IFSJ Exclusive: Managing the Performance of Individuals

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By Phil Martin – former ACFO at Cornwall Fire and Rescue Service and fire consultant

The move to a supervisory position brings new opportunities and responsibilities. Of the new responsibilities, managing the performance of individuals and teams is perhaps one of the most daunting and challenging but in equal measure it is one of the most important and potentially most rewarding elements of leadership and management.

The following model offers a simple approach to managing an individual’s performance. It offers a means for identifying and dealing with poor performance and equally as importantly, to highlight good performance.

Individuals who are supported, clear about what is expected of them and effectively led are generally well motivated. Where an individual’s performance is effectively monitored, action to understand and manage below standard behaviours and actions will enable a manager to support and resolve issues swiftly.

A failure to address poor performance is unfair on both those who under perform and may not be aware of it and on those who work hard to achieve required standards.

Above standard performance can be easily overlooked by a manager but shouldn’t be. Identifying, understanding and acknowledging above standard performance can raise morale and help to develop both the individual and the team.

An important aspect of managing performance that must be understood is that for some individuals below standard performance may be a way of operating that has gone unchallenged for some time. As a new manager inheriting longer-term below standard performance may seem difficult and formidable but the investment in time and effort is likely to bring significant rewards for the individual, the manager, the team and the organisation.

As an illustration, this model consists of three areas which represent baseline performance, above standard performance and below standard performance.

Above Standard Performance – The area above the baseline will represent performance that is exceeding a minimum acceptable standard. The area illustrated as above standard performance will reflect a range of performance.

Baseline Performance – Baseline performance is the minimum acceptable standard expected of an individual. This may be determined by organisational, contractual, legal or vocational standards. The rationale and purpose of baseline standards must be clear, realistic and achievable. They should be easy for the manager to explain and for staff to understand.

Below Standard Performance – The area below the baseline will represent performance that is not meeting a minimum acceptable standard. This area will again reflect a range of below standard performance.

Using the Model

In an ideal world everyone would operate to a standard that is at least at or above baseline performance, as organisations this will be a requirement of the individual and there will those who are content to operate at this level at all times.

In addition to this there will be individuals who through their own efforts or experience consistently perform at a level above the baseline. It is all too easy to accept this without recognition which can cause leaders to inadvertently undervalue the efforts of individuals.

In managing performance the critical area that needs constant monitoring and urgent action is in the area of below standard performance, this will have a negative impact on the individual, the team and organisation. Individuals who performance falls below the standard required will cause a disproportionate drain on a manager’s time.

Identifying Below Standard Performance

Where we identify someone whose performance falls below the baseline we need to ask why?

There could be a number of reasons for underperformance including a misunderstanding of expectations, not being appropriately equipped or trained, a physical or medical barrier, a personal lack of effort or a blatant disregard of the need to meet the required standard of performance.

Underperformance needs to be addressed urgently and honestly. For some it may feel uncomfortable but it is a critical responsibility of any manager or leader.

Managing Below Standard Performance

When below standard performance is identified it is essential that a manager takes swift and appropriate action with discretion.

The key steps in addressing below standard performance will be:

  • Clearly state the shortfall in performance
  • Ask and discuss the shortfall, ask ‘why?’
  • Be clear about the expected standard of performance and discuss how this can be achieved.
  • Set goals using baseline performance standards; discuss any support that may be needed and state review periods
  • Record discussions, expectations and measures
  • Monitor and review

Where an individual has prolonged below standard performance which is not isolated and crosses a number of areas the key steps will remain the same, but manager will need to break down the areas of underperformance and to identify each occasion or activity and develop an improvement plan accordingly.

Identifying Above Standard Performance

Recognising above standard performance and providing feedback to individuals is an opportunity too easily missed by managers. Failing to acknowledge positive performance can demotivate individuals and teams and devalue baseline standards.

Acknowledging good performance provides managers with positive opportunities to exercise the potential of individuals and to develop both them and the teams they work in by capturing and reinforcing good practice.

In my senior years and roles, the challenges and complexities of managing performance evolved and I have been fortunate to have completed a wide range of leadership and development courses and qualifications. In this article I distilled my training and experience gained over 40 years of managing and being managed into a simple model which has both served me well and has been well received by those I have shared it with.

This exclusive article was originally published in the May 2023 issue of International Fire & Safety Journal. To read your FREE digital copy, click here.

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