conversation about how the best organizations are adapting to the demands of the modern economy by investing in their people.

Spoiler alert: The most successful organizations don’t rely on outdated and institutionalized management principles. Today’s most effective companies empower managers and employees to perform at a higher level — and that means evolving our perceptions of performance management.

The old rules of performance ‘management’ don’t apply anymore

When people say they dread performance management processes, they usually mean the punitive, backward-facing annual review. Those performance reviews are “usually around corrective action in one form or another,” Putterman says. “I define performance management very differently.”

The next generation of performance management doesn’t focus on the past. Instead, it looks to enable better performance in the future. Modern performance management brings the focus back to people, not performance problems.

Helping employees work more effectively powers your talent strategy in other ways, too. “One of my discoveries about engagement is that productivity creates engagement,” Bersin says. “The theory has always been the opposite: Let’s make everybody happy, and then they’ll do more work. But it’s not the right formula.”

When you put people and performance first, the rest of your goals will fall into place.

Leading culture through conversations

Performance enablement happens through daily conversations between managers and employees. Managers help their people prioritize what’s most important for moving the business forward and provide resources that help workers accomplish their goals. 

“Culture is one of the core principles behind management, operations, and accountability,” Bersin says. To enable performance, managers must identify, anticipate, and proactively remove roadblocks. Doing so well comes down to culture and communication. 

Those conversations reinforce and develop your company’s culture by influencing attitudes toward work, your co-workers, and business priorities. “It always will come down to the collective conversation, as well as the conversation between a manager and an employee,” Putterman says.

That’s something Putterman and the Rivian people team have discovered through practice. As an emerging manufacturer of electric vehicles, Rivian has experienced explosive growth‌. Putterman credits the company’s people-focused culture for driving successful outcomes during that stage. “We double, triple, quadruple down on culture as an enabler to be able to do that,” he says.

Redefining the manager’s role in enabling performance

Much of the responsibility for enabling performance comes down to the manager — and that requires us to rethink what we expect from managers.

“The role of manager has become almost undoable today,” Putterman says. “On one hand, the manager is the answer to everything — but they’re also the problem for everything. Something’s not right there.”

We’ve piled more and more responsibilities onto managers — completing their own work, managing team workloads, and coaching people, to name just three. But in today’s workplace, what we need from the manager role has changed.

“It is not the job of a manager to tell somebody what to do all day,” Bersin says. “It’s their job to align people, create clarity, and reduce and remove obstacles.” We need to empower managers to draw connections between business priorities and team members’ daily tasks, to help them be at their best every day.

That’s an imperative that Rivian is taking very seriously. “We are trying to build programming with the belief that managers are actually smart and capable and will figure it out,” Putterman says, “as opposed to consistently having an inherent sense of distrust.” 

Grant greater autonomy to managers and their teams by providing the resources they need to succeed. Then step aside, and let them do what they do best. 

Register for Bersin and Putterman’s webinar to learn more about how to evolve performance management and become an irresistible, people-centric organization.