Performance Assessment and Reward


I have run hundreds of Performance Management “best practice” workshops over the 14 years I have been a facilitator.  Before I work with any business I ensure I spend time understanding the business and as part of that I  always ask a fair number of questions about the Performance Management systems and processes that are in place, including the links from such to “reward”.  Something that comes up time and time again is that a significant percentage of businesses (both private and public sector) either: –

  • Exclude any form of “assessment”
  • Don’t link any assessment they do include to any form of reward
  • Include assessment and link it to reward but do so in a way that employees view as either somewhat arbitrary or simply “unfair”

I see too many Performance Management policies and processes that fail to achieve what surely should be the point, namely to improve the performance of employees and thus, ultimately, drive up the overall performance of the business.

 I also see a large percentage of processes that are entirely future facing. Typically the process being called Performance Development and the form sets known as “PDP” or “PDR” with the focus in appraisals being on “what we need you to do/improve next year” but with no “marker” as to how you actually did in the previous year.  I also often see the term “Performance Management” as one negatively tainted as to what happens when employees don’t perform to a satisfactory standard – the phrase “I’m going to have to performance manage” this individual, being one that is heard far too often.

So my view as to “best practice” is formed from a combination of my own business insights from being a manager in the past, those businesses I have worked with who have Performance Management processes that work effectively to drive performance up, and whose employees think the process is largely fair, and numerous articles written by people widely regarded as “business gurus” and goes like this: –

  • The process and form sets should be straightforward, understood, fair and applied consistently
  • Line managers and employees should have received training that allows them to be effective and efficient in working with the process
  • Assessment is a crucial part of the process – we don’t have a strong view on the “rating” system used but something simple like 1-5, 1-10, A-E, or even use of wording such as Fail/Fall Short/Met/Good/Exceed are all fine
  • Assessment outcomes should absolutely link to reward – whether that is a performance bonus %, a pay rise %, promotion escalation, talent pool, weekend events, boxes of wine etc. – is for each business to decide.
  • Reward linked to individual performance is independent of any “profit share scheme”, however the best processes link the two together i.e. overall business performance establishes a “bonus pot” and then that “pot “ is divided out according to individual (and sometimes “team”) performance
  • Failure to give “assessment” and link that to “reward” results in a low/average performance culture as there is no incentive for people to want to perform really well.
  • Assessment must be based not only on the “what” (the extent to which someone delivers on their “tasks”) but also on the “how” (the extent to which they have delivered on such tasks utilising behaviours that promote business values)

To be “fair”, organisations must help their managers by giving guidelines as to what level of performance a basic salary is paid for (we call this “calibration”) and managers must work together to ensure they are not being unfair in relative terms to another manager (we call this “equalisation”).

Getting all the above in place and working well is not easy, but my view is that it is a crucial aspect to attend to in order to even have a chance of harnessing a high performance culture and one which drives business performance up.

I hope you have found my thoughts over the last 3 weeks of interest and value. The feedback and comments I have received have certainly suggested this is an area of management that will continue to challenge and sometimes even divide opinion.

Observing Performance by Watching & Listening

watching and listening

Recently I have been reading Alex Ferguson’s book on “Leading”. Early on in his book he talks about the importance of observation. He calls it “watching” and “listening” saying he believes most people, let alone people in managerial positions, do not use their eyes and ears effectively. They don’t watch closely or listen intently and don’t do either nearly often enough.

I think he is spot on. Our work world in the 21st century is high paced and contains an incessant workload. Most people in managerial roles have their own “tasks” to do as well as leading and managing their team and it easy to be consumed by such tasks to the detriment of spending time with your teams.  People who have recently moved up into managerial roles find this very hard, as they are confident in completing tasks, and less confident in their new managerial responsibilities and so, not surprisingly like doing the former.

But if you are ultimately accountable for your team’s performance you need to find a way to spend time closely observing what is going on. So why not start to make it a habit? Plan “downtime” into your own schedule of tasks and spend that downtime just quietly observing what is going on around you. Tune in with your eyes and ears and keep some mental and written notes on what you see and hear.  Some initial things to help guide your observations might be to look out for: –

  • Are your own managers or team leads actually spending the right amount of time doing that, or are they constantly immersed in their own tasks?
  • What are people saying to each other face to face? Are they showing respect? Listening to each other? Talking over one another?
  • Who is influencing whom?
  • Who is allowing themselves to be wrongly influenced by others?
  • Are people spending their time wisely – working on the right things?
  • Are they doing those things efficiently?
  • What is the general mood like?
  • Who is showing an appetite for leading?
  • How well are people working together – have I got a team or disconnected individuals?
  • Are people showing skills and talent for the roles I have them in or are they disengaged doing the role because they have to?

How is their manner when talking with clients?

If you start tuning in using the observational senses of listening and watching it should enable you to be more effective in giving feedback as it will be first hand, and very specific. NB this isn’t about “spooking” people and it’s not about compiling dossiers of evidence to beat people up with. It’s about finding the time and a way of being closer to what’s going on, and placing yourself in a position to be more effective in leading and coaching your team members.

Next week I will share some thoughts and tips around assessing performance and whether this should be linked to reward. If you have any comments, questions or observations in relation to this topic please do share via the website, LinkedIn or by email to

Our Internal Parent/Child



This tip is not directly about a difficult conversation, but I hope it will be relevant and useful anyway.

A colleague of mine was telling me how he needed to better understand the concepts of Transactional Analysis and particular the part which talks about our Ego states when relating to other people. You may have heard of these Egos namely Parent (Critical or Nurturing), Adult and Child (Adapted or Natural).

In a nutshell, we all lurch from one ego state to another often triggered by our own habits or the perceived behaviour of the other person. For example when giving somebody some feedback we may find ourselves talking down to that person and ‘telling them off’. This would be our Critical Parent kicking in and is likely to ‘hook’ a Child response (such as “that’s not fair”) from the other person.

Back to my colleague. He was telling me how tedious he was finding the reading and that he was unconvinced it wasn’t a load of @*^&!

He also said he was having to resist a huge temptation just to throw the book away and do something else much more interesting.

I asked him from which Ego state did he think these ‘voices’ were coming from? He understood immediately that this was his ‘Internal Child’ wanting to go out and play. At this point, he said, “so then I must resist these and definitely finish the book, however, tough that is”.

The answer, of course, is probably not because where might the ‘voice’ demanding completion be coming from? Probably his ‘Internal Parent’ in response to the ‘naughty’ Child.

The ideal Ego state to be in (usually) is the Adult. This deals with the here and now. It is interested in facts and relevance. So, perhaps the right thing to do would be to read some of the chapters, make some notes and then bounce some thoughts off somebody else.

Without realising it, I think my colleague experienced all three Ego states without relating to anybody else at all. Maybe he unconsciously chose the Adult path by picking up the phone to me and hopefully is now somewhat clearer.

The top tip therefore for almost all conversations but definitely difficult conversations is to avoid slipping into Parent/Child and try and stay Adult (even if the other person doesn’t). Eventually, they will have to join you Adult to Adult.

Read more on the Reality blog

Tips for Managers: Be Clear on Your Purpose

One of the most common requests that we get from managers is “how can I learn to be better at delivering those really difficult performance or behaviour type conversations?”

You know the ones! The ones you dread. The ones you know will be uncomfortable and emotionally charged. The ones you would rather not do.

Top Tip No.1 is “Be clear on your Purpose”

It sounds obvious to be clear on your purpose. However it is surprising how many managers spend more time planning what they are going to say than planning what they want to achieve.

You should be absolutely clear on your aim and desired outcome from the session. You may not achieve 100% of your goal but you will almost certainly fail if none is set.

Let’s imagine you have a member of staff who regularly fails to keep commitments or complete activities within set time scales. There are a number of different outcomes you might wish to achieve ranging from an apology, an apology and a commitment to improve, a commitment to improve, an agreement to improve to a specified level etc etc.

Once you are clear on your purpose this will help you plan what you are going to say and how to approach the meeting.  (We’ll talk about this more in future tips)

If only there was a way…

If only there was a way of practicing these difficult conversations in a safe and supported environment which feels just like the real thing.

Well the good news is that Tim and I have developed a workshop using business actors that does just that. This is not painful ‘role play’. This is what we call ‘real play’ because the only person acting is the actor. The manager’s job is to manage a very real situation (that they have defined) however they wish.

Not role play, but real play…

It is definitely not Role Play as can be seen from these two testimonials. (Read more testimonials)

“When I was introduced to real play I thought it was going to be a boring role play exercise but I have to admit I was totally wrong! It was amazing how the actor made the real play a “real life” conversation! The real play gives you the opportunity to try different approaches and techniques for critical conversation and also allows to receive valuable feedback from the audience.”

“Real Play was an innovative way of helping us practice handling real life people management issues. The actress was brilliant and you quickly forgot it was role play!”

There is so much learning to be had from a ‘real play’ session – let us know if you have questions about how it could work for you!

Performance Capability and Fluctuation

In my last blog I talked about Performance Fluctuation and about making an honest assessment of yourself and those around you in terms of how consistently you are performing at between 90-100% of your true performance capability.

We work regularly with many managers in all sorts of different roles across a multitude of business types and cultures and have been doing for the last 10 years. We see people on our programmes but also in situ in the workplace and often observe first hand these performance variations. Indeed many Manager’s engage us to help them with their team’s less than stellar performance and in particular specific individuals whose performance they’ve seen decline and cannot seem to get under the skin as to why.

So – let’s firstly look at the concept of a “psychological contract”. This is the non-existent piece of paper that determines the amount of discretionary effort an individual will give in the workplace – you may want to call it “the inner motivation to do well”. There’s a pile of classic and well proven motivational theory (Herzberg/Maslow etc.) that one can draw on to identify some of the things that might cause someone to either choose to, or choose not to, feel motivated – such things as their job content, chances for development advancement, security, reward, workplace surrounds, the business culture and environment and so on.

All of these things are absolutely valid as to possible things that can cause performance capability to fluctuate but the majority of them are EXTERNAL to the person and whilst it’s possible to influence some of them to an extent, it’s also true that the degree of influence is not hugely within your span of control.

What we see less people examining are those factors that are INTERNAL to the individual and it is my belief that these are key to truly understanding ours and others performance. We’ve seen some substantial uplift in performance from courses we have run with groups of people and from 1-1 coaching we have done where we raise awareness of, and then work on these internal factors. The fields of Emotional Intelligence and Personal Resilience offer some extraordinary insights into what makes people tick  – we’ve been amazed at how many people we’ve come across some of whom are in very senior positions) who suffer from issues around self-confidence, relationship building and their handling of change and setbacks. Once people are able to understand and connect how they think (and why that is) to how they feel and behave they can start to unravel why they aren’t performing as they’d like to (such performance often extending way beyond the workplace to their home and social lives too). The next stage then is make the (for some) almighty leap to realise that so much of this is a CHOICE and, moreover, totally within our span of influence.

So – if you know there’s something going on with yours or others performance – it may well be something that lies in this INTERNAL arena – and if you are interested in doing something about it but don’t know how, why not give us a call! We may well be able to help!

And if you are interested in Sport and don’t get what I’m on about do a bit of research on any of those sporting people I mentioned in my previous blog……………look at the fluctuations in their performance capability………..are they INTERNAL or EXTERNAL factors?

Performance Fluctuation (Part 1)

In one of my recent blogs I used some examples from the football Premier League to discuss the relative responsibility for performance in the workplace between the manager and the player (direct report).

I’d like to continue to use the world of sport to illustrate the theme of this blog – the causes of Performance Fluctuation.  Let’s take some well-known names from across a wider spectrum of sport:-

Golf: TIger Woods, David Duval, Lee Westwood, Karen Stupples, Michelle Wie

Tennis: Laura Robson, Sabine Lisicki, Serena and Venus Williams, Richard Gasguet, Roger Federer

Cricket: The entire English men’s team

Football: Most of the Manchester United team

So what do all these people have in common? The answer is that they have all performed quite brilliantly either for a point in time or consistently over a period in time but likewise all performed extraordinarily poorly (by their relative standards) at other points, or in some cases continued periods, in time.

Why does this happen? It would be completely reasonable to understand that no-one can be brilliant 100% of the time – but some of the variances in the people above aren’t seeing them slip from peak performance at 100% to a “90%” rating – they are seeing 100% to less than 50% in performance terms – and some are worse. David Duval’s fall from the top of the golfing world to having to scavenge a living on regional tour events in the USA is well documented but I’m not sure anyone could really explain why.

So what happens in your workplace? How consistent are you in performing at the top of your game each day, each week? What about your colleagues and team members?  Have you ever sat down at the end of a week and looked at what you actually achieved in that week…………and then made a really honest call about whether you could have achieved an awful lot more?  What about people that we manage, or what about those people that manage us? Are they consistently brilliant?

What is it that gets in the way or causes our performance to fluctuate over time?

In the sporting world, it’s easy to pin (relative) failure on injury and that is of course totally reasonable. Andy Murray had back surgery last year and played no tournaments. In his first tournament back in 2014 he lost to a much lower ranked player  – and most people would probably accept you can’t return to 100% in your first tournament after such a lay off (Rafael Nadal’s 2013 somewhat the exception and all the more remarkable because of it).  But in the world of business it would be unusual to be able to pin “injury” as a reason!

In the next blog I’m going to suggest some reasons for Performance Fluctuations – and some thoughts on how to prevent or cure them………………….but the first step has to be recognition of the issue.

So, go on, take a good objective look at yourself and your colleagues – are you and they consistently performing somewhere between 90 & 100% of their true capability?

What’s getting in the way?

Stepping Up to the next Management Level

tim fuller

The Reality Business have been running Management and Leadership programmes now for just over 10 years. Over that time we’ve experienced a multitude of organisations and business sectors and worked with delegates from junior first line management roles all the way up to Director’s and CEO’s.

We often get asked by senior managers for our views of the people we’ve had through our programmes and where this can be done in a way that satisfies our values of trust and integrity we are happy to do this.  Such discussions very often include the question “are they ready for stepping up to the next management level yet”?   So I’ve been thinking recently as to what criteria I think need to be satisfied for us to answer that question with an unequivocal “YES, ABSOLUTELY”.

For me the starting point is to ask myself “to what extent would I trust this person to be able to do a great job” and I therefore reflect on the dual axis of trust namely “character” and “competence”.


On the former I’m looking to feel comfortable that the individual demonstrates confidence, integrity, passion, drive, energy and an appetite for continual learning – and one might well argue that these aren’t things that can be trained…………………….whereas in terms of competence I’d be looking to see that they had demonstrated a multitude of people related skills such as managing and leading, working well with stakeholders and so on, and the technical knowledge needed for the role in question.

On this competency axis is where investment in that individual both by themselves and the organisation they work for can help move those people who aren’t ready, or are nearly ready, up the necessary level of notches to be banging at the promotional door. In a similar way, a lack of recognition of the need to create this sort of “talent pipeline” or recognising the need but not doing anything about it, can leave organisations very vulnerable to losing key talent and to costly recruitment from the external marketplace.

Such investment should, or could, include a range of planned and targeted development such as active involvement with both technical and people training, which can be sourced and run either internally or externally, managers being trained as coaches, mentoring schemes, self-study initiatives, job swaps, opportunities to “act up” for short periods of time and formal qualifications.

I have a deep belief that there is a massive pool of talent out there, and I see numerous examples of incredibly talented individuals hugely frustrated by their organisations inability to provide aspirational opportunity to them and typically they either lose their energy and motivation and just “accept” it, or they leave – neither of which strike me as a great outcome for the organisation they work for.

So, if you know you have talent in your organisation, you need to cherish and nurture it, and make sure you provide opportunities!

Team Performance and the impact of Leadership

Whilst I would not describe myself as a massive football fan, I do follow the results and watch many of the games in the Premiership and Europe. To me, football, like many other team sports, provides its own microclimate within which we can observe leadership, management, and team and individual performance. It is quite difficult to get such observer insights in many other industries  – typically whether we are working inside or with a business, we can only observe that particular business’s managers, teams and individuals.

 So – some musings over performances so far this season:

 Let’s start with Manchester United – I think most armchair pundits would make a good case to justify that any new leader (David Moyes) taking over from an outgoing leader (Sir Alex Ferguson) who had been in charge for 26 years, may just take a little time to settle in, and that such a change may well be justification for United’s somewhat inconsistent, and for them, poor, performance so far this season.

 But for me, it raises a really crucial question and that is “where does the real reason for the poor performance of the team lie”?

 The newspapers and media, have been fairly quick to suggest that Ferguson’s team actually overachieved last season when they won the league and that this season’s league position and results more fairly reflects a team that lacks star quality across the positions. So their inference is that it was the Leader who made the difference. Is this true though? To what extent is it fair to burden success or failure on the manager/leader? If we look at the rest of the Premiership, we’ve already had Martin Jol, Ian Holloway, Steve Clarke and most recently AVB sacked from their respective clubs because of poor results and there are many betting websites, somewhat cruelly, lining up odds for the next casualty.

 So is this right? Is it the managers fault when (their) teams don’t perform? I think that the leader does clearly have to take some responsibility and it’s perfectly reasonable to assess them against a set of leadership qualities and skills, but they can’t play the game once the starting whistle blows.

 My view is that Football also provides a stunning example of a business where individual under performance is tolerated and where the consequences for that performance are insubstantial.

 I’ve lost count of the number of times, even in a single 90 minute game, where I see players, many of whom are paid £100,000+, a week, unable to complete even the most simple of tasks such as passing a ball to someone wearing the same colour shirt over a distance of less than 10 yards. Players taking corners and free kicks where they hit the first defender, players who are supposed to be attackers, shirking all responsibility for shooting or taking on a defender and instead going backwards or sideways. We don’t generally see their names emblazoned in the press the next day when the team fails.

From a football perspective my view is that perhaps it’s about time we did?

But what about in the real world, in your business or in your team.

  • Do teams and individuals have specific, measureable and relevant goals to achieve?
  • What checks and measures are there in place to monitor individual and team performance?
  • Are there any consequences for under performance or outstanding performance.
  • When a team or department does badly is the focus on blame or on development?

If these questions raise further questions perhaps we should talk to see if The Reality Business can help you find some answers.