How performance management can be misunderstood. 
 
Performance Management: a statement that can strike fear into the hearts and minds of employees and managers alike! 
 
One day you’re working away doing the best job you can given the issues you’re having at home; the next day you’re being called to a meeting to discuss your performance and be put on a performance improvement plan or maybe even worse, being put through some form of disciplinary! 
So, what can performance management mean to an employee? 
A sledge hammer to crack a nut?  
 
Is it something that happens to other people? Is it something that is used by management to drive performance through fear? Is it something only ever spoken about in conjunction with meetings with the HR department? Maybe it’s all of these but either way, performance management is all too often seen as something negative that is used as a precursor to being dismissed from your job! 
So, what can it mean to a manager? 
 
Is it a nuclear button that gives you ultimate control of employees? Is it something that your HR department insist that you do when people are underperforming? Is it something you avoid due to the admin and time required feeling too much like hard work and removes focus away from your day job? Whatever emotional response the phrase raises in you, let’s face it, it is more often than not a negative one?  
 
So why is this so often the case? 
In my experience, it is because performance management is seen as ‘the tool’ to fix underperformance in an individual and/or team. Sadly, this is a significant misconception that leads to the negative reputation that Performance Management has. 
So, what causes underperformance? 
This question has possibly as many answers as there are people who underperform but I believe you can categorise them under two titles: lack of knowledge and behaviour. Lack of knowledge is reasonably easy to fix - training, mentoring, guidance and support will normally improve the situation. The additional challenge though can be how quickly the individual can apply the new knowledge and if this is in line with the expectation for the performance to improve. It could also be argued that in most cases itis unlikely to be the fault of the individual that they have a lack of knowledge, after all, you don’t know what you don’t know! 
In the second category, ‘behaviour’ brings the biggest challenge. I’ve long subscribed to the school of ‘manage the behaviour and the performance will come’, but I do recognise that this isn’t easy and many managers shy away from it, possibly due to the time and emotional effort involved with this approach. Remember, people do not generally come to work to purposely do a bad job so when underperformance starts to show, it is  
almost always related to an underlying issue that can often be of a personal nature. These personal issues will stem from either their personal life or their work life but either way you can only really understand them by talking to the individual and this will be most effective outside of a ‘performance review’ meeting! 
Managing people’s performance. 
Managing people’s performance should be a daily activity. It should just be what you do with all your employees and it’s not as difficult as you might think! Walk the business, talk to people, ask them how they are doing, how they are feeling, get to know them, gain an understanding of what makes them tick - this will give you a baseline to know when things aren’t quite right with members of your team. Hold regular one to one meetings that are truly a two way conversation, worry less about what the business needs and more about what the individual needs and be comfortable with listening to your people - you’ll be better placed to pick up on their moods and spot if they are ‘not being themselves’. And remember, you perform better when you’re happy! 
By adopting this approach to performance management there should seldom be a need to utilise the more negative tools in the performance management tool kit. Showing a small amount of understanding for someone’s personal challenges can have a speedy impact on their behaviour and subsequently their performance. It’s also worth noting, in this approach it’s important to adopt the mantra of ‘what you ignore, you condone’. By picking up on the smaller things, you can address challenges before they arise or certainly before they become a performance issue. (Be cautious in how you do this, it could be seen as being picky!) 
Summary 
Remember you are managing people, not machines. They are complex creatures - just like you - with wants, needs and desires. Like I said earlier, it is highly unlikely anyone wants to underperform or do a bad job, so listen to understand and not just to respond! 
Dave Bownes 
Director, 
Haynes Oliver Limited 
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