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Nigel Walpole Managing performance in an agile working environment

At a networking event a couple of weeks ago, I was chatting to a senior manager who works in what she describes ‘an increasingly Agile working environment’ and she commented

“It has always been important for me to know exactly what is going on; perhaps I am a bit of a control freak… so initially Agile Working was frightening for me… suddenly there were fewer rules and regulations, fewer systems, fewer controls… and this was especially true when it came to performance management…”

Our discussion led us to agree that there are definitely some special rules for managing performance in an Agile Working Environment and that these rules should  form the backbone of any organisational ‘system’. 

So what needs to happen?

Firstly, there is no need for sophisticated tools such as competency and capability frameworks to be abandoned, but to continue to derive maximum benefit from these; you will need to make sure that other aspects of performance management are done well.

The whole point about an Agile Working environment is that it is more collaborative, more social and faster moving, communication is therefore often instant and performance management needs to mirror that with an emphasis on development and very regular reviews.

So, the golden rules are:


  1. Remember you never get a sense of what 
    someone’s accomplished by gauging the number of hours they have been present and stared at a screen, you can only judge productivity from what’s actually been produced.

  2. Performance reviews must be conducted in person. (I do know of an organisation that tried ‘virtual’ performance management. They described the results to me as ‘virtually pointless’). Of course, as your agile culture develops, people will develop greater skills in communicating virtually and occasional conversations reviewing activities and discussing feedback will become the norm (see below).

  3. Feedback!! This is always the cornerstone of performance management, but in Agile Working environments, managers need to have mechanisms in place to ensure that feedback is truly timely and frequent.

  4. Consistency is important. In Agile Working environments, it is particularly easy to forget that performance feedback must be provided throughout the year with regular check-ins, not just at an annual review.

  5. Appraising’ and ‘Building’. In an Agile Working environment, performance management must balance appraising performance and building capability. Development goals are equally important to performance goals.

  6. Managers new to agile working environments may feel a loss of ‘control’. It is important to remember that empowerment is an integral part of ‘Agility’ and a really strong focus on outputs and deadlines will help.

  7. This will sound obvious, but I know of several organisations where it has been found wanting: if your system is based on documentation and a cyclical process, make sure agile workers have exactly the same access to information as centrally-based staff.

  8. Not as easy as it sounds, but get the environment right. Keep the environment a focused business meeting, don’t mix in a social element - go to lunch at a future time. No interruptions!

  9. Keep improving your agile processes – make sure agile working is reviewed during performance discussions. Give and receive feedback openly, share ideas.

  10. Performance management in an agile working environment is more prone to inconsistency and subjectivity. Make sure you gather multiple perspectives on performance, use consistent language in comments, include a manager’s manager or a manager peer group review and review the metrics of the process to identify inconsistencies. (A big role for Learning & Development here!)

I think many managers feel (or at least fear) a ‘loss of control’ within Agile working environments – managing performance in the way I have described helps to overcome that fear and actually shares control between all parties. Importantly, performance management then contributes to building the trust that is the foundation of Agile Working.

Get in touch with us today to find out how to improve your managers to deal with performance management in an agile working environment.

Nigel Walpole

Nigel Walpole, MD, Bray Leino Learning

In my series of blogs I’ll talk through my thoughts on some of the key issues facing managers in the workplace - lessons learnt, tips for success and general musings.

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