A Common-Sense Approach To Performance Management


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A Common Sense Approach to Performance ManagementSometimes we make things sooo complicated. Performance management provides an excellent one example. In the old days, we gave people a job description, told them what to do, and graded them annually on a scale from 1 to 5 in a number of categories, depending on how well they “performed.” This approach was based on the notion that managers can control an employee’s performance — and it doesn’t work anymore! In fact, more than thirty years ago, Dr. Edward Deming stated, “Performance evaluations are more destructive than beneficial of performance.” So what does work?

Here’s a common sense approach to consider. If you think I’ve missed anything, please let me know:

  1. Make sure the employee’s skill sets and personality match the task at hand. In the hiring process, we have to use skill tests and character assessments to understand the strengths and weaknesses of any candidate. This avoids jamming round pegs into square holes. Assuming that we’ve created the right “fit,” the process continues from there as the employee develops. Periodic skill testing and character assessments continue to make sense. We can match our training programs to help improve perceived weaknesses or enhance strengths.
  2. Know the plan and have a plan. Peter Drucker stated that management tends to recycle ignorance. Dr. Deming said that most employee problems are management problems. The starting point is for management to communicate with specificity the vision, mission, values, and strategic goals of the company and the department. Employees have to know the big picture in order to perform at their best. Unfortunately, this communication generally comes once a year in a speech to the workforce and lacks any precision. Annual goal setting makes no sense in today’s environment. Instead, set goals in writing, make them 30-90 days out and visit them for 15 minutes each week.
  3. Make sure employees can answer these questions:
    • What are the three most important things you do every day?
    • How would you know you were doing them well without having to ask or without being told?
    • Until employees can answer those questions with precision, any performance management evaluation is meaningless.
  4. When employees don’t perform, check the system first. Most employee failures are system failures. Nine out of ten people want to do a good job every day. If an employee isn’t performing, first check to see how management could be causing the problem. Do people lack the necessary skill sets? Are they clear about their job duties? Is your management style demotivating them? Is everyone on the team cooperating?
  5. If it’s not the fault of the system, have the employee own the problem. Under the traditional theory of discipline, management gives an oral warning, followed by a written warning, perhaps leave without pay, and then termination. Throughout the process, management owns the problem. If it’s not management’s fault, then the employee should be made to take responsibility. But nobody has a form to do that. If you’re an HR That Works user, consider the Employee Correction form, which places the responsibility squarely on the employee’s shoulders. It makes people acknowledge their deficiencies in writing, what they intend to do about them, and what the consequences should be if they don’t meet their own expectations. We find that when responsibility is placed properly, employees intend to be rougher on themselves than management does.
  6. Consider a performance improvement plan. Finally, once everybody acknowledges their responsibilities, have a plan for moving forward. Depending on the concern, make it from 30 to 90 days in length, but check in with the employee at least every few weeks. If, after that time, they still can’t or don’t want to “get it” then it’s time to liberate them!

Performance management isn’t rocket science. When people are doing things they can do well and enjoy doing well, they don’t need to be motivated. They’ll want to perform. It’s management’s job to place employees in a position where they are capable of achieving, and responsible for, their success.

Don Phin, JD, CPCM is president of HR That Works, Inc., a firm specializing in management, employment law, and risk management. He serves as the Human Relations Key Consultant for IMMS.com. Phin, a past president of the American Academy of Employment Law Attorneys, can be reached at (800) 234-3304; e-mail don@hrthatworks.com; or visit www.hrthatworks.com.
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