In Praise of Performance Observations for Managers

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Oct 23, 2012

What do you do, as a manager if you spot an employee doing something well in your business?

What do you do if you spot them doing something badly?

I am sure the answers are:

  • Praise them.
  • Point this out to them and help them to do it more effectively.

What a perfectly correct outcome, which of course, hides the many impediments, related to:

The Manager:

  • They need to know what to look for.
  • They need to be present to make the observation.
  • Managerial perceptions of what good and bad look like.
  • They need to know how to coach the right behavior or task.
  • They need to be objective – always.

The colleague:

  • They need to have had sufficient training and time to behave/complete tasks in the appropriate manner
  • They need to be engaged and willing to “do it right, every time.”
  • They need to have been observed regularly.

It is hardly revolutionary to say that in the current climate, managers are being pushed to the limit with more KPI’s (key performance indicators) being piled into their performance analysis, while at the same time having less autonomy to be creative and “get the job done their way.” These are inevitable challenges in an economic downturn where profits are squeezed and costs to the business come under rigorous and sometimes painful change and control.

Having a personal impact

But what the managers’ really want in such a tough atmosphere is the empowerment to do something about performance — the capability to change an outcome, the opportunity to personally have an impact on the key performance indicators they manage.

Inevitably there will be components of these KPI’s that they cannot influence, such as the number of customers that walk through the door for a retailer, or the production units demanded by clients for a manufacturer. What they can influence is arguably their most important asset – their people.

Staff behaviors, skills, competencies, task deliverables (whatever they are called in your business) have a fundamental impact on many KPI’s that a manager will be responsible for. So it follows that their performance is directly linked to the perception of performance of the manager and so on up the chain of command of the organization.

Every organization over a certain size will already have a robust performance appraisal and development process. Whether this is more traditional in format or technology used, or is bang up to date, in very few cases is it used for either of the following performance observations:

  • Performance coaching;
  • Continuous feedback.

Performance coaching requires the manager to have been trained in techniques which allow them to nurture their charges to motivate, engage and change their behavior in such a way as to have a positive and long-lasting impact on an employee’s performance.

Continuous feedback enhances existing performance appraisal and development processes by using very regular observation of anonymous or employee-centered performance, as a means to focus attention on the importance of consistent, positive practice.

Carrying out performance observations:

Assuming that the management team has received some training to know what “good looks like,” and on techniques for coaching performance, the first process is to capture observations:

Capture: The process of capturing observations may be made a fundamental objective of the manager’s day-to-day activities, or a regular structured session to deliver and receive feedback at a specific point in time. Software can be used to make the final record, but the capture could be done at the end of the day, or in the moment of the observation, depending on what is most practical for each business situation.

The Intervention: If the observation is positive or performance reinforcing, there may be little need to do anything other than capture. The colleague is acting out the performance objective and the positive record will form part of the outcomes during the formal performance appraisal process.

If the observation isn’t so good, this is where the observation process comes into its own and technology can play a part. If the organization is able to list the critical objectives for each job role and has either, already trained an employee in how to meet those objectives, or has set these based on their experience and seniority at the formal appraisal, then it should be possible to match interventions to remedy any gap.

For example, if a machine operator has been trained that wearing protective equipment is fundamental to their role of operating a machine and fails to do so, it might make sense to automatically assign a policy on Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) directly to the employee and ask them to read and confirm their understanding.

From the manager’s perspective they have spotted a potential risk to a certain KPI they may be measured against – behavioral safety – and the intervention to help mitigate that specific risk has been assigned. The employee has had their training or knowledge refreshed, which results in smaller risk of the same issue appearing again.

The same could be said for coaching guidance. It might be sufficient for each objective for the manager to be given coaching guidance on screen, or for this to be sent straight to the employee. The benefit is that, at the point of observing the performance development need, immediate intervention is assigned, reducing the time it takes to close the skills or performance gap for the individual concerned.

The Analysis

The data captured by each manager has enormous benefits for three groups:

  • Employees
  • Managers
  • Training and HR

Employees: Perhaps it might be felt that the employee would be wary of continual feedback, but in organizations where it is practiced, employees feel more engaged in the performance process, are keen to show their manager how well they are meeting the objectives to gain positive records and are also keen to learn and be nurtured.

Managers: Having the opportunity to nurture their team and “make a real difference” to the outcomes on the KPI’s is sufficient motivation for the manager to make the effort to record observations.

Training and HR: The training team have an extra layer of evaluation data to understand the impact of previously delivered training and by analyzing it over the whole company can spot general training and development gaps. The HR team also have an extra layer of visibility to see how well staff are performing on an individual basis, helping to spot talent and those that may need extended help.


So — What do you do, as a manager if you spot an employee doing something well in your business? What do you do if you spot them doing something badly?

Well, if you are part of a performance coaching and continuous feedback culture, you use the mechanisms and tools at your disposal to capture, intervene where necessary and analyse performance trends, to ensure that your team has the very best chance of positive and consistent long term performance.

This was originally published at Accuworks.  

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