No Time To Manage Performance? READ THIS

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When I re-read what I wrote about observing and documenting employee performance in my books, The Manager's Guide to Performance Reviews and Performance Management 2/E (Briefcase Books Series), and combine that with my consulting experiences since I wrote those books, I realize one reason why executive and managers balk at managing performance.

What follows is a revisting of the process of observing and documenting performance, but it applies no less to all the steps in the performance management process.

First I should preface this with an observation. The higher up you go in the organization, the MORE resistance one finds in executives when it comes to applying performance management to their reports, and leading the process of performance management through example.

A Key Problem: The APPEARANCE That Managing Performance Is Simply Too Time Consuming

Here's the central issue. When you read the section on documenting and observing employee performance, it's almost certain that you'll view it as time-consuming and therefore, impractical. It SOUNDS like you have to spend half your time running around, watching employees, then making notes about what you see, each and every day.

But that's really not true. You can observe and document as much as is necessary to fulfil the purpose of the tool. So, here's some things to keep in mind about this particular part of the performance management system, but its also applicable to ALL components of the performance management system.

The general rule to make managing performance practical is that the system involves a set of tools. Tools exist to achieve the goals for something, and not as ends in themselves. When you have a clear idea of your goals and the benefits you want to see via managing performance, you can then do just what is necessary to achieve those goals. You don't have to do anything "from the book". You modify the tools so they fit what you want to accomplish.

So, if your goal is to improve performance (that should be the goal), then decide how much time to devote to the endeavor taking into account your expected return.

With respect to observing and documenting, it need not be very formal. In fact, apart from HR's desire to document things in case of disciplinary actions, the important part is to be "with-it". That means knowing what's going on, and being perceived as knowing what's going on by employees. Observing doesn't mean standing over employees. In fact, it may mean very little time spent at all. Documentation of observations can be sparse and infrequent, involving only a few notes when a "critical incident" occurs.

Both of my major books on employee reviews and management run about two hundred pages. Let's say you spend on each employee, the same amount of time it would take you to read one of my books. Maybe...oh, four to six hours a year EXTRA? But that's a lot of time.

In fact, you don't need all that extra time, and almost all the time you spend will be scattered about in micro-segments, two or three minute conversations you have as you go.

It actually takes longer to read one of my books than manage the performance of one employee through the year. The kicker is that you will easily save much more time from doing this by improving both individual and work performance. You will have less crises, less failures that have to do with employee errors, and less need to micromanage.

View performance management as a flexible system that you can mold. Sadly, most of us think of performance management as some inflexible system that caters to filling in the forms, and that's not what it's about at all. Change what you can to suit what you can do. Don't be a slave to the software or forms, or even "what some expert" said you should do.


It's understandable that the prospect of extra work coming from managing performance and observing and documenting is daunting, or feels impossible. It isn't. The actual amount of time needed to manage performance effectively could be as low as one hour A YEAR! Most of that time will go to performance planning and then the performance review -- let's say 35 minutes for discussion of goals and direction, and 25 minutes for the review. The other components are done "on the fly" anyway, and don't require allocation of additional formal time.

And the final point: What is the manager's job if not to ensure employees know what they are supposed to do, how well they need to do it, providing meaning for employees' jobs, and to ensure that each employee's performance contributes to the overall goals of the organization.

If you are strapped for time, and want summary guides to go about performance planning, conducting the review, disciplinary processes, etc, please visit our tools section. We can get you up to speed.


About Company

Bacal & Associates was founded in 1992 by consultant and book author, Robert Bacal. Robert's books on performance management and reviews have been published by McGraw-Hill. He is available for consultation, training and keynote speaking on performance and management at work.


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  • Performance management and appraisal MUST be a partnership between manager and employee where BOTH benefit.
  • Performance management can be the lever for improved employee engagement.
  • The review process is the LEAST important part of performance management
  • If managers aren't managing employee performance, why are they there?

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