6 Performance Management Leadership Lessons

I have a 10 year old son, and this affords me the opportunity to practice my leadership skills.

A recent situation with my little guy served as an excellent example of managing what I like to call the “Three Buts of Performance Problems.”

I have a rule in my house that clean clothes are to be put away in a timely and tidy manner. My son failed to put away his clean clothes. For four days, they lay crumpled on his floor.

BUT perhaps he doesn’t know how to put them away?

When he turned 5, he was taught how to fold shirts and pants, hang things on hangers, sort socks, etc. For the most part, he has been perfectly capable of performing these tasks properly for the last five years. While he offered up a feeble, “I don’t know how to fold the shirts right,” I reminded him of all the times he has previously succeeded at this task.

There is your 1st leadership lesson regarding performance management: Don’t be a Chump (Constant Reminders)

By reminding your employees they have performed the task effectively before, you’re telling them you’ve a) noticed their previous performance AND b) you’re not a chump. Now, it is possible your employees may, indeed, not know how to perform their jobs to your expectations. If they haven’t been trained, if they haven’t the knowledge to make the right action, etc., fix this problem! Team them up with a partner, give them a policy manual or checklist, show them how to do it, etc.

BUT perhaps he couldn’t put them away?

My dryer is on its last legs, or rather, its last motor, and I often relieve it from its burden by taking out the heavier items and hanging them out to dry. Because clothes and linen that are put away damp will often end up stinking to high heavens, I discourage putting them away too early. My son pointed this out to me: “but mom, I can’t put away my towels and jeans because they aren’t dry and you hate that.” In addition, he declared, “and I don’t have any hangers so I can’t hang things up.”

Herein lies your 2nd leadership lesson: If there are organizational rules or processes that make it difficult or impossible for your employees to meet your expectations, you need to own that problem!

I had to concede that my son was right; he should not be held liable for putting away jeans and towels when it was I who chose to lay them on chairs and couches until they were fully dry. I also had to make sure he had the right tools (hangers) available to perform the work to my expectations.

Now, before you think I’m a pushover, let me make things clear. While I conceded he was right about the towels and jeans, I assured him he was fully accountable for the rest of the clothes now crumpled on the floor. I also didn’t buy his argument that there were no hangers. Instead, I asked him a few questions about this “lack of resources” which, ultimately, led him to finding and using the hangers hidden under the Herculean pile of clean clothes.

There is your 3rd leadership lesson: When your employees offer up “reasons” for non-performance; listen and objectively analyze their validity.

It may be total BS…there is always that possibility…but how will you know unless you listen? And honestly, there are usually some valid complaints, concerns or obstructions brought to the surface when you take the time to listen. These often turn into learning and development opportunities for all involved.

The 4th leadership lesson:  Manage or fix any organization or process deficiency and, if you cannot, adjust your expectations.

This doesn’t make you a chump; it does make you a good leader.

BUT perhaps he didn’t want to put them away?

What a turd, indeed!

  • He was unwilling to put them away.
  • He did not respect me or my rules.
  • He was not committed to doing his part.

Does that sound familiar? I bet you think this about your employees a lot! This must be your 5th leadership lesson: You can do everything right and your employees will still fail you.

Wait, what? really?

Maybe the real lesson here is about you. Take a look in a mirror; be patient and really, really look. That’s what I did and CRAP, I noticed a few things! I opened my eyes and my mind and realized:

  • I take off my shoes and just leave them wherever I may be.
  • When push comes to shove, I throw all of my clothes on my bed and simply shut the bedroom door.
  • I don’t reprimand my daughter about her clothes.
  • I use the phrase, “because I said so” even when there is plenty of time to explain a reasonable “why.”

The REAL 5th leadership lesson is this: Sometimes your employees fail you because you have failed them.

  • You failed to set a good example.
  • You failed to be fair.
  • You failed to offer information.
  • You failed to earn their respect.
  • You failed to deserve their performance.

Good leaders commit to modeling the behavior they wish to see and being consistent with their expectations. Good leaders offer logic, reasoning or “the why” to support their expectations so employees can grasp the relevance of them. Good leaders humble themselves and earn the respect worthy of their employee’s commitment.

The 6th and final leadership lesson: It is possible to have lots of employees who “don’t want” to meet your expectations, but they will be rare if you commit to good leadership.

  • Eliminate the “but I don’t know how” excuses by developing your staff’s competencies.
  • Decrease the “but I can’t” reasons by identifying and removing organizational barriers that prohibit good work.
  • Decrease the “but I won’t” realities by modeling productive, effective and quality performance.

I’d like to keep writing but I’ve got to go. The dryer is buzzing and I’ve got to find some hangers.


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