ManagementProfessional Skills

Improve Team Performance in 7 Easy Steps

Most managers are effective at managing motivated self-starters who are compliant and eager to please. If every employee was like that, the manager’s job would be pretty easy – just point the way and they’ll find a way to Get-R-Done!. Unfortunately, perfect people are in short supply. As a manager in the real world, you work with the “Not-so-Perfect” people. This is where you earn your paycheck.

Like most everything else, it helps to have a plan when managing people – a mental model that helps you think through all the facets of management essential to maximizing performance. The Framework for Managing Individual Success©[1] is a mental model that helps you consider each of the seven facets of effective management leading to individual success:

1.    Define Acceptable Performance

The first plank, defining acceptable performance, lets the employee know what needs to be done by defining the goal to be achieved. This is the outcome desired, not the individual tasks to be performed or the outputs to be produced. Defining performance in terms of outcomes helps set the stage for high performance, engages the employee’s mind in the process, and usually results in more engagement and better results.

2.    Set Clear Expectations

The second plank specifies the standards of how much, how high, how often, how well, etc. Too often managers give vague directions and expectations assuming the crew already knows it. Remember, the degree of specificity will be inversely proportional to the level of experience, ability, and motivation of the individual being assigned.

3.    Provide Timely Feedback

The third plank, provide timely feedback, is one that is frequently lacking. A majority of employees I have interviewed in low performing organizations only receive performance feedback annually – and frequently that feedback is not specific enough to be actionable and it is definitely not timely enough. All they know is that they will not be getting the raise they wanted or the promotion they thought they were in line for because of inadequate performance.

Imagine you were trying to improve your golf swing. You are blindfolded and told to hit the ball. Six months later I tell you, you didn’t make the cut because you sliced hard into the woods. The example may be extreme, but I can give numerous examples where individuals have had quality defects in their work and were only informed after the product had been rejected by the customer – and depending upon the time period required for inventory turn, those complaints can be months after the work was completed. And, if the company doesn’t have a sophisticated enough system to trace back the production to the date and operator, the complaints may become aggregated into a large pool and the individual responsible never get specific feedback as to how their performance affected the organization’s delivery on its value proposition. To be effective, feedback needs to be specific, actionable, and timely.

4.    Provide Adequate Resources

The fourth plank, provide adequate resources, is a key component driving effective performance. If you want the employees to produce quality products, they need quality materials. If you want them to wear the proper safety equipment, you need to provide it for them. If you want them to complete a task, you need to give them the time to perform the task well. Very frequently organizations give “Unfunded Mandates”. They want the outcome but don’t provide sufficient resources to accomplish the task. Adequate resources could also involve time, funding, manpower, access to decision makers, etc. The list goes on.

5.    Set Performance Conditions

The fifth plank, setting performance conditions, requires management to provide the appropriate balance between rewards and consequences. All too often organizations reward the wrong behaviors. Their incentives don’t align with their directives.

6.    Define Gaps and Train as Appropriate

Define gaps and train as appropriate begins in the Focusing stage (Focusing Element 04) and continues in the Committing stage of organizational development. This is where training professionals utilize the principles of adult learning and systems-based training to greatest effect. This is where the “teachable moment” most frequently occurs.

7.    Sustain with Management Systems

The final plank, sustain with management operating systems, is an ongoing process of designing and developing and refining your systems. Consistent systems thinking is essential to building sustainable high-performance organizations.

Applying the Model

To see the value of utilizing the Framework for Individual Success think about the last time you had a performance problem with an employee. Consider each plank one at a time:

  1. Was Acceptable Performance defined?
  2. Were Clear Expectations set?
  3. Was Feedback provided in a timely manner?
  4. Did the employee have access to Adequate Resources?
  5. Were Performance Conditions set to incent the right behaviors?
  6. Did you take the time to Define Gaps and Train as Appropriate?
  7. Were Management Operating Systems in place, functioning properly, and sufficiently adhered to?

99 percent of the time managers find that they had some level of responsibility for an employee’s failure to achieve. This is not to remove individual accountability. But, let’s be honest, managers need to accept accountability for setting up the conditions for employees to succeed as well. Following these seven simple steps will improve your ability to manage and you’ll rapidly see improvement in team performance.


[1] Copyright: The Workforce Engagement Equation; A Practitioners Guide to Creating and Sustaining High Performance Organizations, Jamison J. Manion, CRC Press, 2012

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