HR Group, founded in Edmonton Alberta in 1993, is a partnership of highly experienced management consultants who specialize in organizational effectiveness and human resource management, and promote participative, lean, and cost-effective management practices. All partners are Certified Human Resource Practitioners with extensive senior level experience in both the private and public sectors.

Performance Management Is Management’s Primary Responsibility

Reprinted from “Productive Workplaces” (Fall 2001), the HR Group newsletter.

And yet it is also the most neglected management function. We have become convinced through our practice and our careers that poor performance management is the most frequently encountered organizational problem and that it is also the root cause of so many others that may not initially be diagnosed as such.

What do we mean by the term Performance Management? We mean the overall management of an employee’s performance from the time that they first start to the time that they leave. The process begins with effective orientation to the organization and to the job. It includes staff training and development, coaching, “self” and “other” assessment tools, career coaching and planning, counselling and ongoing formal and informal feedback from a variety of sources including internal and external customers. Yes it does also include discipline, but only to be used as a last resort except in the case of overtly poor performance. Discipline is not something to be used to correct legitimate mistakes or typical behavior; it doesn’t work and the problems remain.

Yet it is the disciplinary aspect that most of us immediately think of when we talk about managing performance. This, in itself, is indicative of how neglected this whole area of managing employee performance is. We only think of the rather narrow and punitive aspect of this critically important function. Because the positive aspects of coaching and training, for example, are neglected, performance issues magnify to the point that all patience is lost and it is only discipline that is viewed as a cure. Ironically, however, the whole issue of discipline including termination is also neglected and most often avoided.

When we use the term Performance “Management” we do not mean a top-down, heavy-handed approach. What we mean is a supportive approach and the creation of an ongoing learning environment where employees welcome helpful feedback and the opportunity to learn, improve and gain the overall competencies that will enhance their performance and their careers.

Proper orientation of all employees to both the organization and their job can prevent any number of issues. Employees should be given a very clear understanding of what the expectations are for both their technical performance and their behaviour. They should be given a clear understanding of what the organizational values are and how they are expected to behave with each other and with customers, for example. This, in our experience, is rarely done. It is assumed that the employee will “pick these things up” on their own accord and learn to “fit in”.

If the appropriate knowledge, skill and/or behaviour is shown to be lacking, then immediate assistance in the form of training and/or coaching should be offered. When trying to address problems of personal behaviour, which we are the first to admit are difficult to deal with,  the use of self assessment and feedback tools may be of great assistance in helping the employee become aware of their damaging behaviour so that they can begin to address it and so that any attempt at coaching will not be rejected.

Let’s take good teamwork as an example of a competency that most organizations demand of their employees today. Organizations frequently express interest in “teambuilding” and building greater teamwork and cooperation within the organization. The reasons for any lack of teamwork and cooperation, however, are frequently the result of individual performance issues that have not been addressed. This is frequently passed off by saying that the group just can’t get along because of the personalities involved or because so-and-so has a “strong” overriding personality or because someone else is too much of a prima donna. The list of possible reasons is endless, but little is done to resolve the actual issues with the individuals concerned. This is avoided and a blanket approach is used with all employees in the group under the guise of “teambuilding”.

This approach does not and cannot work. It is purely a strategy of avoidance that annoys everyone in the group. The rest of the group knows fully well the employees that do not contribute to their overall teamwork and they resent being categorized in the same manner. The employees responsible for the poor teamwork, on the other hand, still do not understand that their behavior has to change and that others are forced to find ways of working around it. They are let off the hook, so to speak, by acting as if it is a group problem. Some of these issues could have at best been avoided or at least alleviated by explaining thoroughly upon orientation that teamwork and good cooperation is expected. This may have to be followed up with appropriate coaching, but at least the door has been opened because the behavioral expectations have already been clearly spelled out.

Let’s look at another prevalent issue: poor managerial or supervisory style. How much turnover and loss of good competent employees is due to poor management or supervision? Perhaps an autocratic, gruff management style was the norm a generation ago. But times have changed and so have the expectations of today’s workforce. They don’t expect to be sworn at or chastised for every little mistake especially when they are new on the job and learning. Needless to say this type of management style has always been counterproductive in the long run. Today, however, it is just not tolerated and employees can and will leave and work elsewhere. Yet many organizations are still reluctant to deal with such behaviour. They say, “Oh well, that’s just Harry, and we all know what he’s like”. The organization does not explain up front what behaviour is not acceptable and then they don’t offer any help or assistance in changing that behaviour and wonder why they have such high turnover in that supervisor’s area.

Many organizations, from our experience, do not see the importance of dealing with such issues. The product is still being manufactured, the service is being provided, the organization is functioning, the company is profitable, so why should they be concerned? Because they could be doing better. Production, quality and service could all be improved and if they don’t perform to their utmost ability they will be less able to deal with future growth, economic downturns, increased competition and less available resources. The most crucial problem that they will face, however, is the inability to attract and retain competent talent. Talented employees today can afford to be choosy and they are. They research the organizations that they would like to work for and where they feel that their talents will be nurtured and where they will have an opportunity to grow and learn. They resent having to work in an environment where one doesn’t have the opportunity to learn and benefit from the experience of others and where there isn’t ongoing performance management.

It is management’s primary responsibility to create a productive workplace culture so that the organization can strive for optimum performance. This cannot occur without ongoing performance management.

Like growing a healthy garden, they need sunshine, fertilizing, watering and TLC and the occasional weeding.