HR Matters

Managing People for Performance

Graham Yemm is a consultant with 20 years of experience. He runs a Solutions 4 Training Ltd, a UK based consultancy and works internationally. He has worked with many organizations helping them to develop their processes and their managers to improve performance. He can be contacted at Solutions 4 Training or +44 1483 480656.

By Graham Yemm

“People improve productivity, not organizations.”

Managers who have had any form of training will be familiar with the idea of setting goals or objectives, and probably with the principles of appraising performance. With this in mind, why is it so many managers keep asking about how to motivate their staff or how to get more from them?

This whole area is a key differentiator of good managers and is a large part of what managers are being paid for! In this article I want to offer some ideas to help you become better at getting the performance you want from your teams. I will suggest some of the reasons why you, and other managers, perhaps do not do it very well and what the benefits will be when you begin to apply the principles.

Let us begin by stating the obvious – in order to manage people for performance you need to clearly establish what good performance is for each person and role. Too many managers think that this means just setting the goals. Not so, as you cannot manage those. Defining good performance can include what the outputs and results are – and how they are being achieved. That is the part you can manage. Recognize that managing for performance is an ongoing process and not an occasional intervention or snapshot.

Why it is not done well

  • People do not understand what is needed to manage performance!
  • Managers assume people will work towards their objectives
  • Too many managers think that money is all that motivates people to do what they need to
  • Managers are too busy spending their time on the wrong priorities to manage for performance
  • Organizations think that because they have an annual appraisal process that they are managing performance

If you rely on an annual appraisal (or review) as a mechanism for setting objectives and reviewing how people have performed, what problems does this encourage? Are the objectives meaningful? Do they stay in the forefront of peoples’ minds? Do they stay relevant throughout the year? How are they monitored throughout the year? When you come to reviewing them, how valuable is the conversation?

What to do

Firstly, everyone should have clearly defined standards of performance and/or key performance indicators (kpi’s). These are same for all those doing similar roles and provide a baseline for performance. There are two types of these – the quantitative and the qualitative. The former are more straightforward to do as they will involve numbers, eg. number of calls handled per day, time to respond to queries etc. The latter are more challenging because they require some thought in order to clearly define the standard in a behavioral way which removes most of the subjectivity. This can refer to quality of work, appearance of someone’s workplace, answering the phone or following corporate standards etc. When people are working to these kpi’s they should be in a position to deliver the performance you want.

Although these kpi’s need to be clearly outlined and understood by all involved, the key to managing for performance is to follow the Pareto principle and identify which 20% are the ones which contribute to 80% of the outcomes. These are the things you need to manage. You want to be able to monitor them, to revisit them and raise the standard in order to get even higher performance.

The other thing people need to have a clear goals or objectives. These should be clearly stated, maybe following the SMART principle. (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time bounded.) The measure can be either numeric or behavioral, which means clear definitions. Goals help in many ways, especially as they link to many of the models of motivation and the fact that a sense of achievement is a powerful buzz for most of us.

When setting goals for people in the workplace, especially if you want to manage performance, think about the timescales you aim for. Giving people 3 or 5 goals at an appraisal with a long timescale will not necessarily provide much drive or motivation. To make them meaningful consider setting several goals with different time deadlines, mainly short and medium term. When they are completed set more – and the process becomes more dynamic. It also enables you to reflect any changes in the business and ensure the relevance of the goals.

How to do it

Make sure you think of this as a key priority – so give it time! Make sure that the kpi’s are clearly stated, written down and everyone has a copy

When you set the goals with your team members and they have agreed, get them to develop an action plan for how they will achieve each one. Have them do it, and give you a copy within 48 hours of setting the goals. A simple way of doing this can be to use a simple diagram such as a stairway - and we can happily send you a sample.

Ask them to identify the key steps to take in order to move from “now” to the goal. Between you, agree the timescales for the key stages and also discuss any help required and possible problems. Once this is all agreed and finalized, you will have a copy and the team member has theirs. Now is the first key action for you – put those dates in your diary to make sure that you will sit with the team member and review their progress. This is an “A” priority activity and should not be moved!!

As your team members work through their action plans and you have your regular reviews, you will be monitoring their progress in a timely and effective manner. These reviews are almost mini-appraisals and by carrying them out at the agreed times you will make life easier for all concerned when you have the annual appraisal, because it will be a consolidation of these meetings.

During these reviews ask for what needs to be improved, what has gone well and what is going to happen next. Talk about the kpi’s which are relevant to their plan and make sure they are meeting these. This monitors and manages for performance. Provide feedback (on performance or behavior, not personality) whether you have to criticize or reprimand or you can praise. By having these regular reviews, you can avoid the management fault of not telling people how they are doing!!

When the goal is achieved, carry on and set the next goal, get the action plans – and continue as before. Not only are you managing performance, you are helping your team to feel more involved, more successful and more motivated. Remember, people just want to know what is expected of them, be given the support to do it and then told how they are doing. What it requires from you is to make time to have the regular meetings with your team, after all they are the ones who provide the performance you need. Give them your time and they will give you the performance.

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