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Managing performance

Managing performance

All of us want more than money from our work. We want roles that are interesting, challenging, and developmental. Most of us also want to participate in the process of setting and agreeing our work objectives. These are essential elements to working in a stimulating work environ­ment. Any process of managing performance must involve managers in a continuous and ongoing discussion with every member of the team. This process, which is often called Performance Management, is a struc­tured approach to ensuring that we get the important things done. It is a way of clarifying:

  • What your organization and boss expect from you.
  • The respective roles of the manager and individual team members.
  • Your training and development needs.

Things to avoid in implementing any performance management process

Many organizations have introduced performance management processes or systems. Whilst many work well, a lot more fall into disrepair. Some of the most common pitfalls to beset the performance management process include:

  • An over reliance on procedures and paper – do not allow your system to become too complex. Lengthy forms and numerous ‘signing off’ procedures do not encourage managers to use the system. Restrict any documentation to no more than two pages and keep your overall approach simple.
  • Poorly trained managers – conducting a structured and open discussion about performance requires critical skills in active listening and giving feedback. Make sure managers are trained effectively and know how to not only give advice but also to listen. There is a big difference between giving advice and coaching and counselling people!
  • Poorly defined targets – any performance management process must deliver an agreed set of objectives and targets between managers and staff. If the process fails to deliver these critical outputs it will soon fail.
  •  Lack of management commitment – if the process fails to enjoy the full support of management then it will be seen as a passing fad and managers will relegate it down their list of priorities. Make sure your system has the full and visible support of senior management.
  • Lack of sanctions for non-completion – if managers are not incentivized or penalized for completing the performance management process you will get flawed implementation. Link elements of your bonuses and pay rises to the completion of performance management discussions – that way you’ll ensure they are done in a timely manner.

Motivating people at work also involves improving the team’s perform­ance, and any performance management process must be applied on a consistent basis across all team members to gain maximum benefit. A classic process for managing performance is illustrated below. In our earlier management model of empowering, enabling and reviewing we referred to this approach which highlights the essential elements that managers need to follow.

Agreeing the purpose of the role

It is essential that the manager and individual team members under­stand and agree their respective roles. This agreed definition and purpose can only be achieved by a focused discussion. People have to know why their roles exist and what their key outcomes in terms of performance and delivery are. Most people will, of course, want to have a discussion about any goals that they are being asked to deliver. Some organiza­tions describe these goals as Key Result Areas or KRAs. These spell out the detailed results that need to be achieved by the individual.

What are Key Results Areas – KRAs?

There are generally four types of KRA:

  1. Operational KRAs – these consist of your essential core perform­ance indicators. The critical business measures that must be delivered.
  2. Projects – these are specific ‘one off’ pieces of work that have been allocated to your role.
  3. Personal development – these are targets that might be set as part of your ongoing self development, e.g. professional development.
  4. People development – these are targets set around the devel­opment of any staff you might have.

Setting individual objectives and establishing commitment

As managers we can clearly demonstrate confidence in people by involving them in any objective setting process. This is likely to increase levels of commitment to achieving any agreed goals. The words we use as managers are the most powerful resources we have in terms of devel­oping confidence in others. In agreeing performance standards and KRAs we have to successfully coach performance and in so doing employ the critical people skills of:

  • Active listening.
  • Questioning.
  • Giving and receiving feedback – both positive and negative.


An objective is a statement of what tasks have to be completed and the measures by which it will be judged to have been successfully accom­plished. An objective therefore makes a statement of:

  • What needs to be done.
  • Why it needs to be done.
  • When it needs to be done by – time.
  • The quality with which it needs to be done – standards required in terms of cost and quality.

How to develop effective objectives

When setting objectives and assessing the ability of an individual to complete a task ask yourself these two fundamental questions:

How competent is the individual to carry out the task?

How committed and motivated is the individual to carry out the task?

Your responses to these two questions will provide you with a quick assessment of what you need to do in providing the necessary level of direction and control to the individual. We might catagorize the various responses into four distinct types of capability:

  • Competent and committed people are self motivated. The chances are that you can let this person get on with minimal supervison and direction. These people are self-starters and will want to be stretched and respond well to being empowered. They will react favourably towards being set challenging targets and objectives.
  • Committed but not yet competent (still learning). These people can be stretched but not excessively as their lack of competence means you will have to provide an appropriate level of coaching support and guidance around the task side of their work. But if shown how to do things they will pick it up and work to deliver performance through the application of their high level of moti­vation. They want to succeed. But be careful as setting unrealistic targets with this individual might easily destroy their developing confidence. You need to explain what needs to be done and then help them to get to a level of capability before letting go.
  • Competent but not committed. If someone is not committed to their role but are considered competent in carrying it out you will need to find out what the real problem is. This individual will almost certainly require some kind of counselling discus­sion. It could be that the person is simply bored and no longer stimulated by the role. Equally they might have some other private issues that are getting in the way of their work role. Either way you need to find out what their thinking is as they are obviously capable of greater performance but until you can resolve the motivation issue their performance will be sub-optimal
  • Incompetent and uncommitted. This is clearly a problem indi­vidual and so will require a concerted approach to find out what the underlying problem is. You will need to identify whether it is a training, personal or competence issue or possibly a complex combination of all three. This type of individual can absorb a lot of management time and so requires swift and decisive management attention. You cannot afford to waste too much time with this level of capability so prompt action is vital.


When setting any objectives think outcomes. Make sure objectives are stated in a way that emphasizes a clear set of outputs. Remember an outcome might be a specific and measurable result, service, or behav­iour. For example, an increase in sales of 10% by the third quarter or a reduction in individual customer response times from 30 to 15 minutes within the next two months.

A performance measure sets out how someone will know whether they have achieved their objective(s) or not. Performance indicators often refer to:

  • Time (the ‘by when’ criteria).
  • Quantity (how many will be produced, sold, delivered, saved, transferred).
  • Quality (the level of satisfaction to be reached or attained).


Good objectives always have an explicit performance standard built into the task activity. For example, to increase the sales of product X by 25% by the end of Quarter 1. In activities where it is not immediately apparent what the performance standard or outcome is, you may need to work harder to build in a clear performance standard to avoid any ambiguity. For example, ‘To regularly update the customer database/ Such an objec­tive is too loose and would benefit by the addition of more specific performance indicators. So it could be rewritten to include the following: ‘To update the customer database by 16:00 on Friday of each week and to transfer that data onto the main company database at each month end.’

This ensures that both the manager and team member are absolutely clear what is required in terms of deliverables.

When developing objectives we also have to focus on some additional questions:

  • What levels of desired performance can be achieved?
  • Is the person or team working as effectively as possible to achieve these objectives?
  • Are there other ways by which we can improve performance?


Make sure your objectives include a precise and appropriate action verb to articulate what someone has to do. Such words provide a bias towards action and again focuses thoughts and energies. Consider for example:

Construct, develop, produce, analyze, detect, reduce, complete, deliver, prepare, update, develop, introduce, deliver, reorganize, promote, build, set up, achieve, increase, generate, expand, reduce.

Monitoring performance

In order for people to understand how they are performing, managers also have to provide timely feedback on performance. Any feedback provided should be based on the agreed objectives and performance standards. Only by regularly monitoring individual performance can we measure real effectiveness. This practice also provides a framework for the discussion of individual strengths and weaknesses in relation to performance. Through the use of regular reviews we can motivate staff to consistently increase performance and encourage them to monitor their own performance.

Management warning: Whilst performance might improve as a result of aggressive behaviour such as threats and intimidation, any improve­ment is only ever likely to be short-lived. Bullying managers who impose unrealistic objectives will invariably come up losers – even if it takes a rather long time for any backlash to occur. At the same time, in today’s litigation minded culture, the era of the bullying manager is coming to an end as corporate leaders recognize the legal implications of allowing staff to be bullied by unscrupulous managers.

Evaluating performance

Evaluating performance is a critical element of any performance management process. Without it the whole cycle collapses. Evaluating performance allows you to check the endeavours of your team members and to reward high performance. As well as also dealing with poor performance, it also helps you to identify any factors that may have been outside of someone’s control and so adversely affected their results.