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Keep it Real Part 3: Getting the Best out of My Staff

By Mark Deavall

For many years businesses and consultants have been espousing the value of having a good performance management strategy operating in a company. And they are right. If you want to get performance out of your staff, you have to manage their performance. No argument there. However, it’s the HOW we manage their performance that is so important and where a lot of well intentioned managers go wrong. So, if we are going to talk about this subject, we had better, first of all, understand what performance is.

Wikipedia defines performance as “a measurement of some output or behavior”. However the Oxford dictionary describes it as, “the manner in which, or the efficiency with which, something reacts or fulfills its intended purpose”. I prefer the Oxford dictionary definition. You see, the Wikipedia definition is quite arbitrary whereas the Oxford dictionary definition is very specific. It says that performance is the attainment of something pre-agreed and measurable.

So this is where the rubber meets the road. When we go into the market to employ someone, we have a salary on offer with which we are willing to purchase services. The applicant promises to provide the said services, and we then offer them the job. The applicant then joins our company and does not provide said services to the standard that was promised. The manager then spends all of his or her time “performance managing” the individual just to get them up to the level to which they had contracted in the first place! That’s not performance management, that’s delivery management! Delivery is when the Key Performance Area is seen as the goal. Performance is when it is seen as the starting line. So the key here is to recruit people that see the Key Performance Area’s as the starting line. In fact, you don’t grow performers, you recruit them. Why do I say that? Well, performance is the result of skill plus attitude. With skill alone you can get pretty far, but with attitude added, you can only be excellent. Now here’s the rub - I can teach you the skill, but I can’t teach you the attitude. You either have it or you don’t.

But that’s not all. When we’re managing performance we need to keep sight of Effectiveness versus Efficiency. In business as in life, it is often more important to be effective than what it is to be efficient. But what’s the difference? Well let’s put it this way. The cops are really efficient at speed trapping and sending out fines, but they are completely ineffective at the goal of controlling the carnage on the roads.

Effectiveness occurs when the worker works to a clearly defined goal. Efficiency happens when a worker works to a job description. With efficiency the job gets done well and all the “t’s” are crossed and the “I’s” dotted. However, very often efficiency stands in the way of productivity. With effectiveness the areas of the job that are key to productivity and customer satisfaction take priority, and then the rest of the job such as paper work etc is done later. (Read article 1 in the “Keep it Real” series). In both cases the job gets done. In the one, doing the job properly is the focus (efficiency), and in the other being productive and keeping the customer happy (effectiveness) is the focus. We need to get our staff focused on effectiveness.

So how do we do this? Three simple steps: 1) Agree with the worker on the task that needs to be done with emphasis on the quality and timing requirements. 2) Agree on regular review sessions. The key here is to make the gaps between the review sessions short enough that if the wheels do come off, not that much damage has occurred that you can’t go back and fix it. 3) Between the review sessions, leave the worker alone. Give the worker the dignity to fail, that’s after all how you learned everything that you know. Your job here is to provide a “catch-net” to allow the worker to fail in safety. We of course are not talking about perpetual failure.

So to pull it all together, when recruiting, look for people with the right attitude first, and once you find them, look at the skill level. Also, keep your staff focused on being effective. Efficiency is nice, but effectiveness makes money.

Mark Deavall is the founder and managing director of Merit Business Institute, a company dedicated to increasing the productivity of people throughout the world. If you would like Mark to present a talk or training course for your company, please e-mail him on This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

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