The Bedrock of Performance Management? Communication of Acceptable Behavior.
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It’s said that people don’t quit jobs; they quit bosses. I suppose it's true that some people hate their work -- I, for example, would hate to have a job that feeds on human misery, like that of a bill collector or phone solicitor. But people do those jobs, so on some level they tolerate, if not enjoy, the work.
After all, I have to believe those people weren’t runaways targeted by recruiters who took in, gave them food and shelter and then one day said, "Yo, you gotta earn your keep around here. Hit the phones and read this script.”
Maybe that actually happens; what do I know?
Prizefighters and whiners
I have little patience for people who seek sympathy by whining about how miserable their lot in life is because their job is torture. I, for instance, am not a prizefighter. Why? Because I don’t enjoy getting punched in the head (which you may not believe if you’ve read any of my articles here).
And, no matter how good a prizefighter you are, you will at some point get punched in the head.
But many of the reasons people quit their jobs ultimately come down to the actions or inactions of their bosses (hopefully excluding getting punched in the head). Consider this: Your job may be intolerable because you do all the work while your coworkers shop online, talk to their babysitters, or work on their fantasy sportsball team -- or because your boss is a tyrant. Regardless, the real reason for this unpleasant job environment can be tracked back to how the boss manages both the work and performance of your co-workers.
In the work world, as in so much of life, you get what you put up with. I used to train long-suffering managers who would complain bitterly that the company didn’t have a policy on this or that, rendering them powerless over a given behavior, to which I would reply (and I will clean this up a bit), “We don’t have a policy against defecating in your waste basket; but if I kept doing it, you would find a way to make me stop.”
I know that a lot of you will think me crude for saying that, but Lyndon B. Johnson was a lot cruder and he was president of the United States. I use that example not for shock value but because I never met anyone in any of those management classes who didn’t take my point, driven home like a railroad spike to the chest.
In most organizations, performance management is a yearly report card where people are rated as “working up to expectations,” which itself is a lame excuse for not getting a raise.
But truly effective performance management is something that happens every day. Effective leaders manage performance by continually reinforcing their criteria for success. The astute reader will notice that I didn’t say, “reinforcing their expectations”; my word choice was deliberate. You might work with a bunch of sluggards whom you expect to sit drooling on themselves; so “working up to expectations” is not necessarily a good thing.
Matter of fact
Effective performance management is in the little things a manager says to his or her team: “Nice work on that report, Jim,” or “Sally, we start work at 9 a.m., not 9:15, and this is the third time in two weeks that you’ve been late. I expect everyone to be on time and working at 9 a.m.”
There’s no reason to gush over Jim’s font choices or to berate Sally as being habitually late with a crappy work ethic. A simple matter-of-fact tone is enough for people to understand your baseline for acceptable behavior. Such timely feedback on people’s behavior is far more effective than waiting a year for a formal performance appraisal to let Sally know you are ticked off that she was late three times last March. Sally will resent you and so will I; it makes you seem deluded and petty.