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Getting the performance you want.

Getting the Performance You Want

Getting employees to do what they're supposed to do sounds simple enough. But that's not always the case, as most managers know. Achieving optimum staff performance is a lofty challenge for supervisors--one that involves attention to personal temperament, differing skill levels, and a host of other variables.

Yet, difficult though it may be, optimum staff performance is what you need to deliver to succeed as a manager, advance the goals of your association in today's competitive environment, and promote the professional growth of your subordinates.

A process known as performance management is the tool that can help you accomplish all these goals. The three main parts to this process are goal setting, day-to-day coaching, and performance appraisal.

First, you and the employee must agree on goals: what constitutes good performance and how you will recognize it. (These topics were covered in "MBO Magic" in the September 1990 issue of Association Management.)

Some forethought and planning will improve your chances of success with day-to-day coaching. What comes naturally to you as a manager will not necessarily be the most effective approach.

Suppose, for example, you are a bright, organized self-starter who's promoted to a supervisory position. You might decide to follow the supervisor's golden rule: Supervise others as you would have your boss supervise you. In other words, leave subordinates alone to do their job.

Unfortunately, you are not blessed with subordinates who are as motivated and committed as you are, so they will be less productive than you expected. What you need is a model for determining what kind of supervision your subordinates need.

Providing appropriate supervision

Many factors influence the kind of supervision that is most appropriate to a particular employee in a given situation. They include the employee's experience, skills, enthusiasm, and confidence; whether job responsibilities have changed; the complexity and importance of the task; and the amount of time available. But the two most important variables are 1) the employee's actual competence and 2) the employee's feelings about a given task and his or her ability to do it.

To determine the kind of supervision each employee needs, use the employee's management by objectives (MBO) document or other listing of goals and responsibilities. Discuss and agree on the competence and feelings he or she brings to each task.

Based on this discussion, talk with the employee about how much and what kind of supervision is needed on each objective. For example, he or she may need

* step-by-step instruction; * some instruction and explanation; * encouragement, suggestions, and moral support; or * limited supervision.

What the employee needs will vary from task to task, depending on the skills, experience, and motivation he or she brings to the job. Ask the employee to size up his or her competence on each task and tell you what kind of management style works best.

In my experience in negotiating management style, the employee and I usually agree on how much supervision is needed. If we disagree, it's usually because the employee erred on the side of caution, asking for more supervision than I felt was needed. Or perhaps I overestimated the employee's competence--valuable information to have. Or maybe I overestimated the employee's confidence, in which case encouragement is called for.

Then comes the hard part: Supervise as agreed. If you agree the employee is a beginner at a certain task, provide specific directions and checkpoints. If you decide the employee has some task competence, coach. In other words, explain your decisions, solicit ideas, and support the employee's independent action, but make the final decisions.

If you agree the employee is relatively competent at the task but not ready to "fly alone," solicit his or her ideas and solutions. Provide encouragement, resources, and support. For a peak performer, only monitor performance periodically.

For an excellent discussion of adapting your management style to the needs of the subordinate, see Leadership and the One Minute Manager or any of Ken Blanchard's other materials on situational leadership.

Holding regular meetings

Schedule a regular weekly meeting with each subordinate to promote efficient use of time and reduce unnecessary interruptions. This regular meeting is one time during the week when the subordinate can be assured of his or her manager's undivided attention.

At the Technical Association of the Pulp and Paper Industry (TAPPI), Atlanta, the subordinate usually initiates the discussion and the manager reviews his or her points in the time remaining.

As part of using MBOs at TAPPI, I require a monthly progress report from each person who reports directly to me (and they from their subordinates). Since TAPPI insists that objectives be measurable, it is relatively easy to produce a concise status report on each objective. The written monthly MBO report helps identify performance problems and trigger coaching when it is needed.

When a subordinate reports verbally that things aren't going as expected, it's human nature to downplay the problem. For example, an employee might say, "We're a little behind schedule getting the convention program to the printer, but I'm working on it." Or, "Membership renewals seem a little slow, but it's probably the holiday mail."

Hearing the positive emphasis, it's easy for the supervisor to believe the subordinate now has things under control and that intervention isn't necessary.

Not wanting to aggravate the situation, the supervisor may simply nod and say something encouraging. This approach, however, fails to give the employee the support or direction he or she may need. When progress is reduced to a few words or numbers on the MBO report, it's more difficult for the supervisor to ignore lack of progress.

But appropriate intervention does not necessarily mean taking over. If the employee has been a peak performer, the manager could revert to a supporting style by asking questions, such as

* "What seems to be holding you up on this?" * "What are you going to do differently next month to turn this around?" * "Is there anything I can do to help you?" * "Why don't you share your detailed plans with me, and let's see if I have any ideas that might help?"

Supervisors who keep a notebook on each monthly MBO report can note performance problems and their response. Whether dedicating a notebook to the reports or not, it's especially important to note performance problems, the response, and agreed-upon actions to be taken by the employee.

Keeping key records

This type of performance paperwork is a prerequisite to dismissing or demoting an employee, but don't wait to begin developing these kinds of records until you decide to fire an employee. They are also helpful in preparing performance appraisals. Carefully maintained, they establish patterns in an employee's behavior that may be difficult to spot when you're involved in incident-by-incident supervision.

For example, I was getting increasingly frustrated with a particular employee. He never seemed to do what I thought we had agreed he was going to do.

It was only in reviewing my notes of our meetings that I saw the pattern. So I was able to discuss it with him, not as a specific incident but as a pattern of behavior. We clarified that when I "suggested" he do something, he was responsible for either doing it or getting back with me and discussing why not.

The most important step in dealing with performance problems is to get the employee to agree--in his or her own words--that a problem exists (see sidebar, "What To Do When"). This is especially important if the performance problem is one that troubles you but evidently doesn't trouble the employee--tardiness, for example.

With any kind of performance problem, as with goals, establish checkpoints to measure how the employee is doing and praise progress. If the employee is only tardy once a week now instead of twice a week as before, he or she has achieved 50 percent of the goal of getting to work on time. Praise the progress and keep up the pressure to achieve 100 percent of the goal.

Preparing for appraisals

The purpose of performance appraisals is to discuss with employees the work they are doing and the results they have achieved as well as to provide them with advice, help, and encouragement to improve.

TAPPI's appraisal process gets under way when an employee completes his or her MBOs and writes a position description. Both managers and subordinates get the opportunity to judge whether each responsibility was handled in a satisfactory manner. The employee also drafts new MBOs and recommends changes in his or her position description.

These changes usually reflect subtle (or not-so-subtle) responsibility changes that have occurred since it was last revised. For example, one or two new responsibilities may be added while others that have been assumed by other employees are deleted. The date on the position description will change if nothing else does.

The supervisor completes the supervisor's columns on the MBOs and position description form. He or she also fills out the performance appraisal form (see sidebar, "The TAPPI Form") and finalizes the employee's revised MBOs and new position description.

In addition to improving subordinates' work performance, the appraisal process can also enhance managers' supervisory effectiveness. For example, suppose you rate an employee as a "learner" in the area of listening skills.

You can then help the employee learn by using active listening skills, paraphrasing and repeating what you've said until you agree that he or she has accurately understood what you meant. Obviously, this process isn't necessary during every conversation, but you could select one or two topics for each regular meeting, in which he or she would practice active listening.

Or suppose you want to encourage employees who are reluctant to set high goals. Giving a high rating for success if progress is made toward achieving challenging goals will encourage them to set high goals in the future.

You can also use the performance appraisal to communicate priorities. For example, using the performance appraisal to rate supervisors on how well they conduct performance appraisals communicates that the process is important to their success as supervisors.

Taking time to rehearse

Don't conduct performance appraisals on an impromptu basis. Most managers underestimate the degree to which their remarks will be remembered and interpreted afterward. Take the time to think through what you will say.

Prepare an opening that sets an appropriate tone for the session. For example, you might say, "The association has had a good year, and your performance has contributed significantly to that. I realized as I prepared for this review how much I depend on you and how much I enjoy working with you." Or, "This hasn't been an easy year. There have been a lot of changes. You may find parts of this performance appraisal disappointing, but I hope you'll focus on what you can do to make next year a better one."

Plan the major points to cover, following the sequence of your performance appraisal form. Select these carefully because employees will assume that the points discussed are the most important.

Focus on the employee's behavior, not attitudes. As employers, we "rent" the employee's behavior to accomplish organizational goals and tasks. We have a right to require certain types of behavior. Pragmatically, we do not have a right to require certain attitudes because we have no way to measure them except as indicated by behavior.

For example, consider dedication to work. How would you measure employees' dedication to work? By the hours they put in? By their willingness to do whatever it takes to get a job done? By their being cheerful and pleasant despite a heavy workload? In other words, by behavior. So focus on behavior.

Most employees can only absorb information about one or two weaknesses at one time, so select those in which you feel change would have the greatest impact on an employee's effectiveness and success. You can be much more generous, however, in selecting behaviors to praise.

Commend above-average performance. Be specific, cite examples, tell the person what he or she did right, explain how you feel, and encourage more of the same behavior.

For discussion of less satisfactory areas of performance, be sure to separate the behavior from the person. With someone who has the skills but is not performing satisfactorily, reprimand behavior, but reaffirm your belief in the individual and his or her ability to perform better.

Never reprimand a learner. Instead, redirect behavior and praise progress. "There are some specific procedures I'd like you to follow in handling this sort of thing. I probably haven't explained them thoroughly before. Let's sit down next week so I can teach them to you. You've already come a long way in a short time."

Anticipate the other person's responses. Don't become defensive, even if the employee does. Prepare follow-up questions, such as, "Why do you think that happened?" or "Tell me more."

Make notes of areas you would like to see addressed in the section on development. I put adhesive-backed notes on the performance appraisal form and move them to my copy before giving the original to the employee.

Prepare a closing statement or remark that sums up the overall tone of the meeting on a positive note and provides a sense of closure.

When is the best time to conduct performance appraisals? TAPPI's are held on the anniversary of hiring or last promotion. This spreads appraisals throughout the year so that each one can receive more of the manager's attention. Ideally, if a salary adjustment is due, the session should be held after the employee has received the last paycheck at the old salary and before receiving one at the new level.

Schedule the appraisal for a mutually convenient time. Select a private meeting place, such as a small conference room. Allow an hour or so for the session. Some appraisals won't take that long, but since this is a very important time in the management, development, and motivation of the employee, don't rush through it.

Conducting the appraisal

At TAPPI, supervisors and employees usually review the performance appraisal in the presence of the supervisor's boss. This provides the supervisor's boss a chance to observe the supervisory skills of the manager and the interaction between the two people. It also underscores the importance of the performance appraisal process.

TAPPI recommends that managers give employees the option of either reading the performance appraisal first, followed by discussion, or having the manager discuss the report without an initial read-through. Most employees opt to read it first. Regardless of which option is selected, explain and discuss each section of the form.

"No surprises" is another cardinal rule of performance appraisal. An appraisal session is not the first time an employee should hear about any shortcomings. Discuss and monitor any problems in your day-to-day interactions with the employee. If the employee is surprised--especially negatively--it means you haven't been doing your job as supervisor.

The appraisal should be a summation of the employee's performance over the period covered. Don't hesitate to include less-than-satisfactory performance that occurred early in the period if it was significant. By including it and giving the employee credit for not repeating it, you can be accurately comprehensive in your appraisal and fair and encouraging to the employee.

Use open-ended questions to draw the employee out, such as, "How can we make even more progress in this area?" or "How can we do better next time?"

Use your active listening skills, paraphrasing what the employee is saying until he or she agrees that's what was meant. "So you feel the reason that didn't go well is that the other department didn't do what it was supposed to do?" This doesn't mean you agree with the employee; you can respond later. It will let the employee know you are truly listening. Once you have concluded the appraisal discussion, inform the employee of any salary adjustment.

Immediately after the session, make notes of any important points that had not been previously recorded. Then, evaluate your performance as appraiser, by asking such questions as

* "Was the overall tone of the counseling session the style I selected ahead of time?" * "What did I do particularly well?" * "What problems or difficulties arose?"

Based on the answers, you can outline specific steps to upgrade your counseling skills.

Using the new system

TAPPI began implementing its revamped performance management system in January 1989. With a little more than six months experience, we held (separate) meetings of those who had conducted appraisals using the new system and those who had been appraised. Both groups agreed that the new system is comprehensive and thorough.

Interestingly, employees asked for more specific feedback. On their position descriptions, for instance, they wanted a scale of performance on each responsibility instead of just the ratings satisfactory or needs work. Supervisors compromised by adding a discussion of the area in which the employee performs most strongly and the area in which improved performance would most affect overall performance.

The only point of dissatisfaction was the rating scale. The original rating scale included five categories: distinguished, commendable, competent, probationary, and unsatisfactory.

Most employees interpreted the rating of competent--defined as the performance expected of a well-qualified employee--as average. Most believed their performance was above average. TAPPI revised the rating scale to include a total of seven categories: distinguished, commendable, satisfactory, acceptable, learner, warning, and unsatisfactory (see sidebar, "The TAPPI Form"). The association has had no complaints since.

Thanks to its new appraisal system, TAPPI has made progress in addressing several key objectives. The management of personnel performance has allowed us to optimize progress on association objectives, use performance as a basis for compensation adjustments, and find efficient ways to motivate association staffers and develop their professional potential.

Janet G. Crane, CAE, is director of communications for the Technical Association of the Pulp and Paper Industry, Atlanta.
COPYRIGHT 1991 American Society of Association Executives
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
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Title Annotation:includes related articles; Professional Development
Author:Crane, Janet G.
Publication:Association Management
Article Type:Cover Story
Date:Feb 1, 1991
Previous Article:Family and medical leave in D.C.
Next Article:The job description.

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