HR Strategy | By Tom Murphy,

Rethinking Performance Management

No organizational investment offers a better potential ROI than the one we make into our employees.

And so we offer great benefits, flexible schedules, and a fantastic working environment. We work hard to attract and retain the best people. But once we have them, we often drop the ball when it comes to managing their performance.

If you’ve built a strong culture of trust and accountability, you might be tempted to think performance management isn’t an issue. But even the best employees can fall into ruts or develop habits that aren’t working. And even some of the best managers can fail to see it happening, or feel unsure about how to handle it.

It’s complicated

As with most issues involving human beings, the reasons employees underperform can be complex and diverse. Arguably, very few people go to work every day wanting to do a bad job.

Most people really want to be high performers, but find obstacles in their way. Here are some common performance roadblocks:

  • ineffective training
  • poor communication
  • lack of accountability
  • confusion about expectations
  • unhealthy workloads
  • unrealistic goals
  • low morale
  • illness and/or personal issues

As you can see by this list, there is no quick fix or silver bullet for addressing any of these issues. But with dedication and follow-through, it can be done.

How to tackle performance management

1.) Improve communication

Supervisors tend to have complete clarity about what is important, but often they haven’t effectively shared those details with their direct reports. For key goals and tasks to get accomplished consistently and well, everyone needs to be on the same page.

Clarify with each employee the 3-5 most important outcomes they are responsible for, why they matter, and how their work fits into the bigger picture. Let them know their performance will be measured against these items on a regular basis.

2.) Track progress and results

It’s impossible to hold anyone accountable if no one is keeping track of what’s happening. Define your indicators of success and make them easily trackable, for both supervisors and employees.

Making managers responsible for all performance monitoring can put team members on the defensive. Besides, no one should be more interested in successful performance than your employees themselves. Allow them to track (or have access to) their own data and report progress to their supervisor.

3.) Address things quickly

Very few people enjoy awkward conversations. And yet we often let things go until that becomes the case. Little things become big things. And before you know it, what could have been an easy conversation becomes a dreaded one.

When dealing with performance issues at work, think about using the airport security motto: If you see something, say something. Don’t ignore red flags. Check-in with staff regularly and have discussions as soon as a potential problem starts to emerge. That way, you can keep your conversations, and your performance management issues, from becoming threat level red.

4.) Make time for it

This might be the hardest thing of all. Busy supervisors often feel like they don’t have time to manage. But if you don’t have time to manage the little things, how will you ever find time to fix the bigger problems and issues that will eventually come of them?

Get out your calendar and start building time into your schedule now. Plan far enough ahead that your performance management time gets booked before anything else. Schedule time with employees to review indicators and data, and discuss potential issues that either of you see emerging. Resist the temptation to cancel or reschedule these meetings due to “more important” things that come up.

After all, few things will drive business more than having a staff full of happy, focused, and productive, employees.