The Performance Management Traps You Need To Avoid

Just 11% of UK employees feel engaged at work. This includes those currently working for businesses with dedicated performance management systems. So, what’s the issue?

The most likely cause is that managers and leaders have fallen into one or two common performance management traps. In this article, The Manufacturing Institute’s Leadership and Enterprise Excellence Coach, George Donaldson, offers his expertise on the topic to help you steer clear of them.

An unjust reward system

Let’s start with what I think is the biggest trap: how we reward employees. We give them recognition, whether verbally or financially, but we don’t permit them to share it. Whilst we may tell them not to discuss it with their team members, the fact is that people talk. You might not be aware of it, but they will ask each other how their performance reviews went, creating a competitive workforce in the process.

By rewarding employees for their performance, we’re causing them to worry about how to achieve these objectives – rather than doing their job. Their usual tasks are put on the backburner in favour of hitting other goals, and their fellow team members end up picking up the slack. I saw this at a company where a night shift employee wasn’t achieving their own objectives because they were too busy doing the work of the afternoon employees (who were being rewarded).

You don’t want to be striving for competition in your business – you want to strive for cooperation. And this requires a reward system rethink.

Inadequate metrics

I can’t deny that metrics are important, but we so often end up measuring them incorrectly. The thing with numbers is that you can make them say anything you want, just to impress the management level above you. This makes things even more competitive and, unfortunately, can cause people to cheat.

One incorrect measurement method arises when there are influencing factors we have no control over. Let’s take an example relevant to the times we’re currently in. The government set a target for how long a patient is in a ward, but a patient may have a sudden issue which means they’re unable to leave the ward in the allocated time. So staff end up putting them in the corridors. The metrics are driving the wrong behaviours, and then end up rewarding the wrong thing. You see, if you put a good person in a bad system, the bad system will win every time.

The system doesn’t allow employees to achieve their targets and in fact sets them up to fail. As people naturally want to do their best and meet their KPIs, this drives them to ‘game the system’, and you end up with the wrong impression of performance.

Bias thinking

Managers and leaders normally measure their teams up to how they themselves would perform, which makes it difficult for employees. As managers are often promoted internally because they were likely very good at their job, this creates bias – of course they already know all the ins and outs of the role, but they can’t expect their team to. They are not them.

We must remember that we are all different, and that we all see the world differently. When we manage performance, we attempt to get people to be the same as us, but we should be trying to get them to be their best. We cannot create clones of ourselves, after all.

Bias can manifest in other ways too, particularly for those who have been promoted internally and end up managing those they used to work for. These individuals may have a skewed perception of performance known as the ‘halo effect’ – they conflate bad sales with bad strategies or people, and tend to forget the good times or ignore other contributing elements.

To avoid bias, we should put a figurative mask on employees, as well as ask for an outsider’s perspective.

The wrong purpose

We have a tendency to only manage the performance of people who are performing poorly. But that shouldn’t be the purpose of performance management. It should be to help everyone achieve their full potential, including those who are already performing well. We need to look at all team members with the same mindset.

This is where coaching comes in. We should be able to understand what employees can actually influence and what they can’t, so that we’re measuring the right things. Frequent and regular conversations will be required – a lot can happen in a week, let alone six months – and they don’t need to be a formal appraisal, but rather an update on how staff are getting on.

Unfortunately, there’s a misconception around coaching. It’s not about providing the answers to employees; it’s about developing them to be the best they can be, and helping them to figure out the answers for themselves. You need to ensure you see people for what they are too – listen with intent, hear their side of the story, and be empathetic.

To manage performance successfully, I can’t overstate the importance of training. Our Introduction To Management Coaching And Mentoring will provide you with the know-how to deliver this guidance and support within your own business, and our leadership development bootcamp offers a mix of lean manufacturing techniques and the opportunity to develop interpersonal skills. Both are designed to help you sidestep the traps that I’ve mentioned here, and lead your team to new heights.

Find out more about how these courses work, as well as the modules they cover, by getting in touch with our team today.

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