By William Wiley, May 1, 2018
Here’s a question that sometimes comes up in one of our performance management seminars:
How do I hold an employee accountable through the performance management process for performance expectations like respectfulness, professionalism, or team work? I know them when I see them, but I don’t know how to evaluate things like this.
Ah, life. If there was just some machine we could press against an employee’s forehead and get readings on things like this: “Wiley, you’re reading out at a 3.2 this morning on respectful attitude. Better work on that. And drop back by the office on the way home so I can take a close out reading for the day. Performance management is very important in our office.” Hey, Mark Zuckerberg. If you’re looking for something new to invent now that they’re closing down Facebook, maybe work on an Attitude-o-Meter.
Until we get some high-tech equipment involved, we’ll have to rely on another approach. And here it is.
When trying to hold an employee accountable for something difficult to measure – like “professionalism” – ask yourself, “How do I know when the employee is acting professionally?” In other words, what behaviors do you see (hear, smell, taste, or feel) that say to you that the employee is acting professionally? Does he participate in controversial meetings respectfully and cooperatively? Does he dress at a level commensurate with his job assignments? Is he on time for appointments and prepared for discussions? If these say “professional” to you, then you now have something you can observe. And if you can observe, you can count. And if you can count, you can hold the employee accountable (that’s why the word “count” is right in the middle of the word “accountable”).
Once you have the concept down, here’s how to use it. Let’s say you have a team supervisor who you want to hold accountable for demonstrating leadership skills. And then let’s say that you think an important demonstration of effective leadership is that each member of a team knows what the top three priorities are of the organization at any moment because priorities change so frequently. If you have an employee who you conclude is performing at the Unacceptable level of the Leadership critical element, you initiate a 30-day PIP with the following expectation:
Unacceptable Level: On two or more occasions during the PIP, a team member is unable to identify the top three priorities of the organization due to your failure to inform the team member of the most recent priorities.
Or, perhaps you believe that meeting participation is an indicator of “Professionalism.” You set the 30-day PIP firm benchmark of performance expectation like this:
Acceptable Level: No more than one incident of failing to attend a meeting in any 30-day period.
Then, you count. When it comes to defending an unacceptable performance removal, numbers are not essential, but they are very helpful. So, take all those subjective (but important) concepts, convert them to behaviors, and then count them. Rather than saying “occasionally,” “usually,” or “sometimes,” set the expectations for the PIP at one-sies, two-sies, or three-sies. A judge might want to argue with you as to what constitutes “pro-active,” but it’s much harder for the judge to argue numbers.