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The Smart Art of Performance Management

How well do your employees perform?  How well does your organization as a whole perform?  Do you have clear ideas as to what great performance for your organization is, or do you believe that you’ll recognize great performance when you see it?

Most companies set both long and short term goals.  How well those goals are transformed into everyday goals and objectives at the individual level is more the challenge, and how the employees in aggregate are accomplishing the organization’s goals and objectives is the key to performance management. 

Performance management is a systematic process by which an organization involves its employees in improving organizational effectiveness toward the accomplishment of the organization’s mission and goals.  Performance management is the process of creating organizational goals and objectives, communicating clear expectations, setting standards of excellence, establishing measurements and aligning all activities. 

The intention of performance management is to create alignment of thinking and action by “cascading” broad organizational goals down to departmental and individual goals.  This, in turn, allows managers and supervisors to set clear expectations for results and for employees to understand and work toward meeting them.  This results in the “line of sight” where every employee can see how their work supports the overarching goals. 

 Thinking –> Doing –> Checking –> Developing –> Evaluating –> Rewarding 

 Elements of Performance Management


How do you currently get everyone to operate together toward goals?  You can use the Elements of Performance Management model as a way to systematically think about performance management.

Thinking is about setting expectations and goals to direct activities.  It’s the planning phase.  Thinking goes beyond a job description – it helps the employee know what, why, when and how things are to be accomplished.  It includes teambuilding, developing a clear understanding of roles and responsibilities and team interdependence.  This creation of expectations is the basis for the performance appraisal; employees must know ahead of time not only what results they will be held to, but how their results will be measured.  SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and timely) goals are set up front for each employee and department or employee group.

Doing is the execution phase.  It’s getting things off the ground and in the groove.  This is often an organic process, where experimentation and flexibility are employed. 

In Checking, projects and job duties are continually monitored, using a consistent basis of measurement.  Feedback to employees is best if delivered both regularly and “in the moment’.  Unless an employee is receiving any feedback, they believe they are doing a great job.  Don’t forget the best motivator of all – recognizing good performance.  In Checking, poor performance is “nipped in the bud” by providing immediate feedback and remediation, otherwise a manager may spend countless hours in disciplinary activities.

Developing starts with recruiting and orientation.  Skills, knowledge and abilities are evaluated and training requirements are discerned.  Orientation helps the employee to understand the culture, procedures, policies, resources and expectations.  In Developing, performance deficiencies are identified early and remediated.  Find an employee’s strengths and create challenges and advanced responsibilities, maximize their potential, and increase their value to the organization.  Development is not an annual exercise or a few workshops.  It’s about recognizing opportunities in everyday situations to help employees grow and improve.

Evaluating  is a process of delivering consistent, fair, honest and constructive feedback, both formally and informally that serves as a basis for rewards.  Make the evaluation mean something to the employee; ascertain that they understand both the accolades and the needs for improvement and leave with an action plan for performance improvement and/or enhancement.

Rewarding  is the culmination of the Performance Management process.  Since the reward is the incentive that motivates the employee to perform in a manner that moves the organization to success, careful consideration should be given to determine the right rewards.  Get to know your employees in order to understand what excites them – tickets to their favorite sports team? An early end of the day?  Be sure that the reward matches the level of performance.  Also, the “great job!” is thought to be the number one motivator – much more that money and other fringe benefits.  It’s certainly the easiest!

Think of this Performance Management process in action for every employee, every department, every day and you’ll get a sense of the power it provides.  It can be the difference in success for your organization, can create satisfaction for your employees and huge rewards for you!  It is something of an art and takes time, but the payoff is well worth it – it’s smart!


Twelve Creative Ways to Foster Employee Development

How are you investing in your employees?  Most managers would reply that both time and money are lacking.  The “task” of employee development comes to mind at review time, when a deficiency becomes apparent or when an opportunity to delegate is missed due to the employee’s inability to handle the assignment.  Too often, development is relegated to a few half-day workshops, with no real follow up to ensure that the employee can assimilate the newly learned skills.

I’ve had to learn to be creative with employee development.  I had to train myself to recognize those perfect moments for feedback or suggestions; they can’t be scheduled, they just show up on their own.  Here are some of creative ways to contrive effective learning experiences:

  1. When your employee comes to you with a problem, insist that they offer at least one solution.  It’s great that they recognize a challenge, but they can’t become dependent on someone else to solve it.  Recognizing a problem suggests that they are familiar with the situation and the probable causes – they are well equipped to devise a solution.  Presenting a problem is mechanical; solving a problem is value-add.  Asking an employee for the solution is an act of empowerment.
  2.   Train yourself to provide “on the spot” feedback.  When a problem is happening in real time, it’s the best time for a lesson.  Be respectful and constructive.  Offer a good business reason why the situation must change.  Ask what the goal is and analyze why their actions won’t achieve what they want; suggest alternatives or better yet, ask the employee to suggest alternatives.
  3. Keep a diary.  Create a computer file to store your documentation, both positives and negatives.  Documentation is imperative should disciplinary action need to escalate.  When preparing and delivering a formal review, it’s effective to be able to offer these “real life” examples of what the employee is doing well and doing poorly.  Create reminders to follow up with the employee.
  4.   Assign projects in their entirety to the employee.  Let them own it. Provide guidance and support, but let them own it.  For example, I once had a situation where the entire employee file system was in need of revamping.  The employee who was assigned to the project was expected to educate herself on legal compliance and best practice, through research and workshops, design the new system, implement it and finally create and deliver a presentation to the executive team.  This gave her a sense of accomplishment and provided management visibility.
  5.  If appropriate, encourage employees to sit in on other departmental meetings.  This is an excellent way for them to understand the issues and challenges that they can possibly help to remediate.  It builds team spirit, positive relationships and visibility.
  6.  Encourage your employees to sit on committees.  It will result in the same results as above.  This is a great way for them to expand their responsibilities and broaden their perspectives of the entire organization.
  7.  Get the most out of a formal educational event.  If your employee is signed up for a training, have a discussion ahead of time to set the expectations of what they’ll learn.  Inform the instructor of these expectations as well.  When the class is completed, have a discussion with the employee as to how they will assimilate the new learning into their job, and be sure to follow up.
  8.  Advocate education.  If your budget can’t provide funds, encourage it anyway.  They are investing in their own careers.  Education can also be provided by books (ask for book reports to share with others or white papers for publishing), research, webcasts and podcasts.  Set goals for all of these.
  9.  Find a mentor.  This may be someone within or outside your organization who has the experience, knowledge and the right demeanor to act as an advisor to your employee.
  10. Encourage employees to join professional organizations.  It’s an opportunity to expose and expand their career-related experiences beyond the walls of your workplace. 
  11.  Practice good performance management.  Use a healthy and effective process to change behavior and improve skills.  Have the employee own their improvement. Make sure that expectations are understood. Set and enact consequences.  Recognize and reward improvements.
  12.  Put the time and effort into a high quality formal review.  Think of what you want for the employee and yourself and make sure the review delivers it.  Be open, listen well.  Revisit the goals set forth in the review regularly to keep them alive, head off any obstacles and inspire success.

A manager by definition, coaches and develops employees; it is an everyday, ongoing process.  Train your eye to recognize the learning opportunities.  Challenge yourself to find creative ways for employees to grow.  In the end, it pays off for everyone, for you, for the employee and for the organization.

Inviting a Healthy Culture

When I look back on my career, there was a time when the CEO wanted to dictate what the culture would be – it was his vision of how employees would work, interact and generally feel about their employment at our organization.  He even went as far as putting me, the Director of HR, in charge of  Culture.  Luckily, we had a great group of people who put a great deal of personal stock into the company, were incredibly loyal and actually had fun at work.  I did a great job!  I was just fortunate.  What I learned was that no one creates a culture – the culture creates itself.  What we had done was set a behavioral foundation where the employees chose to be productive, loyal and fun.  So what was this “behavioral foundation”?  The CEO was very patriarchal – he took care of the employee’s needs at an individual level.  I recall him finding out that one of our engineer’s was having trouble getting a mortgage to buy a house.  He personally lent this employee money from his own funds.  He was always the first one there when someone was experiencing a difficulty in life – willing to share his time, expertise, network and personal funds.  In turn, our employees were fiercely loyal.  Out turnover was so minimal, despite the fact that we knew they were being courted.  It wasn’t just the CEO – our management team reflected the same values; they “took care” of their employees faithfully.  As DHR, I had an open door to all employees, serving each one who sought me out with personal care and attention that was genuine and sincere.  

Boy, did we have fun at work.  Our CEO would blast through the door in engineering and announce that everyone was to stop working and start playing and interactive game. Imagine thirty people laughing and acting like children full of glee.   We had parties and picnics.  We had traditions – if you misplaced your name badge, someone would find it, photocopy it, and plaster it everywhere – even the bathrooms.  Our software team would often spend entire weekends – 72 hours – preparing units for Monday shipments.  We instituted the “Software Pajama Parties” – pizza and other tasty food, with plenty of drop in company from supporting employee fold.  We truly had the sentiment of “TGIM” – thank God it’s Monday!

So what was the magic formula?  We had faith in our staff.  We trusted and allowed them to make decisions.  We allowed mistakes, although a lesson must be learnt.  We treated everyone with respect.  We valued their work and offered personal kudos for achievement.  We were innovative, allowing and encouraging new ideas.  We invested in our employees; many were promoted into high ranks.

We also had what I term “bonding moments” – ski trips on a bus in the East Coast snowstorms – where everyone got to know who everyone was.  They were incredibly fun and eventful.  We were family.

There are good and healthy cultures everywhere, some completely different than the one I described.  Harrison and Stokes (Diagnosing Organizational Culture) contend that there are four cultural archetypes: 

  •  The Achievement Orientation – offers a great deal of intrinsic satisfaction with their work;
  • The Support Orientation – based on mutual trust between the organization and the employee;
  • The Power Orientation – characterized by rewards and punishment and a desire to be assoicated with a stong leader;
  • The Role Orientation – people perform specific functions in order to receive defined rewards. 

 There is a bit of all four in every organization, but in general, an organization is strongly exemplified by one type.  None are better than the other; but the dynamics are stipulated by the archetype and require an adherence to the cultural rules.

No matter what the Orientation, three things must be present for employees to be productive, happy and loyal:  they must feel respected, they must feel valued and they must derive some sense of fulfillment.  If any of the three are absent, the employee may become problematic or they will seek to leave.  Focus on these elements as a manager or owner – treat everyone with respect simply because they are human beings, show that you value your employee’s work, not just by wages, but thank you’s, treats and smiles and help them get the most they can out of their time with your organization.  Challenge, provide training, show your trust. 

Remember that you set the stage that invites the culture.

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Cathy S. Taylor, SPHR