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Let’s sort out poor performance, Part 1: Infrastructure

Happily, few organisations retain the ‘forced ranking’ system that classifies a fixed proportion of the staff as poor performers at the end of each year and then, as Jack Welch advocated at General Electric, manages them out of the business – or just fires them  A business I once worked for did this and it was as brutal as it was stupid.

Poor Performance

This isn’t to make a naive suggestion that there are no poor performers, nor that we should tolerate poor performance.  We need to identify and handle under-performance at the first sign.  Of course, prevention is better than cure, as we looked at what the positive tools are for performance management a while ago (What is Performance Management?) and also at the reasons for poor performance (The root of the issue).

But what can you do to deal with the poor performance you discover?  In a series of three blogs, we will examine:

  1. The infrastructure you will need
  2. The techniques to turn poor performance around
  3. What to do if you cannot turn the poor performance around

The Infrastructure for dealing with poor performance

A good organisation – and a strong management team – will recognise the reality of poor performance and proactively develop the elements it needs to engage positively with poor performers and manage their performance to turn it around.  Here is my checklist of the assets your organisation will need.

A performance management policy
… so that everyone knows the answer to ‘what next?’

Up to date and clear job descriptions
… to measure performance against

Robust performance monitoring processes
… so that managers have early indications of under-performance and a strong evidence base that allow them to identify and tackle issues early and firmly

A recruitment process (and all that involves)
… to maximise your chances of recruiting the right people and minimising your need for managing poor performance

Training in performance management
… because tools, techniques, policies and procedures are no good unless managers know how to use them

Coaching skills among line managers
… because coaching is one of the best tools for dealing with poor performance

Support mechanisms
… for the managers conducting performance management, who are likely to find it mentally and emotionally challenging and stressful

A disciplinary policy
… in case performance management does not succeed

Management Pocketbooks you might enjoy

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The Management Pocketblog 100 Day Challenge

Thursday is Learning at Work Day

National Learning at Work Day, 2012To celebrate National Learning at Work Day, The Pocketblog and Management Pocketbooks have created an innovative learning challenge, which we believe can transform your management skills spectacularly.  Whether you are just starting in a new management role, or want to create a new start to the way you manage, we throw down to you the “Management Pocketbooks 100 Day Challenge”.

They say that a new manager has 100 days
to make her or his mark

I suspect that, in today’s pressured environment, the need to perform and produce has shortened that 100 days down – in some cases to 100 hours.

So, if you cannot hit the managerial tarmac at full sprint, you do at least have to be able to jog along at a comfortable pace, leaving you to master the details and subtleties of your new role in parallel with doing the job.

It is rather like trying to take apart and examine the inner workings of your car, while you are cruising along the nearside lane of a dual carriageway.  You’ll want to overtake soon – just as as soon as you understand how the accelerator works.


If you are determined to be a success, and do more than just cope, you’ll need some pretty fast learning.  100 days: 14 weeks (and two days).  The Management Pocketblog has the perfect solution…

The Management Pocketblog 100 Day Challenge

We think that Management Pocketbooks are the perfect pocket-size format to easily read and digest a book a week.  Each one takes around two hours to read carefully, and compresses a huge wealth of management information, insight, guidance and wisdom into bite-sized chunks.

But to make it work; to make your learning experience really powerful, you have to do more than read 13 books, you need to take the challenge.  After each book, you must:

  1. Reflect on your learning
  2. Commit to putting it into action

The reward is this: if you complete the challenge properly, we guarantee that you will have implemented 13 high value changes to your management or professional practice.

To help you, we have designed The Management Pocketblog 100 Day Challenge workbook, that you can download, for free, here.
Just click on the button below.

Download the 100 Day Challenge workbook

Beware: this challenge is for the serious people
who really want to make a difference.

Special Offer

We are offering you the full set of 13 books (of your choice) at a special price. Go to this page on our website and enter the code CHALL (case-sensitive) to claim the offer price.

Each book will now cost just £6.00, plus £6.00 in total for delivery.
At £84.00 total, you are getting over 15% discount on our normal price – which already includes our standard 10% discount –  of £99.48.

Please note that a small number of titles are currently out of print, and that this offer is limited to print copies.
Ebook editions are at the permanently discounted price of £6.96 (£5.80 plus VAT) and, of course, have no delivery costs.

Tell us how you get on…

We really hope that some of you will take the challenge.

If you do – or if you have other plans to boost your learning –
please tell us about what you are doing for Learning at Work Day,
using the comments below.

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What matters today, in Business and Management?

Two weeks ago, we published a blog about the Sage of Omaha, Warren Buffett, and The Management Pocketblog had one of our best weeks ever in terms of readers.

Time Magazine 2012 100 Most Influential People in the WorldCuriously, in the same week (our blogs are usually written one to two weeks ahead), Time Magazine published their 2012 special edition: ‘The 100 Most Influential People in the World’.  Warren Buffett is there (on page 71) with an appreciation written by… President Obama!

The quality of many of their nominations is attested by the quality of the people who have written about them – often far better known, than their subjects.  So I thought it an informative exercise to trawl the articles in the section headed ‘Moguls’ for indications of what passes for influential, these days.

Please note, that I don’t endorse the individuals, nor attest to their doing what is claimed of them.  I merely note that what is claimed of them as an important achievement tells us something of what is valued in business and management today.

1: See the way the world is going

The Facebook COO, Sheryl Sandberg is praised for her understanding of the impact of social media on society.  Like it or loathe it, that has to be correct: how can you pretend to any credibility in a senior role without at least engaging with the discussions and understanding the beast?

2: A Commitment to the Arts

Both Chen Lihua, philanthropist and owner of Fu Wah International Group, and Walmart heir, Alice Walton, are praised as collectors and patrons of the arts.  We aren’t all that fortunate that we can give away fortunes to pursue these passions but, while we live in societies with freely or cheaply available national and local galleries and museums, we have no excuse for not broadening our perspectives with a deeper appreciation of the beauty and insights of other cultures and our own.

3: Do it with Grace

Daniel Ek founded Spotify. If that name means nothing but you do enjoy music, then you need to take a look.  He is praised for ‘doing what he loves, doing it well and giving away all the credit.’  Wow!  That would make an epitaph I’d be proud of.  Having studied many people that the world considers wise, these are all components of a commonly-recurring philosophy.

4: Contribution

The new CEO of IBM is, for the first time, a woman: Virginia Rommety.  She is praised as an advocate of corporate responsibility – particularly in the fields of education, job creation and small local businesses.  What do you do or advocate for within your organisation that gives it a more robust place in its community?

5: Faith in yourself

Sara Blakely is a billionaire who founded an underwear business with $5,000.  No one had the confidence to invest in her business, but she trusted her gut: or should I say ‘she trusted her judgement about America’s attitudes to their guts’?

6: Discipline and Calm

The cult of personality and the tyrant-leader are powerful clichés, but I doubt either can deliver powerful results – at least, not sustainably.  New Apple CEO Tim Cook is praised for his calmness, his thoughtfulness, his ethical behaviour and his personal discipline.  Score 1 point for wisdom

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Ten Ways to Love your Staff and Get Engaged


It’s 14 February and we’re all feeling pretty romantic here at Management Pocketbooks.  So let’s take a look at the way managers and employers can really love their staff

. . . without stepping over that line.

10 C’s of Employee Engagement

In their short 2006 paper in the Ivey Business Journal, University of Western Ontario researchers Dan Crim and Gerard Seijts go all alliterative on us with their ‘Ten C’s of Employee Engagement’. (Their apostrophe – not mine).

The original article bears a copyright notice forbidding posting it – but allowing individual downloads, so you will have to go searching for it yourself: it isn’t hard to find.

To summarise their ten ways:

  1. Connect
    Talk to your staff, get to know them, find out what they like, what’s important to them and what they are good at.
  2. Career
    Give your staff opportunities to develop a meaningful career.
  3. Clarity
    People need a purpose and a plan.  Give them a clear sense of what they are working for and what you expect of them.
  4. Convey
    Create two-way processes that allow you to convey ideas, inspiration and information to your staff and them to convey their feedback to you.
  5. Congratulate
    Celebrate successes by recognising them and congratulating the perpetrators at team and individual level.
  6. Contribute
    A sense that we can contribute and that our work matters to society is important to people.  Let them know how this happens.
  7. Control
    When we don’t feel in control, we get stressed.  Give as much control as you can to your people – and often more than you dare.  In return, they’ll give you their insight and commitment.
  8. Collaborate
    People like to work together, in teams, with shared aims.  Create an environment that allows and encourages it.
  9. Credibility
    You and your organisation must maintain the highest standards of integrity, so that people can be proud to be associated with you.
  10. Confidence
    High ethics instil confidence, which drives up performance standards.

Management Pocketbooks you might Enjoy

You might also enjoy my extended article ‘Resistance to Engagement’ based on The Handling Resistance Pocketbook.

. . . With lots of love

Management Pocketblog


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Manager to Leader: Warren Bennis (Part 2)

Last week we started to look at the work of leadership expert Warren Bennis.  Let’s look deeper.

Bennis had a career in Management

Not only did Bennis lead men in the second world war, but after his studies, he took on a succession of senior academic administration roles, between 1967 and 1979.  Here he tried to put the ideas of Douglas McGregor to good use, and here, he started thinking about the nature of leadership.

However, it was when he returned to academic research, that he started to become a true leader.  His keystone work is ‘Leaders: The Strategies for Taking Charge’ and I relish an irony at the core of this book.

Managers and Leaders

In response to a Harvard Business Review article by Abraham Zaleznik in 1977, Bennis articulated his famous set of comparisons between a manager and a leader:


So it seems to me to be delicious that, in articulating the four common abilities of a leader, from their research into 90  US leaders from all areas of endeavour, Bennis and co-author Burt Nanus expressed them in terms of management.

4 x Management = Leadership

The four strategies that Bennis and Nanus articulated are each about superb management of themselves, in essential arenas of the leader’s domain.  They do not set this up as a prescriptive model of leadership, but as a descriptive model of how real, successful leaders act.

Strategy 1: Attention through Vision

Leaders can manage their attention and the attention of followers by articulating an engaging vision of the future state of their organisation.  They must also find a way of getting followers to start to treat that vision as their own.

Strategy 2: Meaning through Communication

Leaders manage the meaning of their message by using vivid imagery and salient metaphors to create deep understanding and resonance that leads to real hope and trust.

Strategy 3: Trust through Positioning

Building and managing trust requires effective action that aligns with the vision you have set out.  Leaders can position their organisation in any of four ways:

  1. Reacting to external changes
  2. Changing the organisation itself to lead external change
  3. Changing the organisation’s external environment to create change
  4. Create new links between the organisation and its environment
Strategy 4: The Deployment of Self

Constant learning and relationship building establishes permanent leadership traits within you, giving you the confidence and experience to take risks and to trust followers.  This enables you to manage your own self-confidence and emotional states, leading you to be seen as stable, adept, and reliable.

So here is the deal

Leadership and Management are deeply intertwined.  To understand and excel at one, we must equally understand the other.

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R.I.P. Corporate Clone: Arise Insightful Executive

This is the third in my Triptych of blogs about the work of Peter Drucker.  The first two were about Drucker, himself, and about Management by Objectives.  This one is about another concept he started to develop in his 1954 book,The Practice of Management.

The Man who Invented Management

Management by Objectives

The Knowledge Worker

Drucker first coined this term in his 1959 book, Landmarks of Tomorrow, saying that:

‘management’s new role is to
make knowledge more productive’

In his earlier book, however, he had started to see the manager’s role as understanding, interpreting and making decisions about the information they can access.

But it was two later works that crystallised his thinking and made him the clear progenitor of how we now interpret the term.

The Effective Executive (1966)

In The Effective Executive, Drucker argues that knowledge workers are executive in that they use knowledge to effect (or execute) changes.  He identifies five habits of an effective executive and, in passing, I note that he used the chapter title ‘First things First’ 23 years before Stephen Covey did, when he used it as one of his seven habits.  Executives must:

  1. know how their time is being spent.
  2. on results rather than the work.
  3. build on strengths first, and then give attention to weaknesses.
  4. focus on the key areas where superior performance will produce outstanding results.
  5. make effective decisions.

The Age of Discontinuity (1969)

Peter F DruckerThe Age of Discontinuity’ is the book where Drucker really develops the concept of the knowledge worker, as a breed of thoughtful, intelligent executive, every bit as much a professional as a lawyer, engineer or teacher.  They are paid to acquire and apply knowledge, make informed judgements and take responsibility for leadership.

Dull, conforming corporate clones would thenceforth be no longer needed.  Instead, knowledge will be the source of economic power – all of which came 20 years before Sir Tim Berners-Lee made his first formal proposal for what is now the World-wide Web.

Subsequent Thinking

From the early 1990s, management thinkers and futurists seized upon the concept of the knowledge worker and have spun theories, models and predictions out of it.  Indeed, this coincided with the arrival of Generation X in the workplace.  Drucker too, continued writing about the phenomenon, notably in his 1992 book, ‘Managing for the Future’;

‘The world is becoming not labour intensive,
not materials intensive, not energy intensive,
but knowledge intensive.’

We may feel energy and materials intensive in a world that seems to be running out of each, but despite being far from running out of knowledge (take a look at the fantastic web info-graphic below) there is absolutely no doubt that the world is becoming more and more knowledge intensive.

State of the Internet 2011
Created by:

Management Pocketbooks you might Enjoy

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Peter Drucker: Management by Objectives

Last week, we looked at the profound influence Peter Drucker had on management.  This week, let’s look at one of his biggest contributions: Management by Objectives (MBO).

Drucker’s biographer asserts that he first heard the term while studying practices at General Motors, during the Second World War.  It certainly seems like a concept that an engineer like GM’s CEO, Alfred Sloane, would have favoured.  Indeed, in more modern times, MBO has been a main stay of corporations like the much-admired Hewlett Packard.  One of its founders, Bill Packard, said of MBO:

‘No operating policy has contributed more to Hewlett-Packard’s success ‘

He went on to describe it as ‘the antithesis of management by control. The latter refers to a tightly controlled system of management of the military type [while] Management by objectives, on the other hand, refers to a system in which overall objectives are clearly stated and agreed upon, and which gives people the flexibility to work toward those goals in ways they determine best for their own areas of responsibility.’

The MBO Cycle


Management by Objectives is often represented as a cycle with five stages:

  1. Review the organisational context.  This is often seen as the weak point of MBO, as this is sometimes poorly understood.  Drucker, himself, has said: ‘Management by objectives works if you know the objectives: 90% of the time you don’t.’
  2. Reflect the organisation’s objectives in those you set to your team members.  Within the context of the objectives they are set, staff become self-directing, hence Packard’s distinction between MBO and control.
  3. Monitor people’s performance against the objectives you have set, and give regular, effective feedback.  Ideally, provide rapid feedback mechanisms, so that each staff member can assess their performance constantly.
  4. Assess performance against objectives, and then be sure to…
  5. Recognise and reward good performance.

‘What gets Measured, gets Managed’

This is another critique of MBO: if you measure the wrong thing, people will manage their performance to achieve it.  Drucker, as ever, was more subtle than simple descriptions of his ideas suggest and so was ahead of us here.  He noted that employees need four powers to do their jobs well:

  1. the freedom to challenge everything
  2. regular training and development
  3. the ability to achieve the objectives they are set, and see the results
  4. understanding of their organisation’s real purpose
This last means that managers and employees can set objectives that lead to the right behaviours being measured – and hence managed and delivered.

The Practice of Management

In last week’s blog, I laudedThe Practice of Management’.  It was the visionary book that kick-started the management book industry.  In it, Peter Drucker identified seven tasks for the manager of tomorrow (writing in 1954).  They all seem very much of the now, except, perhaps, one, which seems a little… pedestrian: ‘manage by objectives’.

Despite its critiques and detractors, maybe we should listen to the man who also advocated, over 50 years ago, in the same book, that we:

  • devolve risk-taking and decision-making down our organisations
  • prioritise strategic thinking
  • integrate teams of diverse members
  • motivate employees, gain their commitment and participation (‘engage’ them) with quick, clear communication
  • see your organisation as a whole
  • see your organisation and its activities in a wide perspective of society

Not a Management Pocketbook

Peter Drucker, 1909-2005I have found Robert Heller’s book on Peter Drucker to be excellent and recommend it to all Pocketblog readers.

For an introduction to Drucker’s thinking, how about The Essential Drucker, and for daily inspiration, how about The Daily Drucker?

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Does Management Performance Increase Profits?

The correlation between management performance and organisational performance is taken as an article of faith in many quarters – not least in the training and development industry.

Management Pocketbooks has a vested interest here, too.  If Pocketbook readers did not believe that reading the books and learning about management would improve their management skills and that this would improve their organisation’s performance, then Pocketbooks would become redundant.

Investors in People

Another organisation with a vested interest is the UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES).  This is a non-departmental public body (NDPB) that describes its mission as being to ‘raise skill levels and drive investment, enterprise, jobs and growth.’

One of the tools they have to achieve this is the Investors in People (IiP) standard.  This is designed to improve business performance – but does it?  Like most external standards, achieving IiP accreditation is a costly and time-consuming process.

Research Evidence

Prof Mike Bourne
Prof Mike Bourne (LinkedIn)

So IiP commissioned Cranfield University Researcher Professor Mike Bourne to discover whether IiP accreditation really does return a value to businesses that invest.

To do this, Professor Bourne and his team considered two questions:



  1. The relationship between IiP accreditation and management performance
  2. The relationship between IiP accreditation and business performance

What the team found was this:

  1. IiP improves managerial performance
  2. IiP improves the financial performance of the sponsoring firm

You can review all of the evidence in the January 2010 paper, ‘Investors in People, Managerial Capabilities and Performance’ by Professor Mike Bourne and Dr Monica Franco-Santos.  Note that this academic paper is published by Cranfield University, and not in a peer-reviewed academic journal.  So too is an earlier – far more technical paper – ‘The Impact of Investors in People on People Management Practices and Firm Performance’ (2008).


The figure illustrates the relationships that Professor Bourne’s team report.  Notice that their research seems to show that managerial capabilities and performance do indeed drive reported performance – as measured by profits recorded in Companies House data.

So here’s the deal

One must always be sceptical about research that supports the agenda of the sponsoring organisation (IiP in this case) and where the results are not published in peer reviewed journals.  And I have not taken the time to thoroughly assess the research methodology, nor review the extensive statistical analysis.  The researchers are clear in their reports that, while they assessed IiP, it is simply one example of a ‘commitment based HR policy’.

This is to say that their research evidence shows that systematically committing to your staff improves their capabilities and performance and that these lead to measurable financial improvements in performance.

Kirkpatrick Level 4

Last week’s Pocketblog talked about Kirkpatrick’s four levels of learning.  Trainers have become adept at measuring and demonstrating levels 1 and 2: How do participants react, and what do they learn?  However, the value of training is in levels 3 and 4: How does training affect behaviour and what results can the organisation measure?

Professor Bourne’s work has shown that the linkage from level 2 to level 3 to level 4 is a genuine one, which he and his team have validated statistically.


This just leaves one problem:
Most trainers stop at Level 1: ‘Happy Sheets’.

Some Management Pocketbooks you might enjoy

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Team Leadership

One of the most popular models of team leadership is John Adair’s Action Centred Leadership.

Three Circles

In this model, leadership expert, John Adair, identifies three overlapping circles of concern for a team leader: the team’s task, the team itself, and the individuals in the team.

It is a wonderfully simple model that encourages you to weigh the attention you give to each, against the needs of the situation.  Adair has much to say about your responsibilities in each category.

John Adair's Three Circles Diagram

More Circles

Like any model, part of its value comes from its simplicity.  The price of simplicity, however, comes from what the model misses, neglects or under-represents, in achieving a memorable elegance.

Here are three more circles (among many), that one could add to Adair’s model.

Organisational Context

There are a lot of reasons for team leaders to focus beyond their team and onto the wider organisational context within which their team sits.  Firstly, how does the team’s task set fit into the wider group of activities?  Team leaders need to know this to set the team’s tasks in context and therefore give them meaning – one of the most important motivators.

Under this heading, we can also consider the team’s relationships with a wide range of stakeholders, and the interest those stakeholders have in the team’s work.  Particular among those stakeholders are other teams.  The team leader needs to find ways to manage the interfaces and dependencies with other teams and work streams.

Finally, we have to acknowledge the role of politics.  Not what many of us sign up for in the world of work, but for team leaders, actively navigating their organisation’s political reefs is a necessary expedient.

The Leader’s Emotional State

Never under-estimate the impact of your emotional state on your team’ was arguably the best management advice your author ever got (thank you George Owen, if you ever get to hear of this blog).

Team members will look to you for all sorts of guidance and, unconsciously, will take their emotional cue from you.

Vision of the Future

Not only should you be looking beyond your team, as team leader, but look beyond the now of today’s tasks and today’s team and today’s individual.  What will your team need to do tomorrow, and next week, and next month, and next year?  And how do you need to evolve it to prepare the team and its individuals to deliver?

Show your team vision.  While some are motivated by pride in what they are doing today, others need to see what is in store.

Join the debate – what would you add?

Please do use the comments facility below to tell us what you would add to this model.

Management Pocketbooks you might enjoy

You can read about John Adair’s Action Centred Leadership in The Management Models Pocketbook.

The Management Models Pocketbook, by Mike Clayton

Other Management Pocketbooks you might like are:

The Leadership Pocketbook

The Teamworking Pocketbook

The People Manager’s Pocketbook

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Generation Y at work

Last week, I got side-tracked in my quest to learn how Generation Y (born between around 1980 and 2000) will handle the challenge of management in the workplace.  The oldest and most talented of them are stepping up to that challenge already and we can expect a significant cohort of new Generation Y managers in our workplaces over the next few years.

Back to that highly salient topic…

Continue reading Generation Y at work

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