16th April 2021
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Performance Management in the Arts: Part 1

Performance Management in the Arts
By Arts Wellbeing Collective

Effective performance management is vital for maintaining a healthy workplace.

Please note, this information is intended as a guide only. Any industrial advice or a course of action should be checked with your manager, or referred to WorkSafe Victoria the Victorian Chamber of Commerce and Industry , Fair Work Australia , ArtsLaw, or if outside Australia, a relevant peak body.

Not many people enjoy performance management.

There are many reasons why performance management in the arts can be so problematic – maybe it’s fear of confrontation (we can do it if we have a script and an audience and if we’re in character, but the notion of genuinely addressing a perceived performance issue is terrifying to most of our managers!). Maybe it’s because we might be managing friends. Perhaps there’s a lack of formal management structure, so performance management feels a bit weird. Whatever it is, hopefully these tips will help put you on the path to effective performance management.

When performance management is perceived as daunting, we tend to avoid it for as long as possible. We would rather employ new people, bring on a contractor to fill the gap, go over budget, work our good talent into the ground or take on their work ourselves, rather than have an honest conversation. Throw into the mix that we may be performance managing people we know well, or are friends with outside of work, and performance management becomes entirely overwhelming.

Why do we avoid conflict?

Team members seek to avoid conflict for many reasons including:

  • Fear of aggression or risk of violation of a boundary
  • Dealing with conflict is outside of our comfort zone
  • Fear of embarrassment
  • Worn out trying to resolve something
  • Belief that the issue can’t be resolved
  • Belief that the issue will solve itself
  • Often, the underlying symptom of these fears and/or beliefs is a lack of mutual respect and trust in a relationship. Where this is present in the workplace, you may see team members exhibiting the following behaviours:
    • Not speaking the truth about themselves or others
    • Not admitting their limitations
    • Being hesitant to disagree with others even if they know the decision is wrong
    • Not having a high commitment to decisions
    • Not seeing themselves on the same team

In March 2017, attendees of a Creative People Management workshop were asked, “what do you find difficult about performance management?” See if you resonate with some of their answers:

  • Worry about the impact that it might have on the team member
  • Fear about the reaction from the team member
  • Avoid it because it’s a short conversation that leads to a long process
  • Team member can think they’re the most important thing in the world and nobody else exists, so not interested in performance management
  • Don’t want to performance manage friends
  • They do really good work, so the rest of the behaviour is excused
  • Fear of the response of defensiveness
  • Worried about damaging someone’s ego
  • People are so invested in their work in the arts that they take any performance management very personally
  • Difficulties managing casual team members – you might only see them on shift, and there’s no time to implement performance management
  • Doing performance management is uncomfortable
  • The reaction and the impact are both unpredictable
  • There are so many constraints on managers’ time
  • Starting performance management is the start of a massive investment and will have a massive impact, and potentially a massive cost to you as well

Regular performance appraisal is your preventative treatment, with performance management being your remedial solution. Instead of waiting for your yearly or half-yearly reviews for that awkward conversation where you raise a performance issue, dedicate 15 minutes each fortnight or even each month to asking your people to self-reflect on their performance (how they accomplished something as well as what was achieved). They may surprise you, and, at the very least, it cultivates a space in which they can self-reflect.

Consider adopting a philosophy of the “no surprise” rule in performance reviews.

This helps reduce the fear surrounding performance reviews – there shouldn’t be any big curve balls in a formal performance review. A team member (including the manager instigating the performance management) should never fear feeling chastised or humiliated, shamed or blamed. If you would like to raise a performance issue, speak respectfully and objectively from your perspective. If you feel that your words may be perceived as judgemental, consider softening them with “I feel as though” or “I see it like this”. Useful phrases and questions may include:

  • Tell me about what you’ve achieved in the last x weeks.
  • What has helped you to be at your most creative?
  • What are the behaviours/values you’ve been particularly proud of in how you’ve achieved those goals?
  • What do you think you could have done differently or improved?
  • What do you plan to achieve in the next x days/weeks?
  • Are there any barriers to you achieving this?
  • What can I do to support you?
  • Have you felt supported to take risks?
  • How is work going in general? (Be sure to listen. This is a space for reflection on wellbeing, dynamics, private issues which may be impacting work etc.)
  • What is challenging for you right now?
  • What is overwhelming or frustrating in your current work?
  • How are you contributing to good mental health and wellbeing in the workplace?
  • How are your colleagues contributing to good mental health and wellbeing in the workplace?
  • What’s a mistake that you’ve made and how did you fix it / do you need help to fix it?
  • Is there anything about your role that you are finding particularly challenging that can be improved or changed?
  • Is there training or professional development available that will help you perform your role more effectively?
  • Have you received useful and constructive feedback from your manager on your performance to date?
  • Do you feel any hesitations in approaching your manager with any issues you may have?

Read Performance Management in the Arts: Part 2

Also by The Arts Wellbeing Collective:

Anxiety and Depression: Do You Know the Signs?

Preventing Inappropriate Behaviour in the Workplace

Published in Collaboration with The Arts Wellbeing Collective

The Arts Wellbeing Collective
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