Does jargon distract or disturb you? Staff performance is a complex subject. Maybe it's time to explain what we consultants mean when we use some common words in uncommon ways.
A Word Of Warning
This article isn't about definitions or arguments about meaning. Not every consultant will agree with what I say. But I hope that it will clarify some of our concepts. I'm not trying "to define my terms". I don't see much benefit in that. I am trying to explain what we mean when we use some common terms.
Performance and Behavior
Performance describes what people achieve.
Behavior describes how they act.
Dr Tom Gilbert says, "Performance is what you leave behind. Behavior is what you take with you."
Consider Michael Jordan. He was a fabulous basketball player, one of the all time greats. His performance – what he left behind – in basketball, speaks for itself. His record as a baseball player is far less impressive. His baseball record speaks for itself too.
But as both a basketballer and baseballer, his behavior was that of an individual named Michael Jordan. Apart from his achievements as a basketballer, I know very little about him. He achieved international fame through his performance at basketball: not because he was a man named Michael Jordan.
Concern yourself primarily with employee performance: the measurable, identifiable specific things that staff achieve. Trouble is, we sometimes confuse behavior and performance. We allow behaviors to skew our judgement. We may dislike and disapprove of behaviors. That's human. We may allow that skewed judgement to affect our view of performance. That's also human. We may even allow others' perceptions of the behavior of colleagues to interfere with our evaluation of performance. For a manager, all of that is really dumb.
Motivation describes what makes people do what they do: behave the way they behave. It is neither good nor bad. What's important is what the motivation leads to.
If "times are tough" in your business, you could be motivated to do various things: walk away, sell, downsize, "stick it out" or merge to name a few.
Wild generalizations abound about motivation. "He's motivated by power". "She's motivated by success." "They're motivated by money." These statements are based on judgements people make about behaviors they observe.
Don't take too much notice of them. These opinions may or may not be valid. They may be totally accurate or totally subjective. Remember everyone is "motivated" in some way. It's a manager's job to ensure employees are "motivated" to do what's best for the business.
Be careful not to confuse "hope" with "expectation". "Hope" describes what you'd like to happen. "Expectation" describes what you believe will happen. It's a powerful force.
If expectation is strong enough and large enough it creates its own momentum. The 1929 stock market crash is a perfect example. Most banks in the US were solvent. Bank customers believed that they weren't. They rushed to withdraw their money. The banks became insolvent when customers withdrew their funds. In 1914 various European governments were at each others' throats for a variety of reasons. Conflict was expected. The accidental assassination of the Archduke Ferdinand when his driver made a wrong turn merely provided the excuse to fulfill the expectation.
When expectation creates an event, we call it a Self Fulfilling Prophecy
Understanding the power of expectation is most important for a manager. As far as staff are concerned, you generally get what you expect. It will largely determine how you treat your staff, even though many managers don't understand just how powerful it is.
When I use the word "perception", I'm talking about "I see": not in a visual sense, but in the sense that my reaction to something creates a series of beliefs.
Let's say that a local dignitary or representative is charged with embezzlement. Your response to the accusation will be determined largely by your perception of the individual concerned. Based on your perceptions, you may say that you're objectively assessing the "facts". You may believe that you are. Chances are that you held an opinion about the individual – or others like he or she – before the accusations were laid. That perception will affect your judgement of the accusations. As with motivation, perception's neither good nor bad of itself. But it exists. Sometimes we're unwilling to admit how powerful it can be.
"Consequences" is a word used to describe what happens as a result of a prior event. Consequences are everywhere. Consequences are part of everyday life. You punch someone, they punch back or … they lean forward and kiss you. Both actions are consequences. Which you prefer is something to discuss elsewhere.
Consequences usually create problems for managers for one of three reasons
- They fail to consider them before acting
- They are different from those anticipated
- They are completely unexpected.
Performance expert, Geary Rummler says, "Consequences are often the key" to improving staff performance. Where employees are concerned always consider consequences before acting. And don't be surprised if the actual consequences are different to those you expected. That may occur because managers and employees have different perceptions .
This word describes the capacity to do something well. Notice the small word "well". You may be able to do something. Only when you do it well can you be described as "competent".
But there's a "catch".
Competence is only part of performance. You may employ the most competent salespeople, operators, technologists or whatever on the planet. Their competence doesn't necessarily mean that they'll use it for the benefit of your business. As manager, you must create the climate for them to use their competence for your advantage.
Managers may have difficulty coming to terms with this reality. Always remember: most "people problems" occur because employees "won't" do something rather then "can't" do something.
When discussing management, we use words in a special way. It's important to understand the precise meaning and the context in which the words are used.