Performance Management as a New Manager: An Overview (Part I)

This is part 1 of 6 in a series that gives guidance on how to manage employee performance for new product design managers — or those facing performance management situations for the first time.

When you become a new manager, you’re unfortunately not handed a magical guide that walks you through all tough managerial stuff like performance management.

Often, you’ve become a manager, because you’re someone who loved mentoring and developing junior folks, and you’ve been tapped for management because people thrived with your support. You’re also usually someone who’s demonstrated their own success as an individual contributor, and flourished when you’ve been given guidance and feedback; you’ve taken ownership of your own development — internalizing expectations, setting goals, responding to feedback, and creating avenues to achieve your goals time and time again.

Great performance comes from this: understanding and alignment of performance expectations, clear and achievable goals and outcomes, flexible pathways to reach goals, and regular feedback and support.

As a manager, your job is to make sure that the people who report to you — your team members — have the abilities to develop domains or buckets of skills at their level: through skill expectations, goals & outcomes, pathways, and support. As people move across levels from junior to senior and beyond, those abilities in themselves will develop from being a recipient of these four things to being an owner and driver of them.

Skill domain development by level

Not coincidentally, this is a mirror image to the parts of a solid project approach: project objectives, success criteria, process, and feedback.

Project approach by level

When we look at two examples, one for a junior designer and one for a senior designer, we can see that the same pieces of a project approach can be applied to development of domains of skills. The practice of designing is much like the practice of developing:

  1. We must have expectations or objectives to know what we’re going after.
  2. We need goals & outcomes or success criteria to know when we’ve achieved the expectation or outcome.
  3. We use pathways or process to reach the goals and outcomes or success criteria.
  4. We benefit from support or feedback to shape our pathways.
Skill domain development and project approach comparisons

While the outline is the same, what’s important to differentiate here is that skills are developed to apply to project approach, and performance — while managed through developing domains of skills — is measured by skills being demonstrated through projects.

It’s okay if this also isn’t super clear. Performance management is a new skill domain that you develop as a manager, and you develop that skill domain by applying the skill as a practice. Meta, right?!

Now, what happens when one of your team members isn’t hitting the bar? What do you do when someone isn’t thriving under your leadership?

This series will go over five areas that will help you navigate the critical and delicate process of performance management, and will go in depth on the following topics:

  1. Who should I involve to make sure both me and my team member have the right support?
  2. How do I assess the situation in order to understand the severity and urgency?
  3. How do I create a plan that the team member can use to be successful?
  4. How should I approach the situation with my team member to get the best outcomes possible?
  5. How do I hold the team member accountable so that results are fair and expected?

As you go through this series, remember that you are developing a practice, and that you’ll get better at this over time!

→ Read the next article: “Performance Management as a New Manager: Who to Involve (Part II)

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