Setting Performance Standards

Business people career race

I have travelled many miles delivering workshops to different clients on the general heading of Performance Management. The exact content of each of those workshops has varied quite a bit, but there is one concept that underpins everything else. That is the concept of “setting standards”.

A “standard” is a definition of a level of performance that is “acceptable”, so if someone is performing at a level above the standard they should be receiving feedback that encourages them to keep doing what they are doing, or further coaching and help to allow them to do even better in the future. But if someone is performing at a level below that standard then their performance should be deemed as “unacceptable” and feedback needs to be given such that they are clear about that together with actions to bring their performance up.

Standards can be defined at whole company, departmental, team or individual levels. They need define both the “what” and the “how” – so in the terminology I use on my programmes they need to be about “tasks” AND “behaviours”.

It is absolutely a manager’s job to define them and communicate them to their teams and the individuals within them.

My view, based on periodic sampling of businesses performance plans (or whatever term is given in your business to the recording of people’s objectives), is that they are often poorly defined and in more than a few instances, missing altogether.

There are many consequences of them not being well defined and unfortunately most of the consequences are negative, potentially highly damaging. Here are just some:

  • If an individual or team don’t know the standard, they cannot make a judgement of their own performance?
  • If a manager hasn’t defined standards how can they even begin to assess the performance of their team?
  • If standards aren’t well defined it presents lots of what we would call “wriggle room”. Views as to someone’s performance become highly opinion based i.e. become far more subjective than objective.
  • Poor, or Under, Performance become hard to prove – which is great news if you are an employee at a performance tribunal, but rather less fun if you are the employer attempting to remove a non-performer from your organisation.

So…maybe it’s worth undertaking a review of “standards”: –

Are they in place for everyone in your team/organisation?

  • Have they been well defined and communicated?
  • Are they too easy/too tough?
  • Do you look to tweak them upwards annually, 6 monthly?
  • Do they cover both tasks and behaviours?

Next week’s blog will look at what managers need to do to see if standards are being met. If you have any comments, questions or observations in relation to this topic please do share via the website, LinkedIn or by email to tim@realitybusiness.co.uk.

 

Did I really say that?

The top tip in this story is to beware of the English language because it can trip you up so easily.

I was talking to a group of managers about Learning Styles. You don’t need to understand what Learning Styles are to understand the trouble I got myself into. Suffice to say that there are 4 and they are called Activist, Reflector, Theorist and Pragmatist. The way I facilitate this subject is to ask delegates to complete a simple questionnaire and identify which of A, R, T and P they score highest. I then group the delegates by their common letter and set them the task of trying to work out what the letter stands for. So far so good.

The A group went first and I asked them what they thought the A stood for. They did well and said the word Active which was close enough. Next went the R group and I asked them what word they thought represented R. They also did well and said Reflecting (again close enough). Next was the turn of the T group and I asked them what they though their word was. They said Thinkers and then with a bit of prompting Theorists. So far so good.

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Now it came to the P group. Aware that the word Pragmatist is not in everybody’s vocabulary I must have been thinking of this when I asked the question ….. “so how would you define your Penis?”.

Well that is what people heard.

Obviously what I had said was “so how would you define your P-ness?” but by then the damage had been done and a shocked silence descended upon the room.

Thankfully the silence only lasted a second or two before giggles, chuckles and then guffaws replaced the silence. My embarrassment was complete however when some bright spark from the Activist group asked me if I would like them to redefine their A-ness!!!!

So, still blushing at the memory, I would like to wish each and every one of you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. If you like a tuneful e-card please click on the link below and enjoy our chosen charity’s greeting.

Merry Christmas from all at The Reality Business

This year the Reality Business decided to send our Xmas Card budget to the charity Crash who do sterling work with the building industry to help the homeless. We have been fortunate to work with several clients in that sector this year so were delighted to do our bit.

Beware Multiple Questions

set of hand drawn arrows and speech bubbles on cardboard  background, vector illustration

set of hand drawn arrows and speech bubbles on cardboard background, vector illustration

A common mistake made by managers when giving feedback is to ask questions which are unclear. This can easily make the conversation more difficult than it should have been.

Let me give you an example:

“Fred, I have noticed you have been late in submitting your figures for the last two weeks and this is having a knock-on impact delaying the new marketing campaign.”

(so far so good)

“What’s the problem? Is it to do with the new software or is it because you are waiting on Jim in sales? Is there anything I need to know and how can I help?”

(Fred now has a choice of which question to answer and will probably plump for the easiest)

“Thanks boss, no everything is now under control and I will let you know if I need any help.”

The result of the above exchange is minimal. The manager is none the wiser about what has happened and Fred is none the wiser as to what the manager wants him to do in future.

A much better question would have been:

“What’s the problem?”

(Fred talks about the situation and you listen, before asking a second question)

“What do you need to do to ensure your figures are always submitted on time in future?”

Multiple questions do not help the person receiving the feedback so keep your questions short, simple and only ask one at a time.

Difficult Conversations: The Right Time and Location

In my previous top tip I suggested that preparation and planning are vital before embarking upon a difficult conversation.

In this tip I will share with you some top tips for getting the meeting off on the right foot

Top Tip No.3 is “The Right Time and Location”

So when is the right time?

A common misunderstanding is that ‘feedback’ (which is of course what any difficult conversation is about) should take place ASAP after the event.

The problem here is that ASAP generally means as soon as it is convenient for you the manager!

But what if ASAP is a bad time for the individual? What if they are still emotionally charged by the situation or if ASAP clashes with something else they need to be doing? What if ASAP for you is 0900 the next morning and they are a “don’t speak to me until I have had my first cup of coffee” type person!

The point is that ASAP needs to consider the question “when is the best time for them such that they are most likely to take the feedback on board?”

Now of course if the situation is such that it needs to be dealt with immediately (e.g. safety or compliance issue) that is different but most of the time we have a choice. If you have spent the time planning your approach, don’t undo your good work by ignoring the other person’s needs and potentially make the conversation harder that it should be.

So what about the right place?

The same applies. Ask yourself the question “what is the best place for them such that they are most likely to take the feedback on board?”. Most often this will be a private area at work, but it could be a quiet corner or maybe even at a nearby coffee shop. 

Where’s your right place?

What’s your leadership style?

Every leader has their own unique style, and way of doing business. As a leader, you may tend to rely on ‘gut instinct’ and a general sense of what is best based on years of experience and training, but there’s more to it than that.

As we continue to train leaders and managers, it’s become evident that there are a variety of ‘leadership styles’, and knowing yours will make a huge difference in the results you get from your team and even from yourself!