Performance Management – The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

posted by WMC

If you’ve been following posts for the past several weeks thanks for bearing with me as I’ve tried to cover off a lot of territory on performance management. I started the series by touching on the dread and anxiety too many of us – leader and follower alike – feel when we approach what has been the traditional annual performance appraisal meeting. I hope that over the past several weeks you have taken away at least a few nuggets of information and thoughts that you can incorporate into a more functional process for you and your followers. Not the least of these pieces of advice is don’t have a performance appraisal be the one and only time that you have a discussion around performance!

Just as important, be sure to ask yourself what the fundamental purpose of the performance management process is for you and your organization. If in fact you are purposeful about and have a desire to have a once annual meeting that engenders fear, dread, anxiety, and other negative consequences for its own sake then you are doing well! As we probably already know too well, that annual event often can culminate in a process of argument and counterargument, diminished morale, and lower engagement. Probably doesn’t do much for your psyche as a leader either. However, if the true goal of the performance management process is to improve employee and organizational performance than the process should be geared towards that end – mutually established goals, continuous feedback, 360 degree feedback, and decisions/support on how performance can be improved.

Webdesigner Sticky NotesThis is where we start to really address the Good, the Bad and the Ugly. If you have adopted all of the steps leading up to the formal performance appraisal you are now left to deliver the formal written results of a performance management process and commit to next steps. Even in the best circumstances no one – in my opinion – rates a perfect 10 on their performance. I believe there is always room for improvement and new challenges. So as the Leader of the Good, the next step is to truly be prepared to to discuss with the follower where there are further (real) opportunities for improvement AND be even more prepared to discuss other developmental challenges these high performers can take on. In regards to the latter, this might mean further developing their skills and abilities to move up in the organization. This might include opportunities to lead broader initiatives for the organization that are beyond their day-to-day roles. It might also include financial commitments to ongoing education relevant to their current or future positions in the organization. For these Good people, there is real risk that if all you say is “Good work, keep it up!” you will actually diminish their effort in the future or lose them entirely to opportunities outside the organization. If these individuals are true high performers and motivated by the challenge they will likely seek it out in ways you didn’t intend.

Just as critical is being prepared to address the Bad performance. Again, the results of the performance management process at this stage should come as no surprise to the individual receiving the appraisal. Ideally, you would have been working with them well before this formal meeting. At most, this meeting should again attempt to formalize the results on improvement achieved to date and what else remains to be done. Depending on the significance of the performance issues, the targets for improvement and timeline for achievement might have a particularly hard edge or short time frame attached to them. Regardless, at this point you have to have crystal clear clarity about what is expected in the next number of weeks or months relating to performance. There should be no need for guessing on the part of the employee as to what they should be working on – and what kind of support they can expect from you to improve performance.

Finally, we have the Ugly. Performance in this circumstance has been so poor that there really remains no option other than termination or redeployment to another part of the organization. Again, it would be my sincere hope that this reality would not come as a bolt from the blue to the affected employee. This would either speak to incredibly poor performance management on the part of the individual leader or a complete disconnect from reality on the part of the employee. I have seen both occur in my career. I’m not intending to speak to any aspect of termination processes and procedures in this blog, but suffice it so say that the ways and means by which the organization handles the situation will say as much about it as it does about the departing/redeployed employee.

Both Bad and Ugly performance must be dealt with expeditiously and appropriately. It’s relatively easy to evaluate and reward Good performance. Most of us, however, are not nearly as adept and comfortable in dealing with less than stellar performance. Yet the rest of our management team and employees – and research – would tell you that there are major impacts on the organization if poor performance is not addressed including lower productivity, conflict, and disengagement of all of those around and impacted by the poor performer. This situation is only worsened if the performance appraisal results are tied to the organization’s compensation and bonus systems – if poor performance and good performance are not sufficiently differentiated in this regard inevitably many start to gravitate towards the lowest common denominator of expectation and reward. It is not a recipe for organizational success.

Performance Management. It takes energy and effort. The results and rewards are worth it though. As a leader you owe it to all your staff and your organization to do it well. It’s one of the most important things you do as a leader, particularly if you are committed to developing the human potential you are responsible for.

Greg Hadubiak is an Executive Coach/Consultant with with Western Management Consultants (WMC) and a TEC Canada Chair. He is passionate about supporting and developing great leaders. He brings to bear over 25+ years of senior leadership experience, a commitment to life-long learning, and a passion for his client’s success in all avenues of his work.

See Greg’s previous articles on LinkedIn.

The opinions represented here do not necessarily represent WMC’s views as a whole.