WORKSHOP PREP (approximately 15-20 minutes)
- Listen or read the episodes below
- Try a few of the Ask Lila prompts
- Performance leaders reframe performance and set higher performance standards
- They use team-based performance reviews, individual performance plans and performance interventions
- They focus on fundamentals, set process goals and develop contingency plans
- They implement feedback loops and accountability discussions
- They take a positive approach, avoid pressure tactics and master positive reinforcement
Don't confuse management with leadership
There’s a big difference between "performance management" and
Performance management includes communicating goals, documenting outcomes and rating performance. Your HR team lays out the process, you periodically execute prescribed steps, and it usually culminates with a performance review and a merit increase. It ends up being more of an administrative process.
Performance leadership is a much more engaged process. It's not periodic, it's day-to-day. It's what you do to help others perform to their full potential. It's the difference you make in someone else's performance.
Performance management and leadership are two overlapping and important responsibilities, but they're not the same and shouldn't be confused.
The first step to performance leadership is to reframe what "performance" means. Webster’s defines performance as “the execution of an action”, but most managers think of "performance" as an outcome.
Performance leaders focus on execution - not outcomes. Yes, outcomes are very important, but results are just another form of feedback.
Outcomes are lagging indicators of one’s actual performance, and when you focus on results, you’re taking a “wait and see” attitude. You’re not managing execution - you’re reacting to outcomes.
When you focus on execution, you’re proactively managing their outcomes - you’re not reacting to feedback.
The way you define performance explains your values, and when your team thinks of their performance as "execution" they'll better understand what's most important to you and how they'll be evaluated.
Eliminate The Illusion of Choice
To influence someone’s performance, you have to overcome their “illusion of choice”. It’s their misguided notion that they have more control over outcomes than they really do, and that leads to bad decisions.
Here’s how it works -
When people are under the illusion of choice, their decisions are based on their momentary thoughts and emotions, and they end up rationalizing their behavior based on their mood. That’s why they procrastinate, take short cuts, and avoid mundane tasks.
But here’s the truth -
Every goal has a formula for success. It’s made up of habits, routines and processes that are proven best practices. The fact is, if your people want to be successful, they don’t have a lot of choices. Success takes whatever it takes.
High-performers have something in common - their habits, routines and process supersede their momentary thoughts and emotions. There’s no illusion of choice! They know that to be successful, their options are very, very limited. There’s nothing to think about. They just do the work.
Raise your standards
If you want better results, you have to hold people to higher performance standards. But remember, “performance” isn’t an outcome. “Performance” refers to the execution that influence outcomes; and “standards” are how you measure and compare those behaviors.
Start with best practices, and focus on the habits, routines and processes that high-performers share. Then quantify and qualify the behavior so it can be compared with others. Now you have a performance standard. It’s that simple.
Better results come from better behaviors, so hold people to higher behavioral standards. An actor that wants more work, may have to increase the number of auditions they go on or the time they spend preparing for each audition.
Every performance plan needs to specify these behavioral standards. Without this, you’re promoting the illusion of choice. But remember - you can’t hold people to higher standards if they don’t know what those standards are!
Put everyone on a performance plan
In most companies, performance plans are reserved for under-performers, and that’s a mistake! Everybody on your team should be on a performance plan.
You’re doing people a disservice if you wait until there’s a problem. Many companies require a performance plan for employees you’re considering terminating. It’s a way of demonstrating that you’ve done all you could to help the employee succeed, but shouldn’t you do that with every employee?
Once you redefine performance and deal with the illusion of choice, a performance plan becomes their roadmap for success. It specifies the daily habits, routines and processes that work. You take all the guess-work out. Now you have something to hold everyone accountable for. You’re not reacting to under-performance, you’re engineering high-performance behaviors across the board.
This practice will not only improve everyone’s results, but it accelerates your ability to deal with under-performers.
Keep the plan simple
A good performance plan doesn’t need to be real complicated, so start small and keep it simple. The plan’s going to focus on fundamentals, goals and solutions. That’s it. Each fundamental will have a goal, and each goal will have a solution for when it gets challenged.
A fundamental is any behavior that’s so necessary and predictive of success that you can use it as a goal. These are called “process goals”. Weight loss is a common goal, but the fundamentals of diet and exercise are so necessary to the weight loss process that they become a goal.
But process goals like diet and exercise are often challenged by changing circumstances and factors outside your control. That’s why you need contingencies.
Think of contingencies as simple “if-then plans”. If this happens…then here’s what I’ll do.
All you need to start are 6 fundamentals, a goal for each and an if-then plan. Now you have a performance plan!
Implement Feedback Loops
To manage performance you must promote “feedback loops”. Feedback is often a 1-way dead end. That’s when a manager provides constructive criticism and focuses on the desired outcome, and it doesn’t work. The employee is told what they did wrong, and gets reminded that they’re falling short of expectations. It’s demotivating and counterproductive.
Feedback loops are collaborative, curious and open-minded; and they promote continuous learning and improvement.
A best practice is a form of feedback. When a high-performer shares an effective habit, that habit can be baked into the routines of co-workers. But don’t stop there. Feedback from the co-workers can be used to improve or modify the habit.
A positive feedback loop is multi-directional, it’s not 1-way or even 2-way. It’s the constant sharing of what’s working and what’s not working. That’s the highest value of feedback people can share, and when it’s ongoing, it’s running on a continuous loop. It becomes a part of your culture.
Weekly, team-based performance reviews
These meetings are a great way to codify feedback loops in a team setting.
People aren’t asked to share their results. They’re sharing their process.
The agenda is simple - each person shares something that’s either working or not working. If it’s working, the team can ask questions to learn more. If it’s not working, the team can offer solutions.
With practice, each participant can explain what’s working or not working in a 1-minute monologue. This forces everyone to reflect on their performance before the meeting.
The discussion that follows should be time-boxed to between 5 and 8 minutes. If the solution takes more time, ask for volunteers to study the challenge more deeply and report back to the group.
Every meeting recap looks the same. It’s a simple list of things to start, stop or keep doing.
Effective meetings have simple take-aways.
As the facilitator, emphasize the choices people are making. Point these out during the discussions and summarize them after.
Use accountability discussions
You hold people accountable for their “choices”. Performance is just the sum of their choices.
A good performance plan eliminates the illusion of choice. If someone wants to be successful, the path is pretty clear. They either do what’s proven to be successful, or they don’t. It’s a choice they have each and every day. And the choices come down to this - there’re are things you want to do, but know that you shouldn’t. And there are things you don’t want to do, but know you should. It’s no more complicated than that.
And a good accountability discussion focuses like a light beam on the choices people make. A good performance plan takes away all the excuses. It gives people ownership and control, and with that comes accountability.
You want to focus on their “why”. Why did they choose to do something they shouldn’t? Or why did they choose not to do something they knew they should?
There’s no need to beat people up. You just want to understand their “why”, or their “why not”. They own their choices. They’re accountable. And a good accountability discussion reminds them of that simple fact.
Hold performance interventions
A performance intervention is a structured 1-on-1 meeting with any employee that is not following their performance plan, so you can’t have a performance intervention without performance plan!
The intervention begins with 2-way feedback, an accountability discussion and coaching, because feedback without coaching is just criticism.
The intervention needs to reemphasize the fundamentals, process goals and contingency plans reflected in their performance plan. Throughout the intervention you should emphasize the choices within their control.
Under-performers deserve to know where they stand, what’s at stake, and what’s expected. They also deserve your honesty, openness and consistency.
They also deserve a written follow-up to the intervention. You have to be the note taker.
Avoid pressure tactics
You should avoid “pressure tactics” because they don’t work.
A “pressure situation” is when there’s a consequence tied to the outcome.
Pressure tactics - like false deadlines, unrealistic expectations and ultimatums are attention grabbers, but they become needless and harmful distractions that will adversely impact performance.
Performance doesn’t improve with pressure. In fact, pressure encourages people to cut corners and make bad choices.
When you revert to pressure tactics, you’re signaling to the people that “the ends justify the means”.
Pressure tactics signal to the person that they have to be better than they actually are, when you’re not asking for anything more than what the person is capable of doing.
In a high-performance culture, people will naturally feel pressure. It’s unavoidable. There are times when outcomes DO have consequences, but outcomes are a function of behaviors.
High behavioral standards, feedback loops and accountability discussions aren’t pressure tactics - they enable results by focusing on performance and NOT the consequences of negative outcomes.
High-performance cultures are built on hope, confidence, resilience and optimism - not pressure tactics or negativity.
When setbacks happen - and they always will - trust the process! Outcome goals can feel overwhelming, but daily and weekly PROCESS goals feel more obtainable.
When you focus on outcome goals, they become daily reminders of what HASN’T happened yet. People begin to focus on the uncontrollable’s and worse-case scenarios. Setbacks can seem insurmountable and people lose hope, confidence and optimism.
But a good performance plan and feedback loops give people hope and confidence. And accountability discussions give people a sense of agency and control.
If you trust the process, so will your people. Process goals provide daily opportunities for people to feel accomplishments and your consistent, high-standards are a vote of confidence you give your team.
Your people are always watching you! And any negativity is perceived as your doubt or uncertainty. So stay positive and focused around the daily grind, and your people will to!
Praise the effort & process (not the accomplishment)
We tend to praise accomplishments more than behaviors, and that’s a mistake. A sales person that closes a big deal, or child that brings home a great report card deserves praise, but the OBJECT of the praise matters.
If you say, “That’s a great report card! I’m proud of you!” Here’s what happens -
- First off, the “report card” can’t hear you! You’re praising an inanimate object and you’re wasting your breath.
- Worse yet, the child hears this, “Mom is happy because my results are good.”
You didn’t mean to, but you used a pressure tactic because your praise was conditioned on the accomplishment. Now the child feels added pressure to perform.
Instead of celebrating good grades, what if the parent said, “You’ve made some great choices! You’re managing your time better and studying more. I know it’s not easy, but all those extra credit assignments really paid off! I know how hard you worked. Your plan is working!”
A performance engineer uses praise to reinforce behaviors and effort. Remember - “performance” isn’t an outcome, it’s the habits, routines and process.
Avoid common performance traps
Complacency creates an illusion of choice where people think they can turn the high-performance switch on and off. When this happens, managers make things worse by offering incentives. It’s a common performance trap that doesn’t work.
An incentive rewards the employee who turned their performance switch off and demotivates those that kept their performance switch turned on. Incentives are well intended, but they actually promote this "on/off mentality".
Other common performance traps include
- Settling - choosing to “make do” with an under performer
- Mixed messages - the inconsistent application of performance standards
- Image - the fear of being perceived as a micro-manager
- Relationships - overly friendly personal relationships with staff
- Distractions - lost focus
- Recency bias - success leads to complacency
- Over medication - treating the performance pain instead of the problem
- Knee-jerk reactions - over reacting
The biggest performance trap of them all is “over-complication”, and performance traps add complexity. Every concession, short cut or quick-fix accrues as execution debt, that has to be accounted for at some point.
- Reframe performance with your team
- Put everyone on a performance plan
- Begin biweekly, team-based performance reviews
HOW TO USE LILA AS YOUR CO-PILOT
Sample prompts (just copy and paste into Lila)
- Draft an email that explains the difference between “performance” and “outcomes”. Use simple language and an analogy.
- Create a Performance Plan template that includes 6 fundamentals, a goal for each fundamental, and an if/then contingency for each fundamental.
- Draft an email for my entire team that explains what a "performance plan" is, why everyone on the team is going to be on a plan.
- Create a template I can use to provide monthly feedback to my employees. I want to highlight 3 behaviors that deserve positive reinforcement and 3 best practices I’d like them to consider.
- Draft an email that describes for my team the "team-based performance review" meeting and how they should prepare.
PERFORMANCE LEADERSHIP CHECKLIST
- Don't confuse "management" with "leadership"
- Reframe “performance”
- Eliminate the “illusion of choice”
- Raise your standards
- Put everyone on a performance plan
- Keep the plan simple
- Implement feedback loops
- Start bi-weekly, team-based performance reviews
- Use accountability discussions
- Hold performance interventions
- Avoid pressure tactics
- Stay positive!
- Praise the effort and process (not the accomplishment)
- Avoid common performance traps