'How'm I doin?'
Ex-New York City Mayor Ed Koch used to ask that question all the time during his term in office.
To us, that sums up the purpose of performance management: to let people know how they're doing, give them useful feedback and ensure they are working as effectively as possible.
This is different from the appraisal process, which generally happens once or twice a year and is more a summary and overview of a person's progress and development.
With performance management, a person's day-to-day effectiveness is what's looked at.
Specific goals are agreed, workload determined and expectations set.
That way, people can feel supported and looked after by their line manager and any apparent or potential difficulties can be dealt with as they occur.
When people are well-managed they feel aligned, committed, on board and motivated.
Their needs and wants are being considered; their quirks and individual ways of working are being accommodated; their contributions are being acknowledged.
That's the way performance management is supposed to work, at any rate.
What actually happens with performance management, more often than not, is one or both of two things.
The first performance management issue is that thanks, praise and acknowledgement simply aren't given for the routine stuff that people do day in and day out.
Just about everyone we've encountered (ourselves included) thrives on even a little bit of appreciation.
When it's withheld people feel undervalued and demotivated.
We recently worked with one manager who said that the day-to-day stuff was what people got paid for and they didn't need to be acknowledged for anything that wasn't above and beyond - we didn't agree!
The second performance management issue is that difficulties are ignored far too long.
There seems to be this fantasy that things will right themselves, magically, without ever having to deal straight on with them.
It's a bit like a child covering its eyes and saying, 'You can't see me!'
We know most people don't particularly like confrontation, but if something isn't working well, the earlier it's addressed, the sooner it can be righted.
To use some psychotherapy jargon, avoidance and denial seem to be rife in some organisations.
It really does help performance management if people know when there's a problem or difficulty.
It can be dealt with quickly and the appropriate support can be given. Otherwise, amazingly, they grow (the problems, not the people).
They do not go away of their own accord
What goes hand in hand with this is that once you do go to someone with your complaint (five months down the road), they have every right to come back at you with: 'How am I supposed to know there's a problem if you haven't told me?'
See, a lot of people really do believe that if they see there's a difficulty everyone else must see it as well, particularly the person who's 'fault' it is.
Well, they don't.
Good Performance Management
Give praise, deal with difficulties as they arise, let people know if the goal posts have changed (they inevitably do in any working environment).
That's good performance management and it's straightforward common sense that isn't often followed but can make work a far better place to be.
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