October 28, 2013 3 Comments
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.”