Pete is the general manager of a west coast plant for a national company. He has had trouble meeting his revenue and profit numbers for the last year. His District Manager has asked him for a meeting to discuss action plans for performance improvement. Pete’s company is in a highly competitive market and margins are slim. He has been a general manager for several years, and reached company goals, but he never has achieved stellar results. This year has been particularly difficult. A bigger national competitor has purchased smaller local companies, lowered prices and he’s losing accounts. He has lost some employees due to turnover and has fired some of his managers for lack of results. Most of his salespeople are new and new sales have been slow in coming.
- Threatened his management team
- Cut expenses to the bone
- Pulled in favors from a few key accounts
- Fired people
- Held service and sales contests
- Demanded his management team work extra hours and delayed vacations
Unfortunately, results haven’t improved. He knew his job was on the line and he wasn’t sure what to do next. However, he would have a plan for his boss with timelines and new projections. He just dreaded the meeting. His boss took no excuses and would rant and rave at him and his team. Pete just hoped he didn’t stay an extra day.
This is a typical scenario and challenge managers face today. How would you rate this manager as a boss? What do you think his managers would say about his leadership? He isn’t a bad person, and some in upper management would say he is a good boss doing the best he can and others would say fire him. What do you think his employees say?
You Have to Create a Plan
A 100-year-old services company in the US wanted to improve sales to their existing customers. Their results were mediocre. They had tried a variety of incentives and meetings and nothing worked. By engaging them with the positive performance management strategies they began to make progress. Improvement began with a thorough assessment of sales management’s skills in communicating with existing customers. Tracking reports were created around well designed goals. Training was designed and implemented The goals were shared with all involved. With consistent communication on the numbers and goals, occasional incentives, follow-up coaching and regular recognition, results improved and were sustained.
What changed? Did the employees decide to become better? Did they get fed up and decide to do it themselves? Did they go to management with a big goals and a new plan? Certainly not. The management changed, with some help. They refocused their efforts with new goals, tools and support. How was this process different from Pete’s?
Bad bosses often lack clear goals and plans. If they have them their execution is suspect and weak, and some threaten termination if they aren’t achieved. One general manager in a retail organization changed goals and direction so often, he disillusioned his employees, performance suffered and he lost his job. Other managers simply don’t worry about goals. They don’t know how to set them; no one showed them how, so they show up every day and do the best they can. Little is discussed about goals or progress. Of course most managers have goals, but they forget to tell the employees. If the goals aren’t reached, the employees get in trouble or are tormented about the lack of results.
Once people are clear on the goals and action plans to achieve them, most people perform better. What is it about this that confused or frightens managers? So few really do it well. Research shows goal-setting is the motivational technique that works and performance will improve. To set goals and plans, a manager must:
- Think about and create a plan for his area, department or company.
- Do this regularly with periodic updates, staying one step ahead of the company process.
- Identify department or company strengths and areas of improvement.
- Identify each direct report’s strengths and areas of improvement.
- Analyze customer feedback or quality data.
- Consider all relevant information: equipment, the economy, competition, resources, etc.
- Set SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time bound) goals on company priorities. Improving customer service is not a SMART goal. It’s vague. Improving the customer survey results from 69% to 75% in the next year is a SMART goal.
- Regularly communicate results.
- Set goals with each employee and regularly review progress with them.
We recommend that managers include employees in the process. One manager I met in an airport had just accepted a job as plant manager with a new company and was moving from Memphis to Houston. I could tell he was a good boss based on his actions and how he spoke about the value of his employees. After assuming his new role, one of his first steps included involving his team in a planning process. Why do this? People want to be part of something – the team, a cause, a mission. With their contribution, managers not only achieve that, but tap their minds for creative ideas that they don’t have. The employees are committed to the plans, because they now “own” them and the manager has buy-in.
All good performance begins with clear expectations and goals — keeping employees’ daily focus on excelling in their jobs. When employees understand what managers expect, they will stay more engaged, want to do their jobs well and find ways to keep improving. They will perform more effectively and become more satisfied with their jobs. Without this important communication, only the very best employees will excel. The biggest complaint from managers is that all of this takes time. And, it does. However, it’s an investment in a process that saves you time later and that can dramatically improve productivity. Effective leadership is a high contact sport. Here are three key considerations.
Meet one on one and review the job description and duties in detail with the new employee. This begins in the hiring process. Answer their questions about the job, and once hired have them talk to others doing the job. Set goals for 30 through 90 days. Meet with the employee periodically to clarify any misunderstandings, review progress and handle problems. Ask for periodic updates on projects, and continue to check employees’ expectations: first day, first week, first month, and monthly.
Meet one on one and establish clear goals with all employees. Put three to five goals in writing and clarify what’s in it for them, relating their performance to personal impact. Schedule a meeting to discuss this at least monthly, but flex with the challenges and follow-up. This is an invaluable communication process that will help the employee succeed. Some companies discuss goals daily, but most managers don’t do it at all or just once a year at a performance review. That isn’t enough; jobs are too fast-paced and complex to let things go that long. Good bosses make goal-setting, communication and feedback on results a priority.
Review employees’ performance daily, weekly, monthly or quarterly depending on the need. Coaching discussions aren’t about pay increases or for job evaluation purposes. Follow your company procedures for those. They are usually required every six months or once a year. With coaching, talk about recent specific performance one on one and review how things are going from two perspectives. First, understand the employee’s view. Ask these key question: How’s it going? What’s working? What are your key problems or challenges? What can you do differently or better? How can I help? While you ask the questions, you thoughtfully listen to their comments and then give appropriate feedback. For example:
- Give positive feedback. “I agree you did a good job on the report. It was specific and well-researched.”
- Bring up problems. “Have you noticed the growth in complaints? What’s happening there? How are you handling it?”
- Give guidance and create a plan of action together. For example, “What about a campaign to gain new customers. I haven’t seen much of that. Can we focus on that? What are your ideas?”
If you are separated by distance, this can be handled with a phone call. But e-mail is inappropriate – it’s too impersonal and we will often write what we might not say in person.
Provide on-boarding training for all new employees. Enroll your other employees in all sessions your company offers. If they don’t have any training, use videos from YouTube or our Superstar Leadership Blog. Learn to train yourself. Best in class training is 50-60 hours a year per employee. If you commit to this your team will perform better and you will achieve superior results.
Six Other Performance Management Strategies
- Manage by Wandering Around: Tom Peters coined this term. It means to touch base and observe what’s happening with your team during the day. Do informal coaching, talk to employees, pat them on the back, tell a joke, give them a hand if needed, listen to what’s going on or give needed praise and encouragement. There are times that your duties might prevent you from doing this, but make every effort to make it a regular practice.
- Every day at the end of the day check in with every employee you can: Keep it informal and ask things like: How did it go? What progress did you make? Any problems? Anything you need help with? What happened on that goal we talked about? What’s the plan tomorrow? Good job on that account. Remember, to follow-up. Always try to keep things positive!
- Track your priority goals on a bulletin board, an intra-company web site or dashboard: This provides immediate recognition for employees and fans the flame of competition and pride in doing the job well.
- Meet weekly or every other week and review progress in a team meeting: Include people in other offices through phone conferences or a WebEx. The meeting doesn’t have to be long. You want to get updates on priority goals or projects, discuss problems or issues and communicate any news about your area or company.
- Keep people informed through email and text updates: Communicate progress and results to employees regularly. Without information, people tend to think the worst and the rumor mill grows. This is especially important to employees in remote offices, who are separated by distance from headquarters. Keep your e-mails positive as well and use them for recognition, too. ( not reprimanding)
- Use the phone (or Skype) for the same reasons as above, but it’s more personal: The phone is a good tool for coaching. Managers of one of our client companies call their locations across their districts a couple of times a week to encourage or recognize them. This also gives them the opportunity to find out how things are going. In the beginning, most employees asked, “What’s the problem?” They were so used to managers only contacting them with issues. By the way, use the phone to confront performance issues only if there’s no way to meet one on one. Then, focus on the problem, not the person, and identify a plan for improvement.
As a manager, you have the single biggest influence on your employees’ performance than anyone else. Be proactive and consider the strategies we have discussed. With consistent and enthusiastic application you will have a positive and powerful impact on their results.
Do you want to learn how to be a more effective leader, especially in challenging times? If so, I suggest you check out our latest book, Superstar Leadership.
Want to accelerate your career? Get a coach! Go here for help and options: WCW Breakthrough BluePrint Coaching. Or, call-888-313-0514.