The subtle (or not so subtle) differences between ‘managing performance’ and ‘performance management’

Paul Slezak
Leading People

It’s not uncommon for leaders to become somewhat fixated on poor performance or, perhaps even more so, on poor performers within a business. That’s not to say that it isn’t important to be aware of where the business or a particular individual might be falling short. Of course, it is. However, if as a manager, you are forever ‘ambulance chasing’ or firefighting (with absolutely no disrespect here to our colleagues in emergency services), then you might in fact be missing out on opportunities to further develop your strong performers to achieve even more. You may even find yourself losing sight of the bigger picture, vision and strategy. 

I remember attending a CEO summit a few years ago and something that one of the keynote speakers mentioned really resonated with me. She was the CEO of a Silicon Valley based biotech company, and she reinforced how important it is for a leader to “build and manage for the 99%”. She then went on to explain that there is always something small going wrong in every business (she referred to this as the 1%) and that if you spend too much time obsessing over it, you’ll forget to keep tabs on what’s going well. In doing so, you may fail to notice cracks appearing which could lead to far bigger problems down the road than “the 1%” consuming you. 

This is why we’ve chosen to put the spotlight on ‘managing performance’ in this post as opposed to adding to the plethora of content available out there on ‘performance management’.

So even if you’re a firm believer in PMPs (performance management plans) or, as I did when I was responsible for several large teams, you believe in the philosophy of ‘rehabilitate or terminate’, you could still view this as a bit of a refresher in how to facilitate authentic development outcomes and how to best prevent roadblocks from getting in the way of your team achieving its goals. 

As a leader, when it comes to managing performance, it’s your responsibility to ensure that all your team members have clearly defined roles and objectives.

There should be no uncertainty at all within the group – i.e. each individual team member should know exactly what their colleagues are doing and can confidently articulate this to others. This should help prevent any grey areas. 

Remember that for the most part, your employees (particularly your top performers) don’t actually want to be managed. They really just want to be motivated. So whenever possible, try to avoid placing blame, providing answers, directing (from ‘on high’), criticising, and demanding results. Instead, give them accountability, ask for solutions, coach, encourage, empower, and inspire performance. 

If you don’t motivate and empower, your team members might become disengaged and resentful. Sure, sometimes it’s easier to just do something yourself, but at the same time being a control freak won’t win you any brownie points either. Of course, there’s a fine line between not wanting to relinquish control and worrying that perhaps your people might think you’re only asking them to do something because you can't be bothered doing it yourself. 

As a leader, empowerment certainly doesn’t mean washing your hands of any accountability. You still need to be able to support your people and be there should any issues arise. But when your team members realise that you trust them enough to empower them, it will boost their motivation levels (and respect for you) immensely. 

Don’t forget there will usually be a gap between an individual employee’s motivations and your motivations. As their leader, you have the task of bridging the gap and balancing their goals and the needs of the broader business.  

This is managing performance in action. 

Your focus should also be on creating a mutual awareness. Whilst you may have a team of ambitious employees, do they know what lies ahead in terms of potential career progression? If they are seeing progress in their career, as their leader are you also seeing the same progress? Are you measuring their success based on the same criteria by which they might be measuring their own success? 

Part of managing employee performance involves truly understanding what makes them tick and what makes them want to work in the job they’ve got and showing them that you are genuinely interested in their career, their professional development, and their well-being. More frequent discussions around goal setting, feedback, and career aspirations can actually transform performance. 

You might want a group of highly motivated and driven employees and a hard-working, harmonious team of individuals who genuinely want to be there. But when did you last ask them what they want? Aside from the dollars, you’ll probably find they want respect along with transparent, authentic leadership (from you). 

Your team is your most important resource, and their individual productivity, efficiency, and achievements are essential to the growth and success of your business.

Managing their performance should ideally involve spontaneous recognition for their contribution, inspiring their loyalty and dedication, along with support and encouragement as opposed to scare tactics. 

There is a strong correlation between levels of individual and team motivation (and morale) and employee engagement – the level of emotional connection your employees feel toward the organisation. When employees feel valued, their commitment and enthusiasm for their job grows and this, in turn, increases productivity and performance (and also reduces turnover). 

In order to make the most of out of managing the performance of your employees, as a leader you also need to understand your individual employees’ work styles as well as how they like to be recognised. You also need to be comfortable enough to ask them what they like as well as what they may dislike about your management style. At the same time, remember who you are to them – not just the boss. More often than not you are also the counsellor, advisor, sounding board, and confidant. 

Managing performance is about focusing on your team members while also focusing on the broader organisation. Focusing on your team members will help you create a culture of awareness and reflection. Focusing on the organisation as a whole will help you innovate and think more strategically. 

As a leader, please don’t confuse managing performance with performance management. When managing the performance of your employees, operate transparently, be authentic, remain humble, and establish solid relationships with your people. Whenever possible display empathy, communicate clearly, set expectations and delegate and empower effectively. Lead by example, provide honest feedback, ask for honest feedback, motivate your people and stay motivated yourself. But at the same time ensure that nobody burns out – neither you nor your most precious resource. 

Hellomonday helps individuals to thrive and organisations to flourish – providing coaching and support to leaders at all levels; prioritising development initiatives that result in long-term sustained learning and change; and reinforcing habits through curated learning and impactful coaching.