Focus on Results, Not Behavior

Article excerpt

During the past 10 to 12 years, many companies have revised the annual employee performance appraisal (or review, or evaluation). They now use a performance-management concept. This system requires that supervisors plan an employee's performance and then provide updates on progress continuously throughout the performance year.

The premise of performance management is either for the process or the employee to improve. This premise is good but still misses the point. The approach is behavioral. It focuses attention on the person rather than the performance. These programs typically include an appraisal of such traits and behaviors as:

* Adaptability * Decision making * Initiative * Ability to communicate * Personal development.

Concentrating on such personal behavior can lead to clashes of personality, as the employee and the supervisor battle to see whose behavior will prevail. It can lead to personal attacks that put employees on the defensive and close communication lines.

Changing the system so that the emphasis is on the outcome of work, rather than the behavior leading to the outcome, can eliminate these problems. As management consultants, we suggest a system that we call Job Results Management. Using this system, the focus shifts from the employee's behavior to the results of the employee's behavior. It specifically avoids the issues of personality, personal behavior, behavioral criteria, competencies, traits or attitudes.

Focusing on results isn't a new idea. Many years ago, psychotherapists realized that trying to change a person's behavior by focusing directly on the behavior was difficult and time-consuming. Instead, they examined the objective results in the person's life, and then worked backward to uncover the events that produced those results. They found this to be more efficient and effective in helping change behavior. This approach, they discovered, avoided a defensive reaction that could inhibit change and close communication lines.

USE LANGUAGE THAT'S SPECIFIC AND OBJECTIVE. You first must make clear what you want the results to be. This starts with the job description. When communicating job duties to employees emphasize the result, rather than a particular behavior. For example, "Answer questions at the front desk" focuses on what the employee should do. On the other hand, "HELP CUSTOMERS by answering questions at the front desk" emphasizes the result expected from the behavior. (We use boldface and capital letters in job descriptions to emphasize the most important elements.)

This careful use of language is just as important in the performance appraisal. Look closely at this typical criteria statement: "Fails to complete preventive-maintenance requirements." According to this wording, the employee is the subject of the sentence and thus the source of the failure. It's possible that the employee had been unable to complete the preventive-maintenance requirements because:

* No time was scheduled for the maintenance to be done

* Management assigned a higher priority to other work assignments

* The employee never received the maintenance instruction manual

* The special tools needed to perform the maintenance had never arrived.

In each of these cases, the employee wasn't at fault. Most employees would become defensive if accused unjustly by criteria statements that blame them for the problem. Such statements accuse without allowing for explanation.

To avoid accusations and open communication lines, the criteria should focus on the result, not the employee's performance. "Fails to complete preventive-maintenance requirements" places blame on the employee. The manager should word the statement to read, "Vehicles aren't ready when needed." By focusing on the result. the supervisor often can discover the cause of a problem. The supervisor asks, "What happened?" This approach is less likely to trigger a defensive reaction than asking, "Why didn't you? …