Need To Better Manage Performance

How to get through your performance management system in only 5 questions

Forget the damn performance management system already.  You’re resisting filling out the 5-, 9- or 15 page documents on each of the 5 or 10 or 20 team members that report to you.  “It’s so much paper,” you say “Can we shorten it?  What pages do we actually have to fill out?  Maybe we could get one of those electronic systems.  It would be easier.”

Make it really easy on yourself…forget the forms and replace them with a roll of paper towels. Because really, you can accomplish everything that you need to do with the performance management system by asking just 5 questions that easily fit on a paper towel. While you’re fighting the system or putting off filling out the forms, your team members are missing out on the 5 critical questions you need to answer.  So, forget the system…and make sure you and each of your team members are answering these 5 questions the same way:

1.  What are my top 5 goals or performance expectations?

But, shouldn’t everyone already know what’s expected of them? Of course! But, our experience over thousands of repetitions over the last 25 years, is that team members’ and their leaders’ lists match about 2 out of the 5 goals. That means that 60% of the time your team members are working on things that aren’t your top priorities. Scary.

2.  How is performance measured for each of those expectations?

“What gets measured gets done,” is one of the oldest and most accurate management adages ever.  As much as your team needs clear goals, you also need to agree on how to measure performance relative to those goals.  Ever wonder why your kids don’t actually clean their rooms?  Because you don’t measure their performance – e.g., go check-to make sure they cleaned it to the appropriate standard.  Same thing at work.  You don’t measure it, it doesn’t get done.

3.  How am I currently performing based upon those measures?

Once you’ve established the measures, you need to make the scorecard visible so that you and your team members have a clear line of sight between their efforts and the results they generate.  What is the current level of performance?  What is the trend?  How does it compare with the targets?  How does it compare with “personal best” levels of performance?

Many years ago, we were talking to a production supervisor for a computer manufacturer. We asked him how the team knew how they were performing. He said that at the end of the day, he would stand at a desk in the middle of the production area and personally review a print-out of the day’s production. None of the team members could see the data. The supervisor maintained that the team knew how they had performed by his reaction – if he looked excited, they knew they had done well.  If he looked concerned, they would know they had fallen short of their targets. What?  So, we asked the team members. They said they didn’t have a clue. And, they just thought the supervisor’s behavior was odd, some sort of personal quirk!

People need to be able to see their own scorecard. Daily. Immediately. Clearly.

4.  What’s the development plan to a) help the team member hit his/her targets, b) take performance to a higher level and/or c) get prepared for future career moves/interests?

You and each of the team members need to build a plan for helping the team member develop. That might include a traditional training program of some sort. It might be some structured, on-going coaching and mentoring effort with you, or someone else. Or, it might be to lead a new project, or any of a thousand other options.

The key is you have to have a plan that you both understand, is connected to key organizational             and/or the individuals needs, is doable and that you’ll actually execute. The development plan needs to be the team member’s responsibility to execute. Your job is to help make the necessary resources available.

And, if you really want to nail it, make sure there is a specific set of key learning objectives for each development experience. People will get more out of the experience, and it will be hard to just “check the box.”

5.  Finally, where is the team member in executing the development plan?

Yeah, that measurement thing again. What gets measured gets done! You and each team member need to have a joint understanding of where he/she is on executing the plan.

If you and each of your team members have the same answers to those 5 questions, you don’t need your performance management system.  This won’t make you popular with the HR Department, but you will very effectively be managing performance on a paper towel (or a napkin or the back of an envelope in a pinch).

So, head on over to your grocery store, or Wal-Mart or Target and pick up a roll of “Performance Management System” for about a buck eighty-nine.  Start asking those 5 questions.  And, post a comment with your experience.  We’d love to hear how consistently people answer the questions and how actual performance changes as a result.