Over the years, I've written and spoken about performance improvement/productivity many times. Here's what I've come to notice and believe:
  • People can only perform as well as the system within which they work. As Dr. Deming said, "Most employee failures are management failures."
  • People can't perform beyond their abilities. This "Peter Principle" means we have to be very clear in testing and assessing folks' natural abilities and desires.
  • We need a clear definition of "good performance." This involves two questions: What are the most important things you do every day? And, how would you know if you were doing them well without having to ask me or without my having to tell you because the benchmarks are clear?
  • Create 90-day goals, weekly To-Do lists, and daily task lists. Share your goals, discuss them, support them, and reward them.
  • Praise specifically and as often as possible. Instead of saying "You did a good job today" say, "I particularly like how you handled that customer when ... "
  • Nurture and support your best performers. Unfortunately, because these folks are too busy to generate drama, managers often ignore them to focus on people more interested in being right about things than getting work done.
  • Surprise people. Hand them a gift card for dinner, put an article about them in the paper, nominate them for a reward, throw a surprise birthday party for them, etc.
  • Don't hang on to losers or victims. If people aren't performing after you've done your best and they seem more interested in drama than productivity, you must let them go. If you don't, you'll undermine your culture and goals in the process. Make sure to deal with poor performance now, and follow the lawyers' recommendation to document any significant concerns.
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