Performance Management
When You Are Not In Charge

One of the best performance managers I've ever observed is a woman who has no responsibility to manage the people she manages.  Her name is Elizabeth.  She is a master at assessing the situations around her, what has to be done, and in motivating her co-workers (including her boss) to work together to accomplish the tasks at hand.  Yet Elizabeth has no formal "power" at all.  When could this kind of situation arise?  In the case I've mentioned, the organization is a start-up business, and Elizabeth is the office manager/secretary/jack-of-all-trades of the group.  From her vantage point, she interacts with everyone, and therefore sees situations from a wider perspective.  She is also tactful and considerate, yet ruthless in holding people to commitments they have made!

It actually is possible to manage the performance of others when you are not in charge, just like Elizabeth does.  A classic place where you see this phenomena in action is in volunteer organizations.  I've seen it in non-profits, in school organizations, in community theater, and even in the work-place.  What seems to be the common thread in managing performance in groups like this is a clear goal statement.  The non-profit workers may be committed to the cause they support.  Those working to support schools may have their own children's interests and the community needs in mind.  But what could motivate such a group inside a business to perform well?

I've observed another person who is masterful at managing performance without being in charge.  Don is a junior salaried employee in a large company.  He has a great sense of humor and quite good verbal skills.  Don is also honest, helpful, and well-liked.  He is NOT in charge of anyone, but has led his organization to the achievement of a very challenging certification for the site.  This accomplishment led not only to recognition within the company for the site, but to recognition within the industry as well.  The people Don recruited to work with him on this project were almost all senior to him, yet he was clearly the manager of the project and of the people working on the project.

Are you beginning to see a common thread?

In each of these cases, the leader has used a common goal to motivate performance.  Elizabeth continually referred back to the shared goals of the organization as she pushed people to meet their commitments, and therefore meet the goal.  Don also kept his team focused on the goal at hand.  He made sure they understood what a positive outcome such certification could have for the site and for the company in general.  Believe it or not, setting the goal and getting people behind that goal is the easy part of managing performance when you are not in charge.  The next steps are critical, and are not easy.

Let's assume the goal is well-known and adopted.  A great place to start next is to evaluate where the organization is now in regards to the goal.  This kind of process is sometimes called a "gap analysis."  In other words, if your goal it to decrease customer complaints by some degree, you need to figure out where you are now before you get started.  Avoid blame in this process.  Blaming others will only alienate them and could even sabotage your entire project with the resulting in-fighting.  Keep the discussion factual and not personal.  Consider the difference in these statements:

"We had 31 customer complaints in 2005 and 28 so far in 2006."

"The xxx department is responsible for 23 of the 28 complaints we had so far in 2006.  Not my department.  Theirs." 

While the second statement may be true, this is not the time to assess blame.  You are only stating facts at this point.  Once you know where you are today, think about where you want to be.  Perhaps information is available from sister sites or even industry survey data.  Use this factual information to set your group's goal.  Once the goal is in place, the goal itself will actually help you set performance expectations and figure out how to manage performance.

Working backwards from where you want to be is often a simple way to do performance planning.  If the goal is to reduce customer complaints by half, you first need to understand where the complaints are coming from.  A logical first assignment in this team would be to do an analysis to identify common themes in the complaints.  Talking through such logical steps in a group setting will make the necessary work obvious.  Your group can then develop a calendar and due dates for various parts of the project to be completed.

In Elizabeth's case, she actually maintained a punch list which was regularly emailed to team members and discussed in meetings.  Whether or not she was aware of the power of this tactic is unknown.  But she actually tapped into group expectations and peer pressure  and the pride each individual had in accomplishing his or her part of the project on time and under budget.

Finally, don't forget to celebrate your successes!  I worked with a group years ago to build a playground with donated materials and a lot of "sweat-equity."  When the playground was finished, we spray-painted some inexpensive hard-hats gold.  We also spray-painted several small trowels (miniature shovels) and adorned them with ribbons.  We had an actual ribbon-cutting ceremony, took pictures, and shared some snacks.  The "valuable" prizes were distributed with much fanfare and applause to those who had worked so hard on this project.  And these folks were ready to pitch in again when the same group decided to pave and light the parking lot.

A lot has been written in business books and texts about the origin of power as it relates to getting work done.  Obviously, if the president of the company directs that something be done, it will be done.  This is an example of the power of his position.  No commitment is necessary from the employee.  Just compliance.  There are also leaders who seem to get things done simply by the force and charm of their personalities.  People follow their leads because they want to, and sometimes official "power" is present, and sometimes it is not.  But perhaps the most challenging and interesting performance management examples are those in which people with no formal power lead by galvanizing their "workforce" behind a shared goal.  And there's some real power in that. 

Information is for educational and informational purposes only and is not be interpreted as financial or legal advice. This does not represent a recommendation to buy, sell, or hold any security. Please consult your financial advisor.