Management Effectiveness: Making Performance Management Work

“Can you increase management effectiveness in my organization?” “Can you teach my managers how to manage their staff?” “Can you explain how to write measurable performance goals?” “Can you show us how to tell someone their work is not up to expectations?”

I am asked these questions frequently as I interact with business leaders. Immediately my brain opens the big mental file folder labeled “Management Effectiveness.” whether I am coaching individual leaders, working with a management team, or teaching a class on management skills, nearly everything I communicate falls into this huge knowledge area I used to call “performance management.” No other area can increase overall organizational management effectiveness than overhauling your attitudes and beliefs about performance vs. effectiveness.

Why is the job of directing the work of others so difficult? I have been teaching management effectiveness skills for most of my professional career and I consider management the most difficult job any professional can undertake. Here are some of the reasons I believe make managing others is so challenging:

  • Half a century ago, most of the work being done in business organizations was routine and predictable. Management guru Peter Drucker wrote a seminal book during that era, The Practice of Management, in which he coined the term management by objectives (MBO). Fast forward to today and we see that most performance management systems used in businesses are still based on Drucker’s MBO philosophy. We are using a process designed to track transaction-based work performed by a single individual to govern constantly changing work assignments that are being performed by collaborative work teams. No wonder that the annual event called ‘performance appraisal’ is such an onerous task for everyone.
  • Top-down management processes are another dinosaur of the 1950’s that we still adopt to monitor management effectiveness. Many bosses today don’t understand the detailed work being performed by their subordinates. The notion that a boss can define effectiveness objectives for staff without their input or collaboration is flawed logic and results in a disconnect between what really is being done and what is being recorded in the performance management system.
  • Work does not begin and end in neat annual timeframes. Project work can span weeks, months or even years. Effectiveness reviews need to be tied to the work schedule and not to some fixed point in the year. And yet we continue to promote annual performance appraisal sessions with occasional midyear reviews.
  • One-on- one reporting structures have also gone the way of the finned Cadillac. Many organizations today complete work by creating collaborative teams of experts. One individual may serve on 2 to 6 teams simultaneously. So who writes the effectiveness review? A single boss? Only if you want a performance review to be a work of fiction.

So how do you upgrade a 1950’s performance tool to work in today’s hard-charging work environments? Consider implementing the following more appropriate management strategies to increase management effectiveness:

  1. Turn the process upside down. Make every employee responsible for managing their own effectiveness. Stop training managers on how to develop performance objectives. Start training employees on how to document and measure their own work. Empower employees to self-manage their performance and to report results up the corporate food chain.
  2. Throw out the “annual” concept. Management effectiveness evaluation happens daily, weekly, monthly. It is an ongoing dialogue between staff and the person responsible for work completion. Teach everyone how to monitor, measure, and document progress to plan. Then once a year, request a summary of their dialogues for the record.
  3. Teach everyone, not just managers, the skills needed to conduct difficult and challenging conversations. In the ideal workplace, everyone should feel comfortable in conveying both positive and constructive feedback upward, downward, and laterally.
  4. Stop talking about, documenting and rewarding activity, start focusing on results. Most management effectiveness objectives I read document what a person is doing such as “serve on the XYZ Committee.” Performance activity should be to achieve a specific result. Managing effectiveness is all about managing the results of what we do. Results yield business success, not focusing on endless meetings, phone calls and emails.

Good management effectiveness evaluation is so much more than an annual form completion exercise. It is the backbone of a decision support and time management system. Every individual should be using their effectiveness plan as criteria for determining how to spend their time and prioritize their work. Remember, the ultimate measure of management effectiveness is measurable business results.

But most importantly, a sound management effectiveness system forms the foundation for building strong interpersonal relationships at work. Management effectiveness means conducting frequent open and honest conversations about work accomplishments and areas for improvement which will create a climate of mutual trust and support resulting in a great place for everyone to do their best to meet the business goals.