Category Archives: Managing Performance

Going Deeper: Analyzing Non-Performance

Let’s say that Kronin is one of your employees whose performance has slipped badly in the last few months. He shows up late and leaves early. He calls in sick. He knows his way around the Internet better than he knows his way through his daily To do list.

Be honest. When you think of Kronin, what do you say to yourself (or others) about him? What names do you call him?


That’s what I called Kronin when he was my employee. I called him that—and worse.

The problem is that, once you slap a label on someone, you start treating him or her that way. You may not do it consciously, but you do. And that label is sticky. It’s very hard to remove.

Instead of trying to find out why Kronin is underperforming, we ignore him, hoping he’ll request a transfer or maybe even quit. We bad-mouth him to others. When we’re feeling managerial, we might give him a bit of feedback, which seems to help for a while, but soon he reverts back to being Slackerloserlazyjerk. We throw up our hands and throw in the towel.

There is a better way.

Here is a five-step process to help you work through a performance issue:

What’s the difference between the desired performance (based on performance objectives) and the actual? If you’ve set SMART objectives (see blog post 12/15/09), you should have a clear picture of where Kronin has gone off track.

What are the possible causes for the discrepancy? Carefully consider all possibilities.

  • Is it a lack of skills or knowledge? Are you sure Kronin knows how to do his job?
  • Is it a lack of motivation? As manager, am I misreading what motivates Kronin? Motivation is a big topic, one that will be covered in future posts, but for now, ask yourself: Is he cast in the right role? Does he know how he contributes to the organization? Does he have the equipment and supplies to do his job right? Does he know what’s expected of him in clear and measurable terms? How does he like to work? (outgoing vs. reserved, task-oriented vs. people-oriented) Is he able to do what he’s good at?
  • Is it a lack of talent? Does Kronin lack the innate ability to do the job?
  • Is there something about the environment that inhibits performance? Is there something about the organization (structure, culture, mood, politics) that’s getting in Kronin’s way?
  • Is there something about me, as manager, that is getting in the way? What have I done to cause Kronin’s poor performance? This is the hardest question of all. It’s scary to face ourselves in the mirror, yet often (as was the case with me), that’s where the answer lies. In my case, I had to admit that, because I had written Kronin off as a Slackerloserlazyjerk, I stopped managing him. I never stopped to consider what motivated him to work to his potential. I didn’t have a clue as to his strengths and talents. What little feedback I’d given him was poorly done. I had to admit that it was easier to write him off than to do something about it.

What actions can I take to eliminate the discrepancy?

  • If it’s a lack of knowledge or skills, provide training. That’s a fairly easy fix, yes?
  • If it’s a lack of motivation, determine appropriate drivers (see above).
  • If it’s a lack of talent, determine course of action (devise a support system; find a complementary partner; seek an alternative role).

How will the solutions be put into action? Work with Kronin to create a specific action plan to improve performance.

When will I meet with the person to reassess performance? Don’t skip this step. Set a date to meet with Kronin to discuss progress and stick to it.

Don’t be too hasty to write someone off. When faced with a non-performer, move beyond the label and dig deep to analyze the problem. The answers may surprise you.

I found this short clip on the Web about what to do with the “slacker” in your midst. Enjoy.


The next post deals with the art of giving feedback. Yikes!

Until next time . . .

The Handover: The Art and Skill of Delegating

Raise your hand if you routinely delegate work to your employees. Hmmm. Not many hands in the air, I see. Let’s find out why and then look at ways you can master the art and skill of the handover.

First, here’s a poll on delegation. Check all that apply to you.

Take heart. These are normal reasons for not delegating. But try to take a longer view. The results of hoarding the workload can be disastrous for you and your team. Here’s what can happen when you don’t delegate.

  • You suffer burnout (sooner or later)
  • The workload suffers (things slip through the cracks)
  • Employees are undeveloped and unmotivated (those who want to do more, can’t)

As you can see, nothing good comes from your doing all of the work, so here are some guidelines to help you learn how to delegate effectively.

Before you delegate work, assess the work and the people. When evaluating your workload, consider the following:

  • How much time do things take?
  • How frequently do they occur: ongoing (daily, weekly, monthly), or one-time projects?
  • Which tasks don’t I delegate because I like them? Should I delegate any of these?
  • Which tasks do I delegate because I dislike doing them? Are there any I should be doing myself?
  • If the task can be delegated, who can do it? Consider the skills, experience, talent, and reliability of each of your employees. Understand each person’s strengths and limitations and then select those who are willing and able to carry out the task.

When in doubt about whether you should assign work to someone (you feel they’re not quite ready), don’t do it. It’s better not to delegate at all, then to do so and then have to take it away.

Delegation Meeting:
Once you’ve matched the work with the appropriate person, meet with him or her to:

  • Define the task objectives, using specific, measurable terms (use the SMART criteria).
  • Explain why you’ve chosen the person for the task.
  • Discuss how the assignment fits into the big picture, why it’s important to the group/organization.
  • Review the delegation contract, outlining the division of responsibility, resources available, deadlines, how performance will be measured, and when and how follow up will take place.
  • Check for understanding.
  • Express confidence in the person.
  • After the meeting, let everyone know that the task/project has been delegated and to whom.

Follow Up:
This is a crucial part of the process. Don’t skip any steps here!

  • Be available to discuss issues and collaborate on problem-solving. (Don’t solve the problem for your employee unless it’s absolutely necessary.)
  • Provide appropriate and timely feedback, both positive and critical.
  • Evaluate the completed task/project, and decide on future opportunities for that person.

Of course, all of this will take time, but you and your team will reap big rewards because of it. Some of your time will be freed up for you to take on managerial duties, such as strategic planning and decision-making. Your employees will view you more as a manager rather than their peer. Finally, your employees will have a chance to develop and stretch when they want to.

The handover . . .   Try it, even if it’s only in bite-size pieces. Take a portion of a project and hand it off to someone. See what happens.

The next post deals with the business of analyzing performance issues. Until next time . . .

Becoming a Casting Agent: Matching the Person With the Job

Have you ever watched a movie in which the lead actor was miscast? It can be a squirmy experience, as painful to view at as it must have been for the actor to film.

People can be miscast in their jobs as well. Very early in my career I was woefully mismatched, and it was a miserable experience, all three years of it. (Okay, so I was a little slow on the uptake.) No amount of praise, no perks, no salary increases—nothing was going to make me like that job. I was a square peg trying to work a round hole.

To be sure, I used my brain well enough and I got the job done but only by sheer force of will. The work took a toll on me; I was tired and cranky every single day, and I was not pleasant to be around. No matter how hard I tried, I would never be great at that job. Why? Because no part of that work called for my particular talents.

The concept of talent is explored in one of my favorite business books of all time, First, Break All the Rules: What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently, by Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman. They define talent as “recurring patterns of thought, feeling, and behavior that can be applied productively.”

When you are talented at something (and we all are), you can perform the task over and over again without fatigue. You tend to lose yourself in the work. Time scoots by and you hardly notice. When you’re working at something that doesn’t call for your particular talents, however, you labor over the effort. You procrastinate. You clock-watch. You might complete the task, but in the end you’re exhausted.

You can teach skills and impart knowledge, but  you can’t teach talent. Talent is something you are naturally wired to do. Knowledge and experience get you only so far; talent is what makes you excel. You can memorize the steps in the procedure, you can take a training class, and you can practice, but you will never be a standout unless that task allows you to use your strengths. Let’s face it. No matter how hard you try, you are not going to excel as a numbers-cruncher when your talent lies in creating new things.

Now, think about your staff. How well are people matched in their roles? How much and how often do they get to use their strengths? The answer lies at the heart of motivation and at the fulfillment of task objectives.

Here’s a bulleted list to help you think about how to cast people in the right roles. (Read more about  this in First, Break All the Rules.)

  • In addition to job benchmarking (skills, attributes, competencies), add talent to the mix. Know what specific talents are required for each aspect of the work. Customer service? Consider empathy. Engineering? Consider inquisitiveness. Sales? Consider sociability.
  • Interview for talent. Design a separate set of interview questions that allow the candidate to reveal his or her particular strengths. Is the candidate a good match for the job?
  • Ask your employees about their strengths and weaknesses and about their personal and professional goals. Their answers will provide clues about their talents.
  • Observe what your employees do during the day. Notice what kind of work they are drawn to. Watch how they interact with others and with whom.
  • When slotting people in various jobs, think beyond skills, knowledge, and experience. Try to position each person so that are doing more of what they were born to do. And then watch them flourish.

The more you can cast people in the right roles, the greater chance you will have of getting the very best out of them. Granted, it’s not realistic to cast everyone perfectly. It is likely that your employees still will  have to perform tasks that just don’t light their fire. My guess is that they’ll be more willing to do that though, when they know that other work, more suited to their nature, awaits them.

See what you can do as a casting agent. You may be surprised by the results.

The next post will deal with delegation. In the meantime, jump into the new year with both feet and make it one amazing year.

Oh, and check out the book . . .

Where Are You Going? How Are You Going To Get There?

When you become manager, the way you think about work takes on a whole new dimension. The questions you might ask yourself are: What work needs to get done? Who’s going to do it? Do I delegate? (If so, what gets handed off and to whom?) How do I tell people how they’re doing? What do I do when someone isn’t performing to standard?

Attending to task needs is about achieving individual, group, and organizational objectives. Task needs include:

  • Setting performance objectives
  • Matching the person with the job
  • Delegating effectively
  • Analyzing performance issues
  • Providing feedback

This post begins at the beginning, with setting performance objectives. But first, let’s step back and look at the bigger picture. Many organizations have instituted a formal performance management system, which typically looks something like this:

1.  Managers and employees work together to set performance
objectives for the coming year.

2.  Managers talk to employees about their performance.
3.  At mid-year, performance objectives are rewritten to account for
changes  in the business.
4.  More performance discussions take place between managers and
5.  Managers and employees sign off on the annual performance appraisal.

The system looks great on paper, but it can break down at any step in the process. Here are some tips to ensure that step 1, at least, does not fail.

Think about this for a moment: Without specific, measurable performance objectives, how will you know where you’re going and how will you get there? How will your employees know if they are on track or off? As manager, it is your responsibility to set the stage for the coming performance year by writing meaningful objectives.

When done right, performance objectives:

  • Define performance accountabilities.
  • Motivate employees by providing challenges and opportunities for growth and development.
  • Provide a means for manager and employee to measure performance progress.
  • Allow the employee to see how he or she contributes to the organization.

Writing meaningful objectives isn’t as easy as it looks, though. Have you heard of SMART objectives? The acronym has been around for a long time and many managers are familiar with it, yet they still don’t use it. When you prepare your business (or personal) objectives, work on tightening them up. Write them using SMART criteria:

S = Specific: Objective must be concrete, detailed, and well-defined

M = Measurable: Objective must be quantified (frequency, percentages, dollars, numbers). The following are examples of non-measurable actions:
Communicate with project leader in a timely manner.
Complete as soon as possible.
Remember, if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.

A = Achievable: Objective should stretch your employees but not so far that they become frustrated and unmotivated.

R = Relevant: Objective must mesh with organizational goals and employees must have the necessary knowledge, authority, resources, and skills to carry out the task.

T = Time-bound: Objective must have a finish and/or start date.

Writing SMART Objectives:

SMART objectives are typically written as follows:
Action Verb + Specific Accomplishment + Measurement + Target Date

Example: Increase sales in XYZ department by 4% by year end, 2010.

Take a look at the difference between “fuzzy” objectives and SMART objectives:

Fuzzy Objective: Contribute to a team environment.
SMART Objective: Chair (specific) project team meeting each Tuesday, beginning on 3/2/10.

Fuzzy Objective: Improve customer service.
SMART Objective: Increase customer satisfaction rating to 90% by year end, 2010.

Can you see the difference in terms of measuring outcomes? If you stay in the “fuzzy” realm, you have nothing to grab onto. You have no basis for a meaningful discussion about performance. Just about the only thing you can count on is that you and your employee will argue about the work. The conversation will go something like this.

Manager: “Did not!”
Employee: “Did too!”

Writing powerful objectives should be done in partnership with your employees. Ask them what their goals and aspirations are and then work together to craft objectives using the SMART criteria.

Of course, all of this does take time and effort, but when it’s done, you’ve created a solid basis for managing performance in the coming year. Taking the time to do this up front will save you time (and frustration) in the long run. As Peter Block said in his book, Flawless Consulting:

“Well begun is half done.”

Future posts will deal with all the other aspects of attending to the task needs. Stay tuned.