What is Performance Management?
As we all know, supervisors and managers are charged with the primary responsibility of helping those who work for them succeed at their jobs. This includes motivating people, training them (or seeing that they are properly trained), encouraging people, recognizing their contributions, helping settle problems and conflicts when these arise, removing obstacles, coaching, communicating goals and objectives clearly, and many more “managerial” skills.
Suddenly then, a newly promoted manager may go from merely managing him or herself and his or her own work to having to be responsible for other people, many of whom behave quite differently. Often, people who are new to the management role aren’t sure how to go about this often daunting role of taking responsibility for others’ success. It is no wonder that many new managers are confused and even frightened of the more expansive role expected of them—and that’s before they are suddenly confronted with an employee who is under-performing in some way.
It is natural to hope that any underperformance problem will simply “go away” of its own accord, or that a given employee will do something themselves to correct the problem in time, so that no action is required of the manager. Unfortunately, this attitude is unrealistic and usually simply delays having to deal with the problem. Most performance problems worsen over time, so learning the specific skills needed to address and/or correct poor performance is necessary and extremely important for any manager or supervisor if he or she is to be successful.
Performance problems and potential causes
One very useful lesson that all managers can learn at an early stage is that poor performing individuals may have a number of different kinds of problems or potential causes, each of which is most effectively resolved or corrected by a different intervention approach. These causes can be broken down into:
- “Can’t” problems: This can be lack of aptitude, ability or skill. The person is typically not able to learn the essential tasks and responsibilities of the job; this is often a job selection mistake (that is, you have hired the wrong person). If you find that these problems regularly occur in your group, you may be wise to review your selection criteria and methods for particular roles.
- “Won’t” problems: This can be lack of motivation or fear of some kind. These employees know how to do the job, but they are blocked somehow. They may need encouragement and support. Generally, effective motivation is needed to persuade and provide incentives for these people to perform at higher levels.
- “Don’t know” problems: This can be lack of information or ignorance (not knowing what you don’t know). Employees may not know enough about what is needed or abut what is going on in the organization. Often the solution is to communicate more fully with them or give them more “context” information.
- “Don’t know how” problems: This can be lack of training or support. These are usually training or coaching shortfall issues. These employees typically need instruction and direction.
The last two of these causes are relatively easy problems to solve as they involve providing more information or giving greater instruction, training or coaching to the person concerned. This leaves “can’t” problems in which a new manager may want to consult a colleague to assist in what might be done and “won’t” problems. “Won’t” problems are the typically the toughest to deal with as they will be unique to each situation and require good diagnostic skills on the part of the manager (by using sensitive questioning techniques usually) and ideas about what approach is likely to be the most useful. It is only if this approach doesn’t work that more formal performance management options even need to be considered.