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The Knowing-Doing Gap in Performance Management

Sep 22, 2016

Over the past 20 years we’ve worked with thousands of managers to raise the performance of their people. A big piece of that work is examining the difference between what people say they believe about performance management and what they actually do

The good news is that the vast majority of these managers are coming from a good place. They are committed to the success of their teams and to helping employees reach their potential. When we ask them to describe how leaders should address performance issues, they say things like:

  • Be open and honest with people
  • Listen and display empathy
  • Build an action plan to close the gap
  • Hold people accountable

That sounds pretty good. Yet, when we actually observe managers trying to put these ideas into practice, it’s a very different picture. Despite their best intentions, too many managers:

  • Don’t give people the straight story about gaps in performance or behavior
  • Get fixed on their point of view without truly considering the employee’s perspective
  • Don’t provide the right support or follow-up
  • Alternate between extremes of hands-off management and periods of intense scrutiny

Unfortunately, it doesn’t end there. Under pressure, managers often switch to a directive style that may produce short-term gains, but sets up a negative cycle of micromanagement. We also find that many leaders spend too much time with their “stars” and low performers, practically ignoring the middle.

To compound the problem, managers are typically unaware of the extent to which they do these things. They find it difficult to own that they are part of the problem and need to change. On the flip side, it’s an amazing thing when we can help leaders recognize what’s going on and equip them with practical tools to change. The performance potential that can be unlocked in these teams is tremendous.

Many organizations are already changing their performance management processes and systems. That’s a start, but deeper change is needed if companies hope to tap the best performance from their people. This change requires companies to address the root causes why performance management falls short and support leaders as they transform their approach.