The truth is, managing people’s performance is hard. Managing your own is sometimes not even that easy but in a world of varying backgrounds, experiences, knowledge levels, and styles, working with others to achieve a certain result is flat out frustrating. Made all the more so by a lack of training or competency development when it comes to managing people. Sadly true, the majority of managers currently in place (including many high level executives) have never received any support or training on how to be a manager. Add to that the sense of prideful independence that precludes anyone asking for help and we end up with the Peter Principle, where one rises to their level of incompetence. Thankfully, incompetence can be fixed.
Picking the wrong metrics
The simplest way to manage people is to pick standards that are extremely obvious and substantially objective. Such as attendance, project tracking, policy compliance, dress code, and best practices. Yet, managing to any of these in and of themselves does not guarantee exceptional performance. Quite the contrary, they can actually be demotivators towards high employee engagement. Increased control over how and when an employee does their work has proven to decrease trust, increase time-lines, and raise the cost of doing business. Stephen M. R. Covey, author of The Speed of Trust cites numerous examples where low levels of trust impact the business efficiency and performance of companies in a number of ways. Daniel Pink, in his book Drive, also cites Autonomy as one of the keys to personal motivation. Asserting that people who have a sincere belief that they are in control of their own lives are more satisfied, more productive, and more engaged.
Managing anything that reduces autonomy and trust often involves managers in the struggle of not crossing the line into micromanagement. When in reality, any attempt to control how and when your employees do their work could be considered needless (and indeed counterproductive) meddling. When you think about when you get your best work done, has it ever been in a meeting or when a manager is telling you how to do it? Probably not. In fact, most employees cite the most productive times they spend are when they are working remotely or when their manager is out of town. More than a mere coincidence.
Ultimately, any of those metrics do not have a causal relationship to actual results. Simply being present does not mean you are productive (as indicated above, sometimes the reverse is actually true.) Creating best practices may inhibit innovative thinking. Designing policies may erode trust that people will use good judgment. Dressing in a suit does not necessarily make someone professional. So while these things are easily measured and objectively “fair”, they may not be doing anything to raise performance levels.
Perhaps the System is Broken
The converse of micromanaging requires a few key skills that most managers have not been coached on how to develop; namely: establishing and articulating a clear vision, providing feedback, and encouraging trust. In a recent study done by Development Dimensions International (www.ddiworld.com) most mangers over-estimate how they are doing in these areas. In fact, while 87% of managers rated themselves positively, nearly the same amount (89%) had at least 1 or more areas where they had significant deficiencies they were unaware of. The same study indicates that only 11% of the 1,130 managers were promoted through a formal development program, nearly over half (54%) took the promotion simply to make more money. So the inevitable result is a number of managers who did not really want to be managers and a large majority who were never trained to be managers.
Getting it Right
One of the first questions in any performance analysis tool is “Are the expectations clear?” And while many managers will say they clearly articulate the expectations, the reality that most of them will acknowledge is that most of their employees could not explain it in the same way – a signal of miscommunication. Bertrand Russel was once quoted as saying “the biggest problem with communication is the illusion that is has taken place.” So while most managers think they have been clear, most employees leave scratching their heads. And the reality of it is, most managers aren’t sure what they are looking for either. They are going from their best guess which is often by how they got promoted…namely being good at the job. This is where new managers struggle with letting go or holding very tightly to “my way” mentality, because, after all their way got the promoted. So it not for lack of trying, it is for a lack of differentiation. When was the last time you looked back and really thought about what qualities in a certain responsibility you are looking for in order to judge successful completion? If you are like most of the managers in my classes, seldom if ever you thought in these terms.
And while every activity might not be quantifiable, it is certainly qualifiable. Take for example “collaboration” as something I expect from my employees. Many managers would struggled to tell you what this might mean to them in terms of behavior without generalizing into terms like “team player” or “cooperative”. I am not saying I disagree with those but they are not behaviors, they are judgements created by observing behaviors. So if I were to try to capture what I would be looking from someone who is being collaborative here are some behaviors I am looking for: listens to coworkers concerns and incorporates alternative ideas into projects, discusses project issues with coworkers, asks questions about others experience, informs coworkers of prior experiences with current situations, shares new ideas with coworkers, offers to work alongside coworkers to finish team projects, asks if others need help, informs coworkers if projects are behind schedule, tells others if inter-dependencies that would affect other parties, etc. Far from an exhaustive list this is at least a start. I can now very clearly outline expectations I have of someone’s behavior regarding collaboration. Simply saying be nice and show up on time is not going to get me the same results as those behaviors will.
Stop following the sheep of ambiguous measures
Being vague or picking vague and ambiguous performance measures wastes your time and damages the trust between your employees and you. Stop accepting the measures of your predecessors and make sure they actually mean something. If you are not sure how a measure has a direct correlation to performance (and not an assumed one) then question why you are measuring it, trust me, your employees are. And if neither of you have a good answer it is probably doing more harm than good. Be clear about what your outcomes are, what behaviors you expect to help get you there, and then clarify when necessary, you might save yourself a lot of time and increase performance in the process.