Managing people’s performance is not as difficult as many people think. I find so many people do it poorly not because it is difficult, but because they do not have the right attitude.
Managing people’s performance takes technique and attitude.
Managing People’s Performance Techniques
The technique side of people performance management is well written about, but I repeat it here for completion.
The first technique is to set standards of performance. These are the standards below which each individual in similar roles will not fall. These standards are the bottom boundary below which no one will be allowed to consistently fall without counselling.
Standards of performance will include such things as personal and team safety, financial probity and work attendance. Standards of performance must include measures which can be related directly to both the individual’s work role and the organisation’s goal.
A minimum standard of performance must be set for parameters such as project completion, level of sales, costs or level of quality. To not set standards for these kinds of parameters is to suggest that people do not have any responsibility other than to turn up to work and not hurt themselves or others or steal money.
The second technique is related. It is to set targets for individuals. Targets are agreed for the same set or a subset of the parameters for which standards have been set.
Targets are set based on the actual or expected competence of the individual. For example, a sales trainee would not be expected to achieve the same level of sales as an experienced sales person. However, they will be expected to sell. If they can’t they should consider another profession.
The third technique is giving feedback and coaching people to improve performance. There are many “models” for giving feedback and coaching that one can review on the internet, however, they have common themes.
Feedback must be as immediate to the time when standards were breached or targets not reached. It must be specific and target the behaviour, not the person and must be communicated in the language of the receiver of the feedback.
Coaching is similarly well covered by models and approaches ranging from in depth understanding of peoples minds to simple explain-demonstrate-practice-correct models.
Common themes for a coach are to ask questions and use different styles for different levels of confidence and experience and be clear about the deficiency. Also to use independent data or to challenge the individual to frankly assess their own performance compared with what they would like it to be.
Additionally, coaches must get commitment from the individual about what they are prepared to change, what support they need to make the change and a timeline for changing behaviour.
Many people struggle with learning and practicing feedback and coaching techniques when they start as leaders of people. Many people never ever learn it and some people become very adept at it. However, technique is not enough.
Managing People’s Performance; Required Attitude
Leading people to perform at a level which will allow the organisation to reach its goal requires leaders to have the right attitude. They must, when managing people’s performance, be insistent, persistent and consistent.
Leaders must insist on minimum standards of performance. By insisting on minimum standards, the boundaries of what is acceptable and unacceptable are clearly marked. If the leader is insistent then most people will self regulate their behaviour. The standards to be insistent on must include business performance indicators and not just safety and security, for example.
Leaders must be persistent. If the leader is insistent only when things go wrong or when the spotlight is upon them in some other way, then people will realise that there are no actual standards of performance. They will not self regulate beyond their own beliefs of right and wrong. Groups like this tend to become unmanageable or leaders will bemoan how the “culture” of the organisation prevents goals being reached.
Leaders must set targets which will stretch people (but not break them) and follow up with feedback and coaching when targets are not reached or standards are breached.
Leaders must be consistent. Just because a person who breaches a standard of performance or does not reach a target is a perennially good performer is no reason for the leader not to be consistent in their approach to managing people performance.
Alternatively, when a perennially poor performer changes behaviour and strives to meet targets and ensures standards are not breached, it is not a reason for wild celebration or indifference. It is time to apply the same rewards a leader would when any person behaved that way.
People performance management is as much about the leader’s attitude as it is about the employee’s. Leaders who are not insistent, persistent and consistent will reap mixed performance from their staff, at best.