October 8, 2012 Business, Leadership, Management

Is Performance Management Losing Focus?

Performance management is becoming a lost art, omitted from academic classes and dropped from certification programs.  Most MBA courses spend more time on finance courses than on compensation (if at all).  While admittedly many managers have had inadequate training in basic supervision, some simply choose to ignore good leadership practices.  Let’s face it.  It’s hard to manage people the right way.   It takes a lot of time and it can be uncomfortable, especially for those that shy away from conflict.

Weak and ineffectual managers don’t actually manage their employees, in the sense of performance direction, leadership, setting good examples and decision-making. Instead, they want to be liked. They want to avoid conflict and so they use pay increases and other reward systems to keep employees doing what they need to do and support of their efforts.  It’s really kind of a bribe.

So what is “managing” to these people? It’s not about making hard decisions. Too often it’s trying to get the most for their employees, deserved or otherwise, whether the organization gains in the process or not. The manager is focused on their own interests, and is using someone else’s money to fund their behavior.

Why it doesn’t work

Relying on pay or other rewards as a replacement for good management has a short effective life cycle.

  • Employees see arbitrary same-same pay treatment as de-motivating to high performers.  Why bother extending yourself if you’re going to receive the same reward as the guy doing crossword puzzles?
  • Employees resent favoritism and those who benefit for non-performance reasons will always become known. There goes your morale.
  • No amount of money replaces the value of honest performance direction and feedback. Those with an interest in learning and growing appreciate the help.
  • Ineffective managers eventually lose the respect of their employees, who know what’s going on. Remember that employees leave managers, not companies.

For managers who need a crutch to help motivate and retain their employees, to help them do their jobs, the above cautions likely won’t make a difference. Their goal is not to manage, but to get-by, to be liked by their employees and to avoid disruptions to their routine. This is not leadership, but administration.

But for those managers who wish to make a difference, who understand that managing employees is a challenging and rewarding role, abrogating responsibility through pay and rewards is not an option.  They recognize it as the opposite of management, a damaging practice that will not enhance anyone’s long term career prospects.