How Am I Doing?
Keep employees in the know with performance goals.
If you have college-bound children, chances are you've heard them comparing their SAT scores to their friends'. Marathoners check their finishing times against those of other runners in their age group. Commuters ask each other how long it takes to get to work to see how their travel times stack up-and whether there's a faster way to get to the office.
People want to know how they rate against their peers. But on the job, managers often are reticent to provide comparative information.
Employees are nervous about seeing their performance publicly compared to others', especially if they've been through a bad patch.
Some employees view performance evaluations as a private issue between the manager and the worker. Some bosses think rankings create unhealthy competition. Indeed, the Internal Revenue Service got in trouble in the late 1990s after some revenue collectors-spurred by comparative data-used hard-line tactics to get delinquent taxpayers to pay up.
On the flip side, employees often complain that they don't know how well they're doing. They get little feedback about their work, and they don't know whether they're top performers, middle-of-the-roaders, or at the bottom. Without hard facts, employees use their powers of observation to figure out how they rate. Generally, most people imagine they're doing fairly well. In the absence of data, people also tend to believe that they aren't rewarded relative to their performance and that their less productive peers aren't reprimanded or disciplined appropriately.
At the Veterans Benefits Administration office in West Los Angeles, executive Stewart Liff provides his employees with monthly performance rankings. Employees can see how they compare on output, accuracy and meeting deadlines. Liff says the comparison makes employees understand that their bosses are going to hold them accountable, pushes performance up by pressuring the weakest employees to improve and shows them which skills they need to work on. Performance rankings also boost morale. "The top performers are no longer frustrated because low performers are not being dealt with," Liff writes in his new book, Seeing Is Believing (American Management Association, 2004). "This helps build credibility with all employees because everyone is treated equally and knows that performance will be measured by the numbers rather than by personalities."
Liff encourages managers to use easy-to-understand data, charts, graphics, posters and other visual art to help employees focus on their agencies' missions and boost their performance. Since his management techniques were featured in Government Executive in July 2002 ("You Can Manage Your Way Out"), Liff has found managers at schools, hospitals and other government agencies who share his belief that visuals can help drive better performance.
Liff also urges managers to carefully plan which information to present to employees and how to present it. Performance comparisons can be published anonymously, with a random number assigned to each employee. Information must be clear and easy to follow and posted where employees will see it.
To prevent unhealthy competition, performance data for work units and the entire organization should be posted, too, to help employees see that they are part of a team striving for an overarching goal. Present employees with a balanced set of measures so they won't focus on the wrong goal, such as putting quantity over quality. Regularly posting updated performance information will help managers steer clear of a common problem: the selective sharing of information only when it's good. "Visual management is all about working better, not about looking good," Liff says.
NEXT STORY: FAA anticipates end to massive job competition