Navigating the Failure Point in Employee Performance Management

Countless leadership books, training materials, and even blogs tell managers and executives that in addition to providing actionable feedback to employees, they themselves have to be able to take feedback constructively. 
What if the threat of authority makes it too hard for subordinates to actually give feedback up the chain of command, though? 
I bring this up because the recent crash of Asiana Airlines flight 214 has brought up discussions around the relationship between a supervisor and a subordinate.
According to Deborah Hersman, chairwoman of the National Transportation Safety Board in a USA Today report, “Investigators are now examining the working relationship of the [pilot and instructor], and whether junior officers were comfortable challenging their managers, and whether senior pilots will welcome that feedback…”
This case is made a bit more complex because training was occurring during the flight. Questioning an instructor is more than challenging authority — it’s risking the ability to pass in future testing scenarios. 
Today’s performance management processes are designed to avoid a pass/fail rating system. Ideally, employees all fall along a spectrum. There will be a failure point, but the goal of performance management should be to course-correct before an employee ever gets near that line. 
When there are pass/fail systems, however, fear of failure can dampen an employee’s potential to learn and perform. It means that there’s a natural tendency to avoid questioning authority. Employees won’t even try something new or attempt to make a correction to a current process. 
Be clear to employees about performance expectations, especially concerning the point at which certain behaviors are no longer acceptable. Provide clear examples and training for managers on how to course-correct, and when to step in if there is ever a safety risk. 
While you might not be in a cockpit with 300 lives in your hands, you could be leading a global organization with 5,000 employees looking to you for their livelihood. You can be a guide who inspires great work instead of a manager who only sees in black and white. The best leaders are teachers, but they’re also good partners. 
The SHRM Blog does not accept solicitation for guest posts.

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