Peter Drucker, the father of management, became internationally renowned for urging corporate leaders to agree objectives and goals with their staff and then give them control over how to achieve these objectives. However, despite this, many organisations fail to create the link between objectives and the routes to achieving them. As a result, many performance management systems end up being too prescriptive, leaving little room for individual input.
To create a high performing organisation, it is essential that the goals of a business and its people are correctly aligned. However, creating a dogmatic approach to performance will not engage employees. It will certainly not unleash the creativity needed to help the business. Nor will it ensure that the organisation’s strategic objectives are effectively met.
A first point for managers is to understand the importance of correctly managing performance. A crucial mistake that many managers make is in assuming that their people understand the direction of the business and are aware of the part that each individual is to play. By focussing directly on managing performance, managers can ensure that they:
1. Align the organisation, systems and people
2. Direct employee’s to areas of the greatest benefit
3. Focus employee’s behaviours
4. Provide opportunities for feedback
However, this is in itself insufficient. For real engagement managers need to go further. The essence of managing performance is providing clear guidance and direction to staff and then allowing them to get on with their work. This requires trust, communication, transparency and honesty. In other words, hard work from both sides that does not come from a once or twice a year performance management meeting.
At a time when organisations are increasingly focussing on performance, it is important for managers to pick the correct strategy for managing their employees. One size definitely does not fit all. For example, it important for managers to understand the difference between those who are willing and those who are able. The impact of this difference will influence how an employee should be managed.
Ability is what I am capable of doing – do I have the skills, competency and experience to successfully do the job (assuming I have the correct direction from my manager). Willingness is based on my motivation, satisfaction and my engagement with my job, my boss and the company. It is an easy mistake to mix up the two; if you do you may end up mismanaging your employees.
If I have the ability but am demotivated (i.e. I have low willingness), my manager needs to focus on my motivation. Training or developing will not fix the problem. If I am willing but do not yet have the ability, development is the most appropriate starting point. The optimum is employees who have a high ability and willingness; these employees should be empowered to achieve their full potential.
Watching how the turmoils of both the business and non-business worlds are presented, it never ceases to amaze that the quality of communication is so poor. Listening to politicians, bankers and members of the clerical authorities on various radio and TV programmes recently, it becomes apparent that they are talking to — but not communicating with — the public. A senior minister recently was transparent in how she was accessing the pre-programmed PR script.
Talking is easy – pick a few words and repeat. There is no need for engagement with anyone else, no desire to change your own view of the world based on what someone else has to say and, apparently, no real understanding of the impact of the words. Communicating is harder but it has a far longer impact. A dialogue is after all is two way – else it would be called a monologue. It is premised on listening to what the other has to say even if this means changing what the original position or intent was.
A bit more communication might actually convince people. Talking to them only leaves the suspicion that something is not being said
A large number of problems are caused because we fail to give them the proper attention they deserve. Many managers become attuned to concerns amongst their team – that first dip in performance, the inappropriate behaviour or the out of place comment. However, because we are all busy, we don’t want to rock the boat or we don’t know how to address the matter, it is easy to ignore it.
Concerns can be solved relatively easily if attention is paid to them early on. However, if they are ignored, a pattern can be repeated and become an issue. More serious than a concern, but not yet a problem, issues can still be resolved if some effort is made. However, it is typically only when something becomes a problem will we pay serious attention. Solving problems takes effort, time and resources. Quite often, the matter goes beyond an informal resolution with HR or senior management becoming involved.
When concerns raise their head, we should pay attention thereby preventing many of them from becoming problems.
Bob Sutton writes a blog about the links between managerial knowledge and organisational action. He has a very interesting and challenging post based on a closing discussion at the Singapore Human Capital Summit. As Bob said, his aim was to challenge the assumptions of the audience rather than come up with a definitive list.
Bob Sutton’s Top 10 List of Flawed Assumption About Managing People
1. HR ought to be all about spotting, hiring, and breeding individual talent (HR could pack a bigger wallop by focusing on teams and networks more).
2. HR should focus on finding, hiring, and developing the very best people (Bad is stronger than good – about 5 times stronger — so screening-out, reforming, expelling the very worst people is more crucial to collective performance).
3. Find some great superstars and pay them whatever is necessary to keep them happy… and certainly a lot more than everyone else (The best organisations pay higher than competitors, but have more compressed pay).
4. Competition makes people, teams, and companies stronger (Unless people and teams are rewarded for undermining one another rather than helping each other… dysfunctional internal competition is one of the most pervasive problems in American firms).
5. Harmony and having a shared vision are crucial to success (Perhaps for routine work; but creativity depends on battling over ideas. Part of HR’s job should be to teach people how to “fight as if they are right and listen as if the are wrong”).
6. The key to success is copying practices used by the best companies. (The best companies may be succeeding despite rather than because of their HR practices).
7. Every company needs a great performance review system. (Are they really worth the time and effort? Do they do more harm than good?).
8. Taking a leadership position brings out the best in people. (This is a dangerous half-truth. Giving people power over others turns them into self-centred jerks).
9. The most important thing HR can do is to find and develop great senior leaders (Having an organisation with a high proportion of good bosses is probably more important).
10. The best organisations have the best people, “the people make the place.” (There are huge differences in talent, but the best organisations typically have the best system and not necessarily the best raw talent).