Steps in Performance Management (Karen Moustafa Leonard Commentary)

by Karen Moustafa Leonard  on Monday, Jun. 10, 2013 12:00 am  

Karen Moustafa Leonard

Performance management is key to a successful business, but performance management doesn’t just happen, nor is it an easy process. The essence of performance management lies in a) knowing the details of what you wish your employees to do and b) evaluating how well they do it.

It sounds quick and easy, but the process is often dreaded by both the employee and the manager, and research indicates that it’s rarely done well. There are precise steps to follow, and if one is missed, performance management becomes painful and unreliable.

Current popular practice is to get as much information as you can from those for whom the employee is working and see what they all think: a 360-degree evaluation. These are excellent, but instructions often leave out the first steps to achieving that goal: job analysis.

Starting at the beginning of performance management means an analysis of what the position means to the company — in other words, how the actions of the individual in the position affect the bottom line of the business. If there’s no effect on the bottom line, then the position may not be needed. If the actions do affect the bottom line, then they need to be specifically identified to allow accurate measurement of performance.

Developing the job description is the second step. But job descriptions are often poorly written, becoming a mishmash of items, something like a wish list. A clear job analysis allows creation of the three-column job description.

The first column is a general description of the area covered (budget, human resource management, customer service, for example). The second specifies what the job contributes to the bottom line of the company — “creates a budget” or “analyzes costs and revenue for department.” Active words are used. The third column is the measurement column and answers this question: What does success look like for this item? “Creating a budget on time” can be one measure.

By creating a successful job description, the job of evaluating performance becomes clearer, but a final consideration in performance management is sometimes missed: What does the person need to be successful in the job?

Up to this point, the discussion centered on areas that the manager needed to examine and write. Here, however, the individual and the environment of the job are considered. Because hiring is expensive, considering what resources are needed to be successful is crucial. If the position requires particular knowledge, skills and abilities, choosing someone with those attributes can be simpler once what constitutes success has been defined.

However, not all success is individually determined. Success usually requires resources from the company. If not provided, the most able person won’t perform well. For example, if time or the appropriate equipment is lacking, success will be elusive. In these cases, most people seeking success will leave the company, taking their knowledge with them.

A printing firm provides one example. Equipment operators there struggled with ink running after the printing because the building was too hot. Orders often had to be redone. A simple air-conditioning system would have saved the company a great deal of money and improved performance, but the managers saw it as pandering to their employees and valuable resources were wasted.

Performance management shouldn’t be painful, but it shouldn’t be a surprise. Continual evaluation keeps the end result from being a surprise. Many of the people who are laid off in initial downsizings are those who should have been fired in the first place, as managers avoid disciplinary processes.

With correct and continual performance management, employees know whether they can do the job and be successful before they start. If they overestimate their abilities (and many do), managers can use the performance evaluation mechanisms to identify the problems, whether training, effort or motivation. n

Karen Moustafa Leonard is professor and chair of management in the College of Business at University of Arkansas at Little Rock. Her research centers on organizational behavior, including dysfunctional behaviors, accountability, cross-cultural management and time orientation in organizations. Email her at



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