The Psychology of Performance Management

By Hultman, Kenneth E. | Training & Development Journal, July 1988 | Go to article overview
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The Psychology of Performance Management

Hultman, Kenneth E., Training & Development Journal

The Psychology of Performance Management

Low performance levels, demotivation, and turnover are among the quickest drains on productivity and human resources, and they affect employees in too many organizations. Training managers who have a competent grasp of the psychology of employee performance and motivation can help identify the true causes of performance problems and increase the chances of solving individual problems before they affect the entire organization. The following case study, based on a real-life situation, illustrates the importance of being aware of performance psychology.

Setting the stage

As the new director of training and development at a mid-sized manufacturing company, Ed Kincade discovered within the first few weeks on the job that four of his key managers had weak people skills and substandard performance in their departments. All had competent managerial skills, but they also had a negative, "Theory X" view of management--a view that employees inherently avoid work responsibilities and must be "managed" well to perform well. The Theory X perspective affected the ways these managers managed their own departments as well as the ways they expected to be treated by their own bosses. In an attempt to improve the situation, Ed sent the four--Barbara Grant, Jack Thomas, Mark Sommers, and Nancy Riley--to an intensive workshop on developing interpersonal supervision skills.

Six months later, only Nancy remained with the company and was progressing toward improving motivation and performance levels in her department. The other three quit or were fired for inadequate performance shortly after the workshop. During exit interviews, Ed discovered too late that the negative ways Barbara, Jack, and Mark treated employees were only symptoms of deeper, undetected problems.

The inputs and outputs of


In any given situation, the performance of an individual is a function of at least four inputs: commitment, confidence, competence, and contingencies. Although other inputs may be involved, these four always are present. Performance outputs are expressed as feelings and behaviors that vary for each input and either encourage or discourage an individual's behavior. Because outputs result from inputs, labeling discouraging feelings and behaviors can help identify input problems. Performance deficiencies then can be corrected by altering inputs in ways that yield more encouraging feelings and behaviors. Figure 1 summarizes the inputs and outputs of performance.


During Barbara Grant's exit interview, Ed learned that even though Barbara enjoyed the pay and benefits, her heart hadn't been in the work for some time. The problem wasn't her people skills; she knew how to listen and be a supportive, effective manager. The problem was that Barbara's personal goals didn't relate to those of the organization. This difference interfered with the use of her best people skills and her willingness to handle issues that weren't personally challenging. She became impatient and abrasive. She avoided the larger issues in her department, choosing instead to bury herself in paperwork--and the internal divisions grew. Barbara finally realized during the workshop that she wasn't being fair to the company nor herself; she submitted her resignation the following week.

The root of Barbara's diminishing performance was a lack of commitment. She had the knowledge and skills necessary to do the work but lacked the desire to commit herself to the organization's goals. Commitment relates to values--personal beliefs about what is important in life. Values direct the process of choosing among alternatives, and they guide our every action whether we're aware of it or not. Thus, people strive to get ahead because they're ambitious; they buy life insurance because family security is important to them; and they tell the truth because they value honesty.

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