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Performance Management

Managing for Performance

Managing for Performance

When any individual is appointed to a leadership role of any kind, a significant part of his or her job is to manage for performance. Put a slightly different way, the expectation is that a leader will guide a team of people to perform in ways that are at least acceptable in terms of results and preferably in ways which exceed expectations. So how can a leader, even when they may be new to the job or the team in particular, set about managing for better performance? We would suggest that it involves four key steps.

1. Set clear goals and expectations.

Although this may sound obvious, a leader needs to set a personal goal and vision for the future for both him or herself and the team as a whole (which is hopefully well-aligned with departmental or organizational goals of course). This will typically involve engaging frequently in conversations with others (including peers and his or her own boss) about possible long-term objectives that might be necessary, interesting and worthy to help shape the way that expectations are set in the first place. It should also involve spending quite a lot of time in thinking about the longer-term future consequences of the team’s short-term efforts to create new or different outcomes in the future.

Once this is done a leader can start to create concrete and practical action plans that can be quickly and easily followed by all individuals on the team (whatever their role). This helps the leader and team members to establish clarity about expectations from the outset and to then stay focused on one overall direction or course, and make sure that they are not distracted unless absolutely necessary (in which case course or direction adjustments will be necessary). At this first stage, it is important for a leader to clearly specify what kind of performance is expected and not be too specific on how (covered at the next stage).

2. Discuss and agree broad ways in which goals can be achieved.

Once overall expectations and individual performance goals have been set, a leader should ideally look for widespread input on how any particular objectives are to be achieved. This means that quality time should be invested in talking with team members both formally and informally and engaging in what should be a two-way discussion on possible tactical pathways. These pathways are likely to have varying degrees of difficulty, levels of risk, possible obstacles and resources needed and these have to be debated and agreed at the earliest stages.

If these discussions on how goals can be achieved are carried out well, the impact on getting better than expected results (faster, cheaper to a higher level of quality etc) is much greater than trying to do this “on-the-run” at a later stage.

3. Communicate the ways in which progress and goal success will be measured.

No matter what goals are set and how they are to be achieved, a leader needs to ensure that the right performance indicators or measures to be applied for each objective are ones that are clearly expressible, readily understood and directly controllable by one or more individuals on the team. This means that financial measures (for instance), which may be popular with accountants are not likely to be useful to all teams who may prefer a value measure that they can both understand and have an impact upon directly.

For the most part, a leader should apply measures to processes that are entirely within the team’s control and apply measures which are based on quantity (often leading to greater performance efficiency), quality (often leading to greater performance effectiveness), and value (often leading to greater cost or profit performance).

4. Manage performance in appropriate ways throughout.

Once all of the above steps are complete (and these are all typically carried out at the beginning of any goal or target setting cycle) a leader’s main ongoing role is to actively manage the efforts of the team to achieve the performance expectations that have been committed to (at an individual level and collectively). This means that a leader should ideally keep stressing the need for collaboration, where appropriate, alignment (so that the team is pulling broadly in the same direction) and continual communication (so that necessary adjustments can be made at the earliest possible stages where needed).  A leader will also be best served to be intolerant of low value effort and praise people’s efforts to achieve a high quality and/or valuable end result, even if the input effort was quite small in time or energy.  To do this a leader should seek to use a variety of approaches to engage people fully in hard work, committed effort and independent action to pursue objectives strongly. This will often include acting as a personal role model (in working towards personal and team objectives) and using every available opportunity to help people when and where needed and motivating them past any tough hurdles that they may face.


All leaders are likely to be managing for performance. However, to turn this from a theoretically desirable outcome to a practical one for the whole team, a four-step process is helpful. This is summarized briefly in the table below.

1. Set Clear Goals and Expectations


2. Discuss and agree broad ways in which goals can be achieved


3. Communicate the ways in which progress and goal success will be measured


4. Manage performance in appropriate ways throughout.


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About Dr. Jon Warner

Dr. Jon Warner is a prolific author, management consultant and executive coach with over 25 years experience. He has an MBA and a PhD in Organizational Psychology. Jon can be reached at

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About the Editor and Primary Author

Jon Warner

Jon Warner is an executive coach and management consultant and in the past has been a CEO in three very different companies. Read more

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