It seems like such a simple concept – managers have employees, they set goals, monitor performance, manage sub-performance, and reward achievement. So why isn’t it easy?

When I speak with business owners and leaders, one of the top three challenges they raise is how to ensure performance is managed and rewarded effectively in their businesses. This is a common problem across all organisations and industries. When I sat down to think about why it’s so difficult, I came up with seven reasons. Let’s take a look.

1. The wrong managers

A lot of managers are promoted due to their technical expertise, but they’re not given the training and the tools required to manage people. Just because someone is really good at their area of expertise, whether that’s finance, IT, HR, or delivery, it doesn’t mean that they will make a great manager. 

‘Just because someone is really good at their area of expertise, it doesn’t mean that they will make a great manager.’ 

I invite you to reflect on your career. I’m fairly certain that most of you can picture somebody who was a fantastic technical expert but a terrible manager. 

We need to get better at knowing when to promote people, how to prepare them to manage others, and really consider what ongoing leadership development looks like, even for those who aren’t currently managing people. 

That’s how we can prepare people and perhaps also allow them to self-select out if they decide they are not people managers. That’s okay; we should allow that to happen.

2. The ‘I just don’t have the time’ excuse

This is often better phrased as, ‘I’m just not prioritising it’, because there may be some intentional procrastination going on. Or there could be a little of both, because it is hard to performance manage an under-performing employee. And it’s also hard to remember to reward performance as well. When we’re getting stuck into the day-to-day work, we’re not necessarily stopping to think, ‘I haven’t recognised that person for doing a good job’. 

But I don’t really accept the excuse of not having time. I think it’s more important to reflect on the questions ‘why aren’t you prioritising this?’ and ‘why are you procrastinating around it?’ There could be a number of different reasons, it could be: 

  • a skills issue. 
  • a cultural issue within the organisation – there is no culture of recognising or performance managing people. 
  • a lack of processes and systems in place to set goals effectively and monitor and manage them. 

When we’re getting stuck into the day-to-day work, we’re not necessarily stopping to think, “I haven’t recognised that person for doing a good job”.‘

3. Managers who don’t know how to manage

A key issue here is that you don’t know what you don’t know. Maybe you’ve become a manager, but you just don’t know how to manage someone’s performance. And perhaps you also don’t know how to give feedback and recognise people effectively.

This comes back to really focusing on communication skills and resources

  • How do you set goals? 
  • How do you have one-on-ones with your team members? 
  • How do you talk to them about what they’re motivated by? 
  • How do you ensure you’re recognising people effectively when they’re doing the right thing?
  • How do you ensure you’re managing performance when people aren’t doing the right thing?

That ‘how’ piece is really important within the organisation.

4. The wrong workplace culture

If other leaders do not model behaviours and there isn’t a culture of accountability, it is very difficult to be the only manager who manages effectively. If employees are not used to performance being monitored and managed, they may accuse managers of bullying. 

If you feel that something in your organisation is preventing people from managing performance and that people aren’t being recognised appropriately, it’s time to examine your culture.

  • Do we model good performance management? 
  • Do we give people the tools that they need to be able to do this?

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5. Lack of feedback

Feedback is the cornerstone of managing and rewarding performance – and it is a skill. Some people are naturally really good at feedback, but in my experience, most people need to practise this skill. 

Feedback is the cornerstone of managing and rewarding performance.’

Giving and receiving feedback should be part of your workplace culture. If people aren’t comfortable giving feedback – and they can be uncomfortable with giving both negative feedback and positive feedback – it’s really difficult to manage and reward performance.

6. Lack of support

You need to provide support and regular check-ins, and I don’t mean just for employees. You need to provide support to your managers. That means they need to have someone asking them: 

  • how’s your team doing? 
  • take me through each person in your team and how they are performing and behaving at the moment. 
  • when was the last time that you recognised your top performers? 

Without this sort of support, good management can slip through the cracks because people go back to saying ‘I have no time’. 

You can use internal or outsourced HR to discuss these issues with your managers, as well as each individual team member. A regular conversation when someone says:

  • Tell me about your team.  
  • How are they performing? 
  • What motivates them? 
  • What are they looking for next? 
  • Have you had a career discussion with them? 

These prompts can help coach and support managers in having conversations with their employees and in having confidence in managing and rewarding performance.

7. The difficult decision

This one really means, what happens if all of these things are in place and it’s still not happening? To me, this is about making a decision about whether the manager is right for the role. Maybe there’s a better role for them somewhere else in the business. 

I discuss this in more detail in my post How to Deal with Managers Who Don’t LIke the ‘People Stuff’. I’ve certainly come across many of these people in my career. Sometimes we have all the right mechanisms in place, including:

  • staff development
  • processes and systems
  • support and communication skills
  • feedback
  • great culture

Yet we still have managers that just don’t manage and reward performance well. Then it becomes a really difficult question about whether they should stay in the role of manager. Because managing and rewarding performance is a key component of being a manager.

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Could you improve the way you manage your managers? A great first step would be offering your managers a subscription to our live 1-hour monthly leadership masterclasses (request your free invite here to see if it’s right for you!).

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