by Dennis Roberts

The end of the financial year is fast approaching and for many business owners it marks the time of year for an annual performance review. The effectiveness of your review process will largely be a function of how well you framed your expectations at the outset. The performance review has two parts – backward and forward. So, if you didn’t frame your expectations well last year then not to worry, lesson learned, you can now set and manage your expectations of the coming period.

I know most forward plans project twelve months ahead. The more strategic your outlook, the further forward your planning horizon. I suggest amidst great uncertainty that you set and measure quarterly performance measures. Small business, short focus. Prepare a 90 Day Plan. You can get quite specific with short term accountability.

The main reason I suggest short timeframes is to shorten the decision cycle. Quick, decisive reviews and action are the order of the day. Few small businesses are afforded the luxury of carrying stock, working capital, non-performing staff or overheads of any description.

The Review

Conduct a performance review of both your business and your staff. Prior to meeting for the staff performance review here’s a couple of suggestions.

1.     Set the context in terms of time period and scope. For example, say upfront that it is going to be an annual performance review covering 1st July, 2010 to 30th June, 2011. It is a performance review of how well you achieved the duties, measures outlined in your employment agreements, contract or whatever you have documented. The first rule of performance reviews is NO SURPRISES. If you, or they, spend much of the review discussing or debating items of feedback that haven’t previously been aired then you are not giving enough informal/ formal feedback ongoing. If this rings true, learn from it, and change your ways.

2.     Invite your staff member to conduct a self-assessment PRIOR to meeting with you. The questions that can prepare are “What worked/ didn’t work?”, “What did I do well/ not so well?”, “What were my major wins?”, “What should I keep doing, stop doing or improve?”

3.     Let them talk. If they have prepared answers to the questions above then once they have shared their view then, and only then, can you ADD to the discussion. You may have a different view, and that is OK, but let them hold the floor for a bit.

4.     Setting expectations. If someone’s performance hasn’t come up to scratch then state what you expect of them. Provide lots of specific examples. Give generous, objective feedback. Listen a lot. If they have done well, then be lavish in your praise. Remain objective and be specific. The best way to be specific is to give examples.

Pay performance or reward results?

Performance drives results. Performance is the CAUSE, whereas results are the EFFECT. There are two things that drive performance – skills and behaviour. In business measures think in terms of the following – lead generation is the performance driver. Sales revenue is the result. Obviously you want to get results but if you want to influence your ability to get results you will need to stimulate the performance drivers at the causal level.

If someone gets results but you don’t know how then it will make it extremely difficult for you to clone their success or build your business. 

by Dennis Roberts

by Dennis Roberts

Talent management – lessons from the thoroughbred world. Racehorse trainers & sporting coaches aim to maximise the potential of the athlete (human or equine) under their care. Critical to the success of a racehorse trainer is their ability to choose the right races for their horses to run. Placement is nearly as important as the trainer’s own ability to get the horse to perform. Why run a lowly class maiden with little ability in a highly prestigious and ultra-competitive weight-for-age race? It is little consolation to run last in a big race when you could be winning lesser races and earning respectable prize money.

What lessons on potential and performance might you take from the highly competitive world of horse racing?

Racehorse trainers place their horses in restricted races that they are capable of winning. They program their charges to win their way through the classes rather than throwing them in the deep end. This allows them to gain confidence and get an appetite for winning.

The training of racehorses seldom starts with an opening gambit that the horse has untapped potential. Races are graded and horses work (win) their way through their grades. The trainer must quickly assess the horses’ ability and place it to advantage.

Hong Kong is a great example where the entire thoroughbred population is imported. Horses are handicapped meticulously so that the racing is highly competitive amongst a small pool of bloodstock. The ability and performance threshold of each horse is known to the hundredth of a second.

Any stark performance improvement or failure on the racetrack is met with a rigorous stewards investigation. The integrity of the sport is paramount.

Do you know the capabilities of your staff? Is there a threshold on human performance, or should you subscribe to the theory that potential has no ceiling.

Things for you to do:

1.     Personal and professional development – encourage your staff to take ongoing responsibility for their own personal and professional development. Some activities will directly relate to their job function for which you may invest in whereas others may be personal which they fund themselves. This ongoing learning and development is crucial to staying ahead of the game.

2.     Set performance benchmarks – make an assessment of the ability and upside potential of all of your resources, not just your staff. Your resources include time, ideas, people, energy and money. The benchmarks may be internal or external. Start with comparing the same item period on period, eg monthly/ quarterly. Keep it short. Annual cycles are too slow.

3.     Energy levels – much of the focus has traditionally been time management whereas today the focus is on energy levels. Burnout, fatigue, working 24/7 mean that sustaining levels of high performance over long periods is dangerous and not advisable. People will burnout. When staff are on vacation it is critically important for them to recharge their batteries. Turn off the mobile and email at these crucial downtimes and you will prolong the lifespan of your people.

by Dennis Roberts

by Dennis Roberts

According to business analysts and commentators, our labour market displays chronic skills shortages. Human resource professionals channel much energy into strategies designed around attraction and retention of talent. The phrase "War on Talent" is freely bandied about.

The dynamics of the labour market are much more fluid and transient than they once were. The average lifespan of the CEO is under three years. So you could safely assume the majority of your employees will have a short tenure. The dynamic that is different within the small to medium enterprise sector is that the CEO is often Owner/Principal. There is a double bind – leaving the job role and selling the business often go hand in hand.

Rather than focusing your energy on retention strategies for your employees, you would be far better served going deeper into the employment dynamic and devoting your time, energy and financial investment into strategies designed to engage your staff in their work function.

At some point your talent will leave your employ, that much seems certain. It is a question of when. Even if you are lucky enough to retain talented employees for longer periods the engagement, development and productivity is still relevant.

Regardless of tenure, your challenge as leader is how get your employee to "bloom" in the short time they are employed by you.

There are two perspectives on talent. Some consider employees, or human capital, an asset and others consider employees to be an overhead cost. Marcus Buckingham suggests your people may play to their strengths as little as 20% of their time. If this is true, then you definitely have your people as an overhead. If it is not true, ie. people are an asset, then your asset is under-performing. You are CEO of the enterprise and may also be Director and Proprietor. In any one of these stewardship roles it is your responsibility to manage your assets and the associated returns they generate.

This area of people and performance represents one area of your business that you can achieve quantum improvement. Very few small business proprietors can claim mastery in the realm of people and performance.

Here are some quick and easy strategies to realise tangible benefits: 

Your people are assets – This is a great ideology from which to start. Assets may either appreciate or depreciate, and perform or not perform. Set performance expectations on a quarterly basis. The old annual performance review cycle is far too slow.

Offer to remove the clutter – Research suggests our people spend only 20%, or one day per week, doing tasks for which they have a genuine aptitude. For sure they are busy all the time. You can add real value and unearth strategies to engage and fulfil your staff by identifying roadblocks and helping remove them. In your informal discussions ask, "How can I help make your job more fulfilling, engaging and productive?"

Learning and development is an investment – The investment of your training dollar is either for remedial or developmental purposes. If it is remedial, it may highlight deficiencies in your recruitment practices. Remember the adage "hire slow, fire fast". When assessing any training/coaching programs for your staff, quantify the economic benefits. All investments yield a return on investment. What is yours?

by Dennis Roberts