Reboot your performance management system with partnering

Performance management systems that deliver results are built on a ‘partnering’ leadership approach. Partnering is a leadership skill that facilitates and energizes what matters most to star performers: a growing career, an ongoing sense of progress, doing meaningful work, and receiving differentiated recognition.

  • True Story, Part 1 – Paula’s Struggle: Monday at 10 a.m., Paula scrolls YouTube videos at her desk, desperate for the weekend to begin. Displaying all the signs of burnout, she can muster zero emotional engagement in her work.

    Yet only six months before, Paula was hailed as a rock-star business analyst, riding an arc of promised greatness. One reorg changed all that.

    Company leaders took their eye off the ball – leaving Paula without the support and coaching she needed to succeed. Things spiraled. Her executive function impaired and undermining behaviours crept in. She’s now actively inventing ways to be gone from work – a habit that has not escaped senior leaders’ attention; they are seriously reconsidering her status. She knows it – but has no clue how to turn things around. Then, amid all this chaos, Paula gets a new manager – Ziad.

    Ziad has inherited the business analyst team, and with it this “special project,” Paula. Ziad’s VP is clear: If Ziad can’t get Paula back on track, he has management’s blessing to “free up her future.”

    In their first meeting, Paula has a sense of what she needs: more challenge and growth in her work. But her life journey has schooled her to stifle and mask her psychological needs rather than talk about them. So, Paula skirts the real issue. Ziad is well meaning and wants to help. “Paula, I know there’s lots going on in your life,” he says. “I’m willing to take some stuff off your plate to get you back on track.”

    Ziad is stymied by Paula’s response: she’s crestfallen and leaves the meeting visibly deflated. They’re both frustrated and mystified that two smart, well-meaning people could have landed in such a mess. She’s perilously close to losing her job and his credibility as a manager is at risk.

What is partnering?

In the name of recruiting star performers, many organizations have gravitated to a provider/consumer relationship between managers and employees. In the employee’s eye, the social contract looks like this: “You provide (and I will consume) kombucha on tap, gourmet cafeteria food, foosball tables, a funky meditation space, and unlimited work flexibility.”

There’s a problem. Employee as consumer is not a sustainable arrangement. Why? Perk-centrism breeds entitlement. The law of diminishing returns sets in and enough never is. A 2019 survey revealed the U.S. organizations with the least happy employees, including JP Morgan Chase, eBay, Twitter and Expedia. Despite offering a variety of perks and benefits, these companies find themselves faced with a dissatisfied workforce.

It’s all too common for leaders to slip into parenting behaviours like over-nurturing, hand-holding and entertaining. In a true partnering relationship both the employee and the manager relate to each other, adult to adult.

Partnering is holding out for each other’s highest good. To chunk that down:

Holding out – we contend for our partner’s interests, we persevere in the relationship, we take a stand for each other’s success, we’re in it for the long haul.

Each other – it’s about mutuality and reciprocity – never one-way, always two-way. Our philosophy is we don’t do things for or to the employee, but with the employee.

Highest good – this demands co-discovery because you can’t know what my highest good is without understanding my goals, aspiration and purpose. I can’t know what my highest good is without your objective, clear-headed view of my potential. Highest good means we have a vested interest in both the relationship and the results; the person and their performance.

Partnering underpins successful performance management systems because it facilitates and energizes what matters most to star performers: a growing career, an ongoing sense of progress, doing meaningful work and receiving differentiated recognition.

Ziad, in the story above, had unwittingly slipped into a parenting role by assuming he knew what mattered most to Paula – and what the fix was for her situation. (“Take some stuff off your plate.”) Paula had slipped into being parented by not being direct about her need for challenge and growth.

Who is my partner?

Unless you work in a very small organization, it is impractical (read impossible) to be everyone’s partner. It’s partner-as-noun that’s problematic, as in “These two people are my partners – the rest aren’t.” Shifting to partner-as-verb can be helpful and freeing. Partnering becomes a mindset/skillset/toolset you carry with you into the day’s interactions and relationships. You apply it where and when it is appropriate.

Because partnering means holding out for each other’s highest good – you get to decide how much of that you bring to each interaction. How will you decide? Ask yourself a few questions; “How much is riding on this? How important is it for me to work with or through this person to deliver results? Do we need to get our needs met by partnering together?” If it’s the person who pumps your gas, the answer will probably be, “No need to partner here.” If it’s your boss or your daycare provider, you’ll probably come to a different conclusion.

Partnering to expand influence

If you’re a knowledge worker, you're a node or nexus in a collaborative network in which there’s a need to influence without authority. Picture yourself within that powerful chain of partnering where people are skilled in the art of need-meeting. Being seen by people in your network as someone with great partnering skills expands your influence and creates speed in getting things done – thereby conserving your energy output.


Read the other parts in our Partnering Series:

Part 2: 6 ways we are socialized to stuff down our needs at work

Part 3: How unmet needs short-circuit employee performance

Part 4: Stop parenting, start partnering to fuel workplace performance


It’s ironic that when leaders aim to “manage” engagement, greater disengagement often results.

Juice’s white paper, The Engagement Paradox, explains why and gives you 7 brain-based leadership principles to shift your strategy for the results you want.

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