PEOPLE PERFORMANCE PITFALLS

I have always disliked formal performance reviews, irrespective of which side of the table I was on and irrespective of whether they were with a top performer or someone struggling with their role. I have long believed that they are not the best way to manage performance, no matter how regularly they are conducted, as I believe that “we do not manage people, but we manage their behaviour” (see “Fourth rule of management” posted October 15, 2012). This means that managing performance is a day by day responsibility of a manager, who can use every interaction with a direct report to reinforce the behaviour needed within the team, with the proviso that one shouldn’t over-manage.( see “Sixth rule of management” posted November 19, 2012).

Author: Employeeperformance; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: Employeeperformance; via Wikimedia Commons


However, we need to remember that managing people performance can actually start even before an employee joins the company, and that there are many pitfalls that managers need to be able to overcome to generate outstanding performance. ITT President Harold Geneen (1910-1997) had it right when he said “I think it is an immutable law in business that words are words, explanations are explanations, promises are promises – but only performance is reality.”

Here are just a few of the major areas to focus on from an early stage:

Don’t oversell the job. While I understand that when we find a great candidate we are keen to sell them on the idea of joining us, it is critical that we do not cloud the reality of the actual role nor the culture that s/he will have to work within. The disillusionment, when expectations that have been set to entice a candidate to join are not met, will have a dramatic impact on their commitment to the role and the company, and will affect their performance to a great extent. Early in my own career I accepted a role in a company that was seen externally, and represented to me, as being dynamic and non-bureaucratic and with a commitment that I would have the authority needed in the role and the autonomy to do it in my style. Nothing could have been further from the truth, and I was so disillusioned with the charade that had been played out to get me on board, that I immediately started looking for my next move resulting in diminished commitment from me to the current job.

Author: bpsusf; CC BY 2.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: bpsusf; CC BY 2.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons


Make sure that they have all the skills and knowledge needed to do the job well. I have a strong belief that we should put a heavy weighting on attitude, and not just on skills and experience, when we are recruiting, but we should not assume that when, for example, we recruit someone who is currently in a similar role at a competitor, that they will have everything that is necessary to do the job well in their new company. Skills can be developed through training, development and mentoring/coaching, but performance can also be greatly enhanced for new hires by ensuring that they also understand how to navigate their way through the minefields that most companies tend to have for the unwary, and also how the critical informal internal networks operate.

Author: Kfuot001; CC-BY-SA-3.0,2.5,2.0,1.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: Kfuot001; CC-BY-SA-3.0,2.5,2.0,1.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons


Make sure that they fully understand their goals and how they will be measured against them. I have seen too many instances where the goals are too broad and not well defined, particularly the non-financial elements of a goal sheet. I was once told that one of my key goals was “To build teamwork”. I never quite understood what this actually meant in this particular situation, and neither did my boss at the time, but he was very keen on it as he stressed that “Teamwork” was a company-wide initiative. When I had my annual review I pointed out that I had not had any departures that I had not initiated myself and that none of my team had tried to inflict injuries on any other team member, and was thus given the teamwork tick on my review.

Address low performance immediately. Don’t wait till people actually fail, as the longer you leave it the harder it will be to rectify, and you cannot just live in the hope that they will get better in time. Your role as a manager is to ensure that you have a continual view of your team, and particularly on who is at the bottom of your “performance ladder”, even if everyone is supposedly meeting their goals (see “Move them up or move them out” posted August 23, 2010). By working with, and improving the performance of your lowest performer, you can then focus your attentions on the next one who drops to the bottom of the ladder, thus building a team that is continually developing and improving. Know when to cut your losses remembering that if you hire people for their strengths, you do not have the right to fire them for their weaknesses until you, as their manager, have done everything possible to help them to overcome them.

Author: SOIR (own work); CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: SOIR (own work); CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons


Build a culture of self-managing teams. Team goals rather than just having individual goals do help to build a culture where team members tend to ensure that everyone pulls their weight, removing the need for you to be the only person who is worrying about overall performance. I found great success with targeting my sales managers with goals that included reaching a high target percentage of successful salesmen in their team, rather than just meeting their overall team sales targets, and with an extra incentive for all salesmen if the entire team achieved their individual goals. As American football coach Joe Paterno (1926-2010) said “When a team outgrows individual performance and learns team confidence, excellence becomes a reality”

American author Michael Bergdahl gets it right when he says “Good companies with good management can hire average people, but can squeeze above average performance and results from them.”

HOW TO SURVIVE ON THE ROADS IN ITALY

I have just finished a three week holiday in Italy. We departed from our home near Bordeaux in South west France and after a four day 2000 kilometre road trip via Avignon, Viareggio and Fiuggi, arrived at a well renovated old “trullo” in Puglia near the heel of the boot of Italy. After driving around Puglia for 2 weeks, we headed back home, but I realised that there were some lessons learned along the way that potential visitors to Italy need to be aware of, before they consider arriving in this wonderful, romantic country.

Author: Diesel43 (own work); CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: Diesel43 (own work); CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons


Surprisingly, Italy is considered to be one of the most stringent, toughest and complicated countries in all of Europe for someone to be able to get a driver’s license, needing an incredible amount of preparation, lessons and practice before one is allowed out on the roads on one’s own. Small children still in their cots, instead of being read children’s bedtime stories about a female porridge thief and three bears, are nightly read the questions on the driving code that they will face sixteen years hence in the written portion of their driving test. Because of this, all Italians consider themselves to be outstanding drivers no matter what age they are, how much experience they have, the nature and quality of their hearing, eyesight or mental state nor the age, power nor condition of their car.

This self-confidence can be quite confusing, frustrating and downright terrifying to visitors to Italy, so after 2 weeks in Puglia, where even most northern Italians are scared to venture out onto the roads in anything less than an armour-plated Hummer, here are some things that you should know before rushing to that romantic Italian road trip.

No matter how fast you drive, it will always be too slow. You can be belting down an autostrade at 130 kilometres per hour in a 90 kph zone, and a woman in her late 80s, in a 1957 fiat Bambina, will sail past you as though you are standing still. Speed and its limits have no meaning in Italy, as locals will drive at speeds that are needed to get them to their destination at a specific time, rather than anything to do with actual speed restrictions. However, do not be tempted to drive in the far right lane on motorways as this is the preserve of large cross border trucks, whose drivers have not slept for the last 48 hours, and who will be steering their rig with one hand while working their espresso machine with the other, in an attempt to stay awake with the use of strong coffee.

via Wikimedia Commons

via Wikimedia Commons


Stop signs are only recommendations. You only need to actually stop at a stop sign if there is a large truck blocking the intersection, if there is a really good coffee shop on the corner, or if you need to stop to dispose of your household rubbish bags into one of the large public bins placed strategically at all major intersections on country roads. Once stopped at a stop sign you may leave your car, but not for longer than it takes to down a morning cappuccino and a cornetto-a-la-crema. If you do take longer (like trying for a second cappuccino), drivers in cars that are backed up behind you will get angry and start to nudge your car into the intersection in front of the oncoming trucks.

Author: F l a n k e r; CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: F l a n k e r; CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons


Italians have lightning speed reflexes. They also expect other nationalities to acquire this skill by osmosis just by crossing the Italian border. This is something which they, as a nation, have developed through rigorous training from a young age by learning to catch individual ripe olives as they drop from the tree on a windy day. This skill allows them to dart out in front of your car (note that this includes pedestrians as well as drivers), in the belief that you will be fast enough to take evasive action, and thus not smash into their Fiat Panda, nor maim grandfather Giuseppe on his way to buy his weekly SuperEnalotto ticket.

Author: Tennen-Gas (own work); GFDL / cc-by-sa-3.0,2.5,2.0,1.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: Tennen-Gas (own work); GFDL / cc-by-sa-3.0,2.5,2.0,1.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons


The meaning of cars flashing their lights. If the car coming towards you is flashing its lights it can be for a number of reasons. It could be that there is a police speed trap up ahead (though this is highly unlikely as speed is not a real offence), there could be an obstruction on the road ahead such as a cross-eyed, disorientated Bocce player getting ready for his next throw, or it could just be that the oncoming motorist is in a good mood. If the car is behind you, flashing of lights can only mean one of two things. It generally means “get out of my way”, but if you are in a high speed zone, it may just be that you are being flashed by the hearse in a funeral procession, and you will need to pull over, get out of your car, remove your hat and bow your head in respect for the dearly departed as he races for the last time at breakneck speed to his burial plot, followed by the fleet of mourners.

GPS systems do not work well in Italy. No matter how sophisticated they are, no matter what language or accent you have them using, no matter what celebrity voice you have downloaded, your GPS will only work occasionally when in Italy. The first problem is that the last time that there was any cadastral mapping done in Italy was in AD 122 when the Romans realised that due to bad mapping they had built Hadrian’s wall in Northern England, when it was really meant to have been built around Naples to protect the rest of the Roman Empire. The second problem is that many streets in Italy were built to take a single horse drawn chariot (with the side scythes retracted), and are much too small for modern cars, explaining the popularity in Italy for the revival of the Fiat 500. Your GPS will not understand that streets still in use can be so incredibly small and so will regularly have you reversing out of crevices the size of the gap in Lauren Hutton’s front teeth.

Author: Darren Meacher (own work); CC BY 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: Darren Meacher (own work); CC BY 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons


However, in life it is important to remember that “anyone driving slower than you is an idiot and anyone driving faster than you is a maniac”.

PATIENCE IS NOT A VIRTUE

“All human wisdom is summed up in two words – wait and hope.”

This was said by Alexander Dumas (1802-1870), one of the most prolific and most popular authors of the 19th century, and while I am a fan of Dumas, having as a teenager read and enjoyed his books “The three Musketeers” and “The Count of Monte Cristo”, I just can’t agree with him.

Author: Charles-Alphonse-Paul Bellay (1826-1900); PD-Art tag; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: Charles-Alphonse-Paul Bellay (1826-1900); PD-Art tag; via Wikimedia Commons


Firstly I have long believed that “hope is never a strategy” for anything in life, and secondly I have long believed that little comes to those who wait, other than sore backsides and boredom, the only exception being that “one should never run after a bus, a man or a woman, as there will always be another one along in a reasonable time”.

Hope (and prayer) may have been an acceptable way to go in Dumas’ time in the early 19th century when life expectancy was about 38 in the US and Europe, less than 1% of households had a bath, over 99% of births took place in the home, and the 3 major causes of death were Pneumonia, Tuberculosis, and Diarrhea, now all eminently treatable. In the 21st century we have replaced these 3 with Heart Disease, Strokes and Cancer, but at least we now understand that we should seek medical help rather than just lighting candles or sitting there hoping they will go away.

I just cannot accept that patience is a true virtue.

I am not talking about waiting, which we sometimes have to do, for example when we are in a queue to get through airport security or when sitting at a set of traffic lights, which are the sort of situations where we have little choice but to wait our turn. We also have little choice but to wait for broken bones to mend, or wait for annual vacations to come around. We generally just have to accept that these will come in their “own sweet time”, and that there is little that we can do about it but wait.

I am often amused by watching the agitation of people in queues particularly in France where, unlike Anglophone countries, standing in line is not a cultural imperative. After a relatively short time, queues will just disintegrate into a crowd press to the single entry point, where the aggressive rather than the impatient can gain the most territory. I was recently in a line to gain entry to a historic building which opens just one day a year, and had to continually defend my entrance slot. One woman, when trying to push past me for about the fourth time, and realising I was not actually French, yelled at me in frustration “You just don’t understand ! We French do not like to wait.”

Author: horax zeigt hier; CC BY-SA 2.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: horax zeigt hier; CC BY-SA 2.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons


None of us like to wait, but I differentiate this acceptance of waiting as an aspect of life that is different from patience.

I am also not suggesting that we should just expect success to arrive overnight, or that we should not understand that it takes considerable effort and application to achieve worthwhile results in business, in relationships and also in life generally. I have never really accepted the “I want it now” attitude that I often see in western societies where many believe for example that weight loss is not the result of a healthy lifestyle, controlled diet and regular exercise, but is just a question of finding the right medication for the kilos to drop off, or that success in the business world just involves joining the right start-up and waiting for the IPO (see “I want it today” posted December 2, 2010).

But I do not see this “I want it now” attitude to be an indicator of impatience as much as being either a sign of a lack of discipline and control, or just another example of “hope as a strategy”.

I see patience as being more an acceptance of the status quo, and whilst I have long believed that in many companies people who protect the status quo are more likely to be seen as candidates for promotion than are game changers, I believe strongly that those who are patient will not achieve much.

Successful people are generally impatient because they want to drive change, whether this is in the world of technology, the business world, medicine, the arts, education or even in not-for-profit charity organisations. Steve Jobs (1955-2011), co-founder of Apple was an incredibly impatient man, and while this meant that he was not particularly liked as a manager, CEO or human being, (regularly getting him into trouble and even fired from Apple in 1985), no one can question his game-changer status.

Author: matt buchanan; CC BY 2.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: matt buchanan; CC BY 2.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons


Important things in life can only be changed by unreasonable impatient people.

I have never known patient and reasonable people who have driven dramatic change. Even Mahatma Gandhi understood this when he said “Whatever you do will be insignificant, but it is very important that you do it. You must be the change that you want to see in the world.”

Reasonable and patient people will adapt to the world around them, whereas unreasonable impatient people believe that they need to adapt the world around them to suit their own needs.

I believe that American journalist and satirist Ambrose Bierce (1842-1913) had it right when he said “Patience is a minor form of despair disguised as a virtue.”

via Wikimedia Commons; PD-Art tag

via Wikimedia Commons; PD-Art tag


MANAGEMENT WEAPONS OF MASS DISTRACTION

“You can always find distractions if you go looking for them.”

Most managers clearly understand that distractions get in the way of focussing on what really needs to be done to be successful, yet despite this many will go out of their way to find, and actually welcome, the relief provided by distractions. I find that this is often the case when managers are under significant pressure, whether from their external market or from internal volcanic eruptions, like a mass defection of senior management to a newer and more exciting competitor. I witnessed this situation in one European company where the President of the US operation and his next layer of management all quit on the same day. Rather than face and handle the situation immediately with a real sense of urgency, the global CEO went sailing for 2 weeks to “clear his mind”. By the time he came back he may have actually managed to clear his mind, but he had also managed to clear a large part of the remaining management team in the US in his absence, all as a result of his distraction from the actual issue at hand which needed his total focus and immediate action.

There are times when distractions are needed to release a pressure valve, and I have to confess that I would on occasion sneak off to a movie on a work afternoon, just to get away from the office and the demands of the job, but we need to be able to control distractions in a way that they do not negatively impact our ability to be effective and timely in what we do.

Author: PCL-BO; CC BY-SA 2.5 license; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: PCL-BO; CC BY-SA 2.5 license; via Wikimedia Commons


Today, the worst distractions are meetings (see “Meetings bloody meetings” posted April 18, 2011) and emails (see “Emails bloody emails” posted April 21, 2011), and many managers use these as excuses to escape an unpleasant task. In my tenure as Global Head of HR at SAP, I once had to sit in on a performance review of a senior executive based on our 4-eyes principle at this level of management. The problem was that as part of this session the executive under review was to be asked to step out of his management role and move back to being an individual contributor, based on his continued inability to effectively run his division. His boss did not like the task at hand, and used every chance that he could to step away from the objective. Every time his PC “pinged” that a message had arrived in his inbox, he used the excuse that he was waiting for some urgent news to break off the review discussion and check his email. This enabled him to come back to us with a “where were we ?” comment and thus re-start the whole process until the next time that his PC pinging gave him an excuse to escape again. This happened so many times that eventually the executive under review turned to me and said “Do they want me to step aside ?”. When I confirmed that this had been the intention from the beginning, it was a moment of visible relief for all of 3 of us.

Author: Юкатан (own work); CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: Юкатан (own work); CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons


We all procrastinate at times, and I have come across quite a few people who tell me that they do this based on the fact that they work best under pressure, so will leave everything till the last possible moment, which enables them to continue to believe this self-driven delusion. There are times when some time pressure can provide the added adrenalin to get something done, but to live in a continuous state of procrastination and last minute vigils is not a characteristic of a successful manager. The larger and more complex is the task, the better it is to start to address it as soon as possible, even if this first step is to just break it down into its component parts. This will at least give you an opportunity to decide whether there are others that need to be enlisted to ensure successful completion within the required time available for a quality result. The longer you leave it alone, the more is the likelihood that you will have to address the problem, and its solution, on your own.

The worst example of this procrastination and distraction came very early in my career.

In the late 1960s and early 1970s I worked at International Harvester in New Zealand. The company had for decades dominated the truck and farm equipment markets, but was under attack from a horde of new competitors, many from Japan, with highly competitive products and better pricing models. This resulted in a number of important dealerships jumping ship to become distributers for the competition. As I was the IT Manager at that time, I was a member of the management team that was eventually, and probably too late anyway, tasked with developing a strategy to build loyalty in the network of dealers across the country and to protect them from competitive penetration. Despite this being the most serious challenge facing the company at the time, it was impossible to get the CEO to focus on the issue and it took about 3 months longer than it made sense, to get his attention enough to be able to implement a meaningful strategy. By the time we did, IH had managed to lose over 30% of its distributers and was well on the way towards its demise. During this time, the CEO continued to find time to play “business golf” and to spend time every day “managing by walking around”, mainly in the assembly plant, where he could slap a few backs, shake a few hands and tell people what a great job they were doing,. Despite having the time to indulge in these activities, he didn’t seem to be able to find the time to focus on the one significant issue that was threatening his company, and his own future, of dealer retention. It was obvious to many of us that he just couldn’t face the challenge of how to handle tough competition after decades of facing very little, and so welcomed any distraction that would enable him to stave off facing a tough reality.

Author: Zindox (own work); CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: Zindox (own work); CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons


Blaise Pascal (1623-1662), French philosopher and mathematician rightly said “Distraction is the only thing that consoles us for miseries, and yet it is itself the greatest of our miseries.”