We can best help people improve performance not by trying to solve their problems for them but by helping them learn to solve their own problems.
We can’t approach performance improvement from a reactive and fragmented stance. Rather than reacting to each isolated performance problem, the key is making performance improvement integral to the way people manage their work. After all, steering clear of problems, identifying problems early, and resolving them so they do not occur again is what managing work is about. All people are responsible for managing their own work; some are responsible for managing work within a team or a function, others for managing across functions, and still others for managing entire firms.
Managing work consists of three components:
- setting goals;
- letting work happen and comparing work completed against goals; and
- deciding whether to change how the goals are being pursued.
When these things are done well, individuals and organizations almost always meet goals. But, these three things are rarely done well. Few managers consistently prevent costly performance problems or ensure that goals are achieved.
Performance consulting is simply coaching people on setting goals, letting the work happen, comparing results to the goals, and then deciding how to proceed. Most emergencies are simply breakdowns in one or more of these three areas of management. The solution to performance problems is always to help the person, team, or organization manage itself more effectively.
When people learn new behaviors, not only will they resolve the current emergency, but they will know how to address or avoid the next emergency.
Think of these levels of managing work as layers of an onion.
- The outer layer is like the upper tier where organizational goals are set and monitored. These goals involve overall direction and objectives, and decisions are large in scope.
- Below that layer is the cross-functional (or process and project) layer. Goals at this layer cover a smaller scope but must align with organizational goals. They include things such as what products and services will be available when, and which internal processes currently need the most attention. Goals are reviewed and revised a little more frequently than at the higher layer.
- A third layer is where individual and group goals are set and monitored. The same basic practices for helping individuals manage 1heir work apply to helping executives manage their work. Since the magnitude of distractions and decisions are much greater at the executive level, practice this approach at the lower levels.
The desired end result is a selfsustaining performance system (SPS) a systemic approach that provides an immediate solution while leveraging the performance perspective for sustainable long-term success. The SPS always assumes that the performers are missing one or more of the three conditions that guarantee successful performance. Those conditions are:
- Clear performance expectations: Each performer must know exactly what he or she is expected to do and how well, and must commit to it.
- Frequent, self-monitored feedback: Each performer must know, at any given point, whether he or she is meeting performance expectations.
- Control of resources: Each performer must know that, if he or she provides warning that performance is not meeting expectations, management will either help the performer succeed or change the expectation.
The three conditions summarize all the factors that affect performance in the order they should be addressed. When all three conditions are in place, we have a performance system. When most members are operating in an effective performance system most of the time, we have a SPS.
Just implementing the first two conditions usually results in productivity increases of 30 percent or more within a very short time.
The third condition, control of resources, ensures that productivity increases can be sustained. It also ensures that manager and performers have a stake in whatever performance improvements are implemented. Whether the need is for better tools or better organization, they are more likely to turn the required change into improved performance. And because they have frequent self-monitored feedback, they will be the first to know if their performance is improving.
By implementing a SPS, you help people steer clear of most problems, immediately identify problems when they do arise, and resolve those problems so that they do not reoccur.
A successful SPS means performers are consistently successful and raise the bar on their own performance. Instead of waiting for performance to get worse, they prevent problems and coordinate work effectively.
Contributing to systemic improvement as opposed to everyone tweaking their isolated functions, must be the expectation for every member.