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Experiential training to disturb thinking and shift mindsets


Hedda Bird tells the community that a bit of disruption is needed to see real performance management results.

The underlying problem with much performance management is that it is not perceived as an essential methodology to manage and improve the performance of people. It's often perceived as an HR process designed to prevent managers from doing their job. However, the essence of performance management is to ensure that everyone is doing what the organisation needs them to do, in the way that it needs them to do it, and that people get better at it each year. It's about people not procedure. The best procedure won't have any impact on people if the managers involved cannot communicate with team members effectively. And to do this managers need to be equipped with the proper skills to engage and motivate people.

In light of this, training becomes an obvious requirement but how can you deliver effective, impactful performance management training? Many organisations have given their people performance management training but the methods used don't really give managers practical tools to apply in situ and often fail to deliver the expected results.

Much better results can be achieved if an experiential training approach is taken. It’s a learning medium designed to specifically transform how people think. 'Forum theatre' workshops use fictional characters in highly recognisable situations that provoke an emotional response from the audience - a hugely powerful learning experience. It is also very entertaining, which makes the key learning messages even more memorable.

"Many organisations have given their people performance management training but the methods used don't really give managers practical tools to apply in situ..."

The interactive theatre format was discovered in the early 1970's by Augusto Boal. He used the theatre/play format to turn passive spectators into active participants. In forum theatre actors play out real life situations, such as an appraisal at work, and invite members of the audience to comment on the conversation between the manager and team member and what could be done differently and better. The main objective is to disturb people's thinking and generate practical solutions to real workplace problems and issues.

Research shows that people retain more of what they experience than what they are told. The theory of building a bridge can be taught but only by building a bridge does what it is and what it does become apparent. It is the immediate application of the training experience that is so transformative.

Disturbing people's minds can address the fixed mindset that people often bring to performance management conversations. Experiential training opens people’s minds to different possibilities. Seeing situations played out in real time, listening to real-time conversations and how each person responds to them provokes strong reactions. Participants can see clearly what changes need to be made to make the conversation work for both manager and appraisee. It's performance management in action.

Forum theatre also has two other affects. It addresses the limiting belief held by many managers 'I don't have time to do this, it's not a priority'. With forum theatre they move performance management up the priority list; they see what's in it for them as well as the organisation. It also acknowledges the fact that everyone in the organisation is an appraisee, and simply training the managers is not enough. A simple analogy is that of a conversation about a bidet: one person knows what a bidet is the other thinks it's a posh loo. Both manager and appraisee need to be trained in how to have a conversation about performance management, otherwise they are simply talking at cross purposes. 

"Forum theatre is not skills training: it is about changing mindsets. It's about involving all employees in the conversations that need to take place."

Anglia Ruskin University takes this approach. They believe everyone needs training in how to be a party to the conversation. They see each employee’s contribution as vital for engagement and motivation. If you give everyone the tools to have open and honest conversations then they will feel empowered, included and valued. Anglia Ruskin do not see performance management as a tick-box exercise, they view it as an ongoing dialogue. And to have a meaningful dialogue everyone needs to be trained. Both manager and employee are then responsible for driving performance management.

Another benefit to training in a forum theatre format is that large numbers of people can be trained in a very cost effective way. Around 40 people can be trained in 2/3 hours, more than in a traditional classroom format. Forum theatre is not skills training: it is about changing mindsets. It's about involving all employees in the conversations that need to take place. It shifts perception from performance management being just another HR process to it being part of their day to day lives. People feel they are truly part of it rather than observers of it. Seeing both negative and positive behaviours demonstrated on stage sparks strong emotional responses from people. They see, in real time, the affect a 'bad' conversation can have, what the actors are doing wrong and how they can change it to have a more positive outcome. It's training that can actually impact ever person in the organisation and deliver a tangible result.

Hedda Bird is a mathematician by training with an MBA from University of Warwick, and founder of performance management specialists 3C. 3C are devoted to helping organisations turn their performance management programmes into a source of competitive advantage. Clients include major private and public sector organisations across the UK as well as internationally. They have created a uniquely integrated approach to help managers align, motivate, assess and develop their teams to achieve business objectives.

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