Great managers manage their people’s performance

“Khun Kriengsak, do you have any ideas about performance appraisal forms?” Vinai asks me.

“Why do you ask, Khun Vinai?”

“In our recent management committee meeting, people were complaining about the appraisal form we use. Nobody seems to be happy with it. These are veteran executives with years of working experience, but none had any ideas about how we could improve what we were doing.”

“Khun Vinai, the appraisal interview is the most distasteful job for any manager,” I say, and quote from a passage in The Effective Executive by the management theorist Peter Drucker:

“Appraisals, as they are now being used in the great majority of organisations, were designed originally by clinical and abnormal psychologists for their own purposes.

“The clinician is a therapist trained to heal the sick. He is legitimately concerned with what is wrong, rather than with what is right with the patient. He assumes as a matter of course that nobody comes to him unless he is in trouble. The clinical psychologist or the abnormal psychologist, therefore, very properly looks upon appraisals as a process of diagnosing the weaknesses of a man.”

Vinai is intrigued, and asks me a more general question:”Coach, from your experience, how do the great managers do things differently?”

I offer a few simple steps that I believe set great managers apart:

– Clear understanding of the organisation’s vision, core values and strategy.

– Ability to translate vision, values and strategy into tasks for each position.

– Ability to influence the team to wholeheartedly agree on them.

– Working with each position to come up with pragmatic and challenging key performance indicators.

– Coaching them on how to do the job.

– Offering feedback on performance regularly.

– Coaching those whose behaviour deviates from what is needed.

– Regularly evaluating performance _ twice or four times a year.

– Unleashing potential by promoting or rotating a performer to a position with a suitable fit when the opportunity arises.

“That sounds simple,” says Vinai. “Can you give me a real-life example?”

“Okay Khun Vinai, let’s say I want to open a noodle shop selling to your staff in the company’s canteen. My vision is to have the best chicken noodles in the canteen. My core values are cleanliness, speed and value for money. My strategy is to prepare each noodle dish within one minute.

“After that, I will translate those business concepts into task. For example, I have to recruit a cook to perform the task. The qualifications will be aligned with the core values and strategy. In this case, I will hire people who are well, groomed, non-smokers and energetic. The KPI is clear: one minute for noodle preparation. I will have to come up with a proper process that will be enable them to do the task within one minute. I have to train and coach the cook to do that on a daily basis.”

“I get it. From your experience, what is the most common mistake of managers?”

“Neglecting on-the-job training. In a large organisation, most managers think training is the responsibility of HR or the training department. That’s partially but not entirely true. The line manager is accountable for his staff’s performance. Therefore, he is also responsible for on-the-job training for staff as well. The HR or training department will be able to educate staff about the company’s vision, mission, core values, strategy and organisational structure _ the big picture.

“But who would know how to do the job properly? The line manager does. Hence, the line manager is the most qualified person to teach and coach the newcomer.”

“Coach, that’s true. When I was a line manager, I didn’t do that well.”

“Why not?”

“Because of the way I was taught by my father. When I was three years old, he ‘taught’ me how to swim by throwing me into the swimming pool with no life jacket. I almost drowned. I survived and learned how to swim the hard way. For a long time, my own teaching philosophy was to throw people into the pool.”

“Khun Vinai, what made you change your teaching philosophy?”

“After I had been working for few years, I noticed that only about one-third of the people I dealt with would be able to survive if I used the ‘throw them in the pool’ approach. The majority of them were unable to do so. Consequently, they didn’t perform well and left the organisation.

“Fortunately, I started to think about better approaches after I read Leadership and the One Minute Manager: Increasing Effectiveness through Situational Leadership. The theme of this book is ‘Different Strokes for Different Folks’. Its concept is about being flexible in working with different people. If you want people to be their most effective, let them work in their best style.”

“One last thing, Khun Vinai. Great managers look for strengths. They don’t try to police their people. To do that they observe, ask and encourage people to do what they do best. They know when people perform or talk about their strengths, they show passion in their tone of voice and body language and a sparkle in their eyes.”