Managing Performance Management


Why is performance management generally undertaken so poorly? It never ceases to amaze me that something that should be a “force for good” in any organisation, is often seen as a chore (by both parties) and at worst a “stick” to beat up employees who are working and trying their hardest. It can look like the idea is to trick people into working their socks off all year, but by the virtue of PM (and something hidden in the small print of their many objectives), they end up with a “satisfactory” rating at best and not the monetary rewards they imagined.

Performance Management is actually quite simple but can easily be complicated to the extent that it becomes unworkable and unpleasant – to be avoided by both reviewer and reviewed. The process can become stressful for all parties and lead to a break-down in working relationships, grievance procedures and litigation. Has anyone ever actually costed the process to see if it is worth doing in these circumstances?

I have been coaching someone recently – we will call him Bob – and as part of the conversations that we have had, Bob asked me to look at his Performance Plan for the current year to date, ahead of a review.

What immediately struck me about the plan was that there were 9 separate parts to the plan, with a number of objectives/targets under each part – around 20 targets in all. There were also a couple of stretch targets, which were actually just additional targets. Also, the objectives/targets were:

  • peppered with vague wording (see below)
  • not measurable
  • simply tasks to do
  • the only measurable target out of the 20 (% increase in an aspect) , had no indication of how much increase was required.

As a result Bob was having some difficulty preparing for the review and demonstrating his performance confidently. Much of his content (evidence of performance) was defensive and equally vague – and who could blame him?

So what about wording in these objectives/targets? Here are some of the words used in Bob’s plan objectives:-

  • Satisfactory and timely resolution…………..
  • Timely implementation…………..
  • Timely and accurate submission………..
  • Ensuring policies adhered to………..
  • Demonstrate adding value………….
  • Ensure………….are submitted in a timely manner.
  • Positive contribution in …………. meetings
  • Evidence of engaging with…………

The problem with all of these is they are:-

  • Not measurable. How much evidence do you need to provide to “demonstrate adding value” or “engagement”? How much is not enough? What counts as evidence?
  • Tasks . This is something that Bob has to do as part of his role (in the Job Description, if it is up to date?) and to include a task is a waste of an objective, as well as demonstrating a lack of understanding about what an objective/target is for. Also, Bob can either do the task (satisfactory) or not (fail) – there is no scope to exceed a task target.

What should we do then? Top tips include:-

1. Think about what the organisation is trying to achieve? Bob’s objectives should be consistent and congruent with the organisation/department/team. Bob should be able to see where his contribution fits with the bigger picture. That done Bob is more likely to be engaged – many staff don’t have this joined up view of how they contribute to the organisation in a meaningful way.

2. Avoid listing tasks. What Bob does is the task or activity (an input). What derives from that task or activity is the result or outcome (an output). So measure and focus on what you want Bob to achieve (the output) and leave him to decide (if he is experienced) on what he needs to do (the input). Bob is quite capable of doing that!

3. To get from input to output, ask yourself “if Bob did this task really well, what would be the result?” – keep asking that question until you decide upon result of all that activity and this will be your objective – more sales, less error time, better satisfaction scores, less waste, quicker delivery, less rejects, lower costs, deadline met……………

4. Too many targets will likely result in a lack of focus. Decide on the 4 – 8 critical things that you want the person to achieve or deliver. Those are then objectives to be written into the plan.

5. Every objective (what you want Bob to achieve) should be able to be measured. If it cannot be measured or isn’t being measured currently, you have two choices….

  • If it isn’t being measured, is it important? If not, don’t make it an objective.
  • If it is an important objective, start measuring it.

6. Less is more. Simple, measurable, achievements during a set time are often quite succinct and therefore quite clear. This also makes demonstrating performance simple and objective – Bob will know exactly where he is in terms of his performance at his review

7. Start with absolute clarity. At the beginning of the year or period:-

  • Construct and agree the objectives/targets
  • Construct and agree the measures

If this looks deceptively easy – it is and it should be. If Bob’s manager doesn’t really know what they want Bob to achieve for the team and the organisation, then Bob cannot really be held responsible for unstructured, unfocused performance. It just takes a little time and effort, and some different thinking…………

Going back to Bob’s review papers, I had 12 sheets of paper with writing on, but no idea from all that was before me how Bob had performed, and neither had he! What a waste of time and effort all round. Now multiply that time by the number of people in your organisation…………..What could you achieve with that additional time spent on the organisation’s objectives?


Who are our customers?

Returning from another trip abroad I was standing by the bus stop at the airport, as instructed, waiting to be picked up by the bus to take me back to the car park where I had left my car for the past three days. I was shortly joined by several families who had no doubt received exactly the same information as me.

It was quite chilly and the wait was a little longer than I had expected but eventually the mini bus bearing the right corporate logo turned up. I showed the driver my ticket and he let me onto the bus with my carry-on luggage. As the father of the family behind me stepped forward to join me he was stopped by the driver telling him he could not bring his luggage onto the bus and demanded to see the gentleman’s ticket. The man obliged and passed a ticket similar to mine to the driver. This was immediately thrust back from whence it came with the gruff statement ‘you don’t want this bus your one will be along in a minute’.

When the aggrieved father started to point out that the logo on the bus was the same as the one on the ticket the driver said ‘I know, but this is #### what you want is’. A distinction that neither I, nor any of the other people being left behind in the cold had made, nor one that the lady on the phone had made clear to any of us.

Once we were on our way, just the driver and me in the mini bus, which could easily sit a dozen people, the driver radioed in to say he was returning with one passenger – the one he was told to pick up. From that point I was treated well, my name was used and was shown good attentive service.

On the way back to get my car, I kept thinking about those back at the bus stop. I appreciate that our cars will be in different car parks and that the mini bus that picked me up will not be going their way, but the name of the car park company is the same. As a customer, should they not expect good service from any part of the business that they are paying good money to use? I am not saying that the driver should have picked them up, but I am sure there are better ways of communicating with people (who are not “my” customer) with respect so that they are not immediately alienated.

I will continue to use the company as it is convenient for me; I am not so sure that those left behind will be doing the same, even though the poor service was not provided by the part of the business that they were paying. In the current climate we are all looking for customers, we know that we must provide exceptional service to existing customers if we want return business. Also, we need to be on the lookout for future clients; by definition these will come from people who currently do not do business with us. Therefore, surely we should provide exceptional service to those who are not currently our customers but who have the potential to be, otherwise why would they use our services in the future? In short everyone we come into contact with, is the potential life blood of our company, treat them with respect, help them the best way you can and smile :)

There is another way, see my next blog about the taxi driver from Casablanca.