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Off With Their Heads! It's all in the Execution

by Mark Deavall

A couple of weeks ago, I received an e-mail from a client in which he highlighted a problem that I believe is common to most businesses today. For the sake of clarity, I’ll quote his entire e-mail.

"Dear Mark. Thank you very much for sending me the article “has the fat lady sung yet”. I really enjoyed it and it made me rethink where we as a business stand. I would however like to raise a question with you. 5 years ago we instituted, at great cost, a performance management system in our company. However, it would appear that we are not really doing any better than we were before we implemented the system. If I analyse our growth, it is no different really to that which we experienced before we implemented the performance management system. What do you think could be the problem?

Kind regards"

This e-mail highlighted a whole bucket full of possibilities as to what the probable causes of this client’s problem may be. However, after chatting with him we came down to the main and most common reason that a number of performance management systems don’t work. It’s because they are not performance management systems but rather performance measurement systems. Big difference!

Yes I know that if you can’t measure it you can’t manage it, so measurement systems are good. But please let’s not confuse a measurement system with a management system. Let me use this analogy rather: measuring performance is a bit like being the score keeper at a game of soccer. The score keeper cheers along with the rest of the people, and when a goal is scored he shoves it up on the board. However, the score keeper has no influence on the way that the game is played at all. So by having quarterly or twice yearly performance reviews, all we are doing is raising a consciousness of performance in our employees for a short while before the review and an even shorter while after the review. And we call that performance management.

However, performance management is far more than that. It’s when you have a system or process that allows you take the KPA’s (Key Performance Areas) of your staff, and drive them on a daily basis. Referring to the sporting analogy again, this is what the coach on the sidelines and the captain of the team do. Without performance measurement and performance management, you’re only rowing with one oar – going nowhere fast!

Now here’s the next problem. Our “performance measurement” systems are normally run and administered by a Human Resources department that generally has very little, if any, operational influence. So if that’s the case, who runs and manages the performance management system? The managers do! Yes the individual managers do. It is each manager’s responsibility to extract performance from each of his or her staff members – that’s why we employ managers!

Now let’s just make sure that when we talk about performance we know what we are talking about. So here comes problem number three. When we employ someone there is an agreement in place. On the one hand we are offering a salary package, and on the other the new employee is offering a level of productivity that justifies the salary package that we are offering. Now when the new employee starts with us, he or she produces a level of productivity that is less than what was agreed to in the first place – and then we try to “performance manage” them to the level of productivity that they agreed to in the first place! Wrong! What we are dealing with here is “delivery management”, and that has absolutely nothing to do with performance! So here’s the first lesson - if you want a business that performs, make sure that you employ people that perform. I will attempt to address the issue of fixing underperformers (which is highly unlikely), in a future article.

So back to the subject of performers - managers, your responsibility is to hire performers and then keep them performing. We have already addressed how to hire performers in the article titled “So Who Do I Marry” (, so I won’t be talking about it here. However, let’s talk about keeping performers performing!

A while ago a friend of mine worked for an IT company in Midrand. One morning I had a half hour to kill so went to his office for some coffee. As I was walking down the passage to his office, the managing director of the company (not you Rob) was walking toward me. He stopped in front of me, greeted me very politely, and then asked me what my objectives for the day were – so I told him. He wrote these down on a small pad that he had extracted from his shirt pocket, and as I got to objective number three he looked at me quite quizzically and told me that those were not objectives aligned to his business. I said that I knew that and that I did not work for him! We both laughed at the situation, shook hands and went on our respective ways.

However, the lesson was very pertinent – the way to keep performers performing, is to keep them continually aware of the responsibilities that they have to fulfill, and then keep measuring them against that responsibility. This needs to happen on a daily basis!

Performance is not about jobs or tasks. It’s about responsibilities. Responsibilities give people a sense of purpose, personal pride, empowerment and dignity. Tasks are about things to do to just slide by. No empowerment, no sense of achievement and no purpose. When people are made aware of their responsibilities, they buy into them, they are measured against them daily and they are rewarded for exceeding them, the automatic outcome is performance.

So the question now is, are your managers recruiting the right people, and then driving their responsibilities on a daily basis. Or are they driving tasks? One will put you against the ropes; the other will lead to profits. Choose wisely.

Mark Deavall is the managing director of Merit Business Institute, a company devoted to the improvement of business performance. We trust that you have found benefit in this article. If you would like Mark to help your company with performance improvement,  please call him on 27 11 609-1264, or e-mail me

This article is under strict copyright and may not be altered in any way for any purpose. If you would like to copy this article for any reason (which you are welcome to do), please be sure to copy the entire article including this paragraph.


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