The Loop

Performance Management: The Key Word is “Management"

by Jennifer Lincicum
Filed under: Performance Management

When it comes time to hire a new manager, companies often wrestle with the question of whether to hire an external candidate with management experience, or promote someone within with no management experience – but who perhaps deserves a shot at moving up the leadership chain. We often are so impressed by one person's individual skills and contributions that we think, "she'd be a great manager." The thinking here is that under my tutelage, I can develop her management skills. But this can be flawed thinking.

What makes an individual contributor an outstanding employee and manager may be due to the fact that he is just that – a unique individual. One in a million. If this is true, then it's not likely that this person can nurture others to similar success. In reality, a successful manager is one who can tap, encourage and nurture the strengths of each individual to bring out the best in him. Instead of clones, part of business success is taking advantage of a wide variety of skills and perspectives for a system of checks and balances, innovators and doers, rank-and-file and lieutenants. The key is choosing managers who are effective at managing other people's performance – which in and of itself is an invaluable skill. You may even find this skill among those who are not exceptional as individual contributors.

It is a manager's responsibility to identify the roles that each position should play and place employees in those positions that have the appropriate skills, experience, disposition, and motivation to meet performance goals. If one of those employees fails to meet his performance standard, it's up to that manager to determine why. Does he not have the skills and experience the manager believed he did? Does he lack confidence, motivation, or support from colleagues? Are company processes and procedures creating obstacles to his success? It is the manager's job to identify the performance-impeding issues and resolve them, even if that means letting the employee go. If the manager is not able to implement solutions and the performance issue persists, the manager then becomes the performance issue.

This can continue right up the corporate the very top of an organization. Many experts agree that success depends on people, and it's important to have the right people in the right positions. If the CEO surrounds himself with an executive management team that hires managers with employees that have performance issues, then perhaps it is members of the executive team who hire and manage poorly. And if this is true, then doesn't the blame reach even higher – to the CEO who hired and/or manages those executives?

Part of the function of performance management is to identify when you've made a mistake and to rectify it quickly. This includes letting employees go if it becomes clear that they simply lack the skills and knowledge to do the job for which they are assigned. It may not be their fault that they are let go; after all – the manager may have done the hiring. If that manager tends to have a lot of turnover in his department, this can be a red flag that he is either not hiring well or not able to retain good employees. Of course, the opposite may be true as well: A good manager may be adept at hiring and nurturing top-notch talent who can move quickly into other positions.

What are the characteristics of a good manager? This is a particularly important question if you're looking to promote someone into a management position who has never managed before. She may have a good performance track record, but that doesn't mean she'll make a good manager. On the contrary, it could indicate that she won't be able to transition from a role of doing the work to delegating the work. The following is a list of traits to consider when assessing if an employee has management potential:

1. Selfless – willing to prioritize employees and their work before his own.
2. Listener – doesn't assume he knows what his employees are going to say, yet is willing to let his staff speak openly even if he does.
3. Action-oriented – once he's identified a problem, aggressively pursues a solution – even if it means confronting his or other managers.
4. Forward thinking – does not get so mired in day-to-day issues that he doesn't think about the future and put strategies in place for longer-term performance improvements
5. Skilled and experienced – it is helpful if the manager previously worked in the position of his employees; if not, his staff may not have confidence that he truly understands their job and the challenges they face.

A common strategy in business is to move employees and managers around like pieces on a chess board, thinking that if you can just get the right people in the right places, performance issues will disappear. This may well be true, as is often the case when individual contributors thrive once out from under a poor manager. Therefore it's important to keep in mind that performance management is not the burden of the individual employee, but rather the manager – or perhaps the manager's manager.

In short, the key word to remember in performance management, is "management."

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