Performance Management - How to manage performance
There are two dimensions to managing performance. One is the annual or biannual formal process, commonly known as appraisal or performance review. The other is the ongoing, day in day out, week in week out, informal giving of feedback to staff on how they are doing. The purpose of this article is to deal with the latter; the former will be dealt with separately elsewhere.
There are three elements associated with managing performance.
In effect, these can be described as: know what you want; see what you've got; act on those findings.
In this way, giving people feedback on their performance will be based on evidence of activity. At all times we should seek to avoid allowing performance management to become personal.
Although it is not the purpose of this section to deal with this aspect, managers should also be mindful of employment legislation.
Should you be seen to be acting unfairly, staff will have recourse to both internal procedures (grievance or conflict resolution) and in extreme cases, employment tribunals.
Know what you want
This may sound simple, but it is often the biggest stumbling block to effective performance management. Managers need to be clear with their staff about what is expected of them. Tasks should be clearly defined and standards and objectives need to be set.
When setting standards and objectives, they should above all, be reasonable and realistic. Make them as specific as you can and where possible, apply appropriate measures to them. For example, telephones should be answered on or before the fourth ring. This is reasonable, specific, and has a measure applied to it. Similarly, relevant timescales should be attached. Again, by way of example, the monthly report should be submitted for checking by the 27th of each month.
This clarity enables managers to see how staff are performing against expectations. Without these specific 'measures', performance management will be open to conflict. 'I didn't know you wanted the file by Friday.'
One area that needs to be managed particularly carefully is where it would be artificial to apply numerical measures to an area of performance. This would be true of the behavioural side of what is expected from staff. By this we speak of, how they conduct themselves whilst carrying out their duties.
In this instance, we need to give typical examples of what we mean, as opposed to quantifiable performance. One example is that in a large national organisation there is a prime behavioural requirement. 'We will treat all enquiries coming in to our offices as if they came from a member of our own family.' This allows a manager to ask, 'Would you talk to your mother like that?' if an individual is rude and abrasive over the phone.
The overriding message here is, be clear about what you want otherwise employees may resort to guesswork, which is where problems may arise.
See what you have got
Having established a sort of template for how we want people to perform, we now have to identify ways in which we can spot the gaps in performance. The simplest is by observation. We can see that the new bartender is having difficulty changing a barrel, for instance.
Other means might include periodic checks on work and where errors are spotted they can then be addressed. Note, here we are looking for repeated errors. Anyone can make an honest mistake.
Customer comment too, is a valuable source of information. Once more, do not necessarily react to every individual comment. However, where patterns emerge or a number of customers are making similar comments, this should provide cause for further investigation and action.
In some instances, periodic tests may prove valuable. This may enable you to check that the sales team is fully aware of the key features and benefits of the new product, say.
Last, but not least, there is self-identification. Make it easy for the staff to alert you to where they themselves feel they are having difficulty with carrying out a particular part of their job. They will not do this if they feel threatened.
Performance management is not all about spotting the gaps, however. This is also an opportunity to identify the high performers. It is these individuals that you should be looking to develop further in that role, or even begin preparing them for a future, more responsible role.
Performance management is all about giving staff the required feedback that they need to improve their performance. Before we look at dealing with under-performance, remember to always give praise where praise is due. To ignore this is to invite resentment. Do not take good performance for granted. Thank someone for getting that report in by the 27th. Most people do most things well most of the time. Create a positive culture.
Where matters do have to be dealt with there are a few simple rules to abide by. First, deal with things there and then, or at least as soon as is practically possible. Don't leave it for another day.
Second, make sure you deal with specific events or examples. In this way you will be seen as dealing with things professionally as opposed to personally.
Finally, do not merely criticise people's efforts. Explain how a task could be done better. Your job as a manager is to enable people to do their job well.
Above all else, remember managing performance is central to your role. It is a constant part of your job. Also be mindful, though, that if you are not clear about what you want in the first place it will become a minefield.