Performance Management – Breeding Thoroughbred Leaders – Saeed A.

Triple Gold Cup wining horse Best Mate

There is a reason why champion horses win. It’s because they are given undivided attention. Not whipped. Champions shine because they are nurtured. People are no different.

If you were training a filly to become a champion, what approach would you take? Surely you wouldn’t expect to produce a Derby winner without considerable training and nurturing. It is only then that you might reasonably expect your investments in time and money to produce outstanding results.

Without suggesting that an employee has the same characteristics as a horse, is it not fair to think the same logic applies to spotting and grooming talent within a business? One method companies have developed to address this over the years is what is referred to as performance management.

But in essence what does this mean? For many firms it involves a cozy annual appraisal between boss and employee, setting targets in areas where he/she can build on strengths and improve on poor performance.

Over the years I have come to learn that Performance Management is not something that happens at the end of the year, but it’s a day-to-day, continuous process. Here are some key points I picked up along the way:

1.It’s part of your culture – Only when a trainer loves, cares for and continuously nurtures his fillies does he produce a winning champion. Performance management is a culture of transparency and openness that starts at the top. By providing real-time feedback in the case of poor performance you create a culture of openness and transparency. Equally, where an employee simply doesn’t fit within a company’s culture, mindset or performance expectations, it’s fair that he/she should have the chance to identify the issues, rather than be let go out of the blue – with no idea why, and not having had the chance to investigate other employment opportunities in the meantime.

2.Positive Reinforcement – Like highly performing race horses, it is essential for a person’s performance to receive positive re-enforcement. Response to a caring guidance is markedly different from a response to a whip. Continuous negative feedback festers in people and diminishes output.

So why do we not do this with our people? Why is it that so many managers can’t pick up their phones at the end of the working day, during a lunch break or between meetings, to say, “Hey, great job in securing that contract,” or, “There were obviously some problems there today – let’s discuss it.”

3.Real-time Feedback – When I talk about real-time feedback, I do not recommend non-verbal channels such as email or SMS. Imagine a normally proactive employee who one day seems disengaged and aloof during an important client meeting. As his boss, I might construe this as disinterest, and shoot through an indelibly final, knee-jerk written email response – only to later find out that he was preoccupied by a personal situation that happened the same morning.

Alternatively, I could pick up the phone, or talk to him directly and soon dispel any misunderstandings. Verbal still remains the best form of communication, as much as our increasingly-digital universe steers us against it. Its unique advantage is that if you’ve got it wrong, you can take it back much more easily.

4.There is no such thing as negative feedback – I much prefer the term ‘improvement feedback’ – and that rather than being weaknesses, our misgivings are strengths misused. Of course, you need to have a transparent company culture that welcomes critical feedback before real-time verbal performance management can work.

So why do so many managers shy away from doing this? Perhaps to avoid confrontation. They may not consider it important – or feel that the employee will at some point figure things out on their own. Yet in reality, employees are more often than not eager to get things out in the open and hear honest feedback, rather than for their boss to develop his/her pre-conceived ideas without expressing them.

5.Have a party – Celebrate and reward success. As a racehorse trainer or owner, what kind of filly will I end up with if I continuously abuse, whip and yell at her, keep her UN groomed and in miserable living conditions?

Exactly! Now consider that people are more sensitive than horses.

There are countless companies that hold certificate-giving ceremonies, or a small party for an employee’s birthday – but do you need a birthday to prompt you to bring in a cake? How about bringing a cupcake for a different employee each day to say, “Thanks for the good job you did yesterday,” or better still get on the phone to a deserving employee at the end of the working day to show your appreciation for a job well done.

Creating a Derby winning race horse is not easy. It requires day-to-day attention and continuous nurturing and care to even compete among the best, but the rewards when it is done right are substantial. So invest time in your fillies, encourage them, give them continuous feedback, build them and celebrate with them.

Make sure every day is a Derby day.

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