Bring Out The Best In People!

from Mind Tools ! Bring Us the Best in People!  Mind Tools Newsletter 92 – January 22nd, 2008

This newsletter is published by Mind Tools Ltd of 2nd Floor, 145-157 St John Street, London, EC1V 4PY, UK. You have received it because you have subscribed to our double opt-in newsletter. To subscribe or unsubscribe, just click the links at the bottom of this email.

There is nothing so rewarding as helping a member of your team and seeing the person truly flourish…Nor is there anything more frustrating than someone who, despite your very best efforts, makes no improvement in their performance – when they really, really need to do so.

So what can you do when you are in this frustrating situation? Before you get to the end of your tether, try using Performance Agreements.
In This Newsletter…

Our article featured here today helps you learn how to use Performance Agreement to bring out the best in people. Use this approach routinely to make it absolutely clear what you need and expect from the other person. And when all else has failed, this approach may be just what you – and your under-performing team member – need to get back on track.
As well as today’s article on Performance Agreements, another new article at since the last newsletter looks at Heuristic Methods – also known as “rules of thumb”. These might not seem to be appropriate for the office, but there are places for them in the right context! This article helps you know when and where to use them.

If you want to get out of a rut, innovate or steer people in the right strategic direction, you might also want to take a look at the new resources available to Mind Tools Career Excellence Club members. The latest articles are listed below, with more about joining the Club (remember – it costs just US$1 for the first month, with the right to cancel at any time.)

Enjoy today’s article – and enjoy getting more from your team!

James Manktelow
Rachel Thompson
 To find out about new tools on the Mind Tools site the moment they’re uploaded, click here to subscribe to the Mind Tools RSS feed (you’ll need an RSS newsreader installed), or here to find out more about RSS. Editors’ Choice Article:
Performance Agreements
Increasing Personal Accountability

You sit down with Bill to discuss his performance… again. You talk at length about what you both need to feel satisfied with the work he’s doing. Perhaps you discuss some workplace adjustments to help motivate him, perhaps you offer coaching in some aspect of his job. And you clearly outline your expectations for improvement in his performance.You both leave the meeting feeling positive, and Bill understands what he needs to do. You head back to your office, confident that, this time, you’ll get a good result.
But a few weeks go by, and you haven’t seen any improvement in Bill’s performance. He just can’t seem to follow through and make the improvements you discussed. Before you throw in the towel or take a disciplinary route, what more can you do?


Conducting a performance interview and providing feedback are only the start – the “front end” tasks of performance management. However, the middle and back ends of this process are just as critical.

It’s not enough to simply tell Bill what you expect him to do, and then place the sole responsibility for follow-through on his shoulders. Performance management takes more of a team approach – the person who’s doing the work needs to feel supported and encouraged for the duration of the process, just as he or she needs to feel personally held to account for the outcome.


Expanding the Performance Review Process

One of the most effective ways of doing this is with a performance agreement. This agreement defines accountability for specific personal and organizational goals. It defines the individual’s expectations. It establishes and agrees results-oriented goals that are aligned with the overall objective you want to achieve. And it concludes with the individual’s formal, signed commitment to the agreement.
When establishing performance expectations, the overall objective is to come to an agreement that supports your organization’s strategy. For individual performance goals, the objective is real, measurable improvement so that the person is in a position to help move the organization forward.

Performance agreements must clearly state agreed-upon objectives and how these will be measured. Document these things to help you avoid future disagreements about exactly what you expected the person to accomplish.

Without an agreement founded on the organization’s objectives, you may have to rely on defending your directives with “Because I’m the boss.” This will probably do nothing to build trust and respect with the person whose performance you’re trying to improve. However, with formal agreements in place, managing and leading your staff can become more objective, and simpler.

These are some of the many benefits you can achieve by using performance agreements:

·                                 Aligns personal and organizational goals. ·                                 Improves trust and understanding. ·                                 Encourages communication and feedback. ·                                 Assists career planning and development. ·                                 Ensures that what you agree upon is relevant and achievable. ·                                 Provides an objective and fair way to evaluate performance. ·                                 Holds staff members accountable for their performance. ·                                 Makes performance a shared responsibility between you and your staff.·                                 Establishes a process to follow up on performance and development plans. Performance agreements support a management by objectives approach. This is where managers help staff understand how their roles fit into the larger picture of organizational success. From there, each staff member develops specific performance goals and targets that are aligned with the company’s strategic goals.

Performance agreements not only ensure that performance is measured, they also set up a great communication system to regularly discuss individual performance. These agreements are essentially a way of making sure that everyone is aware of what they need to work on, and why.Putting Together an Agreement

An effective performance agreement:

·                                 Reflects business needs.·                                 Is achievable and relevant.·                                 Outlines authority and accountability.·                                 Can be evaluated or measured.·                                 Is fair.·                                 Holds people to account. Follow these steps to put an effective performance agreement in place for your staff:

  1. Start with expectations Clearly identify the behavior that you want to see, explain why that behavior is needed, and identify the goals that need to be achieved.
    Mind Tools has two articles to help you with performance improvement expectations and goals. Giving and Receiving Feedback and Dealing with Poor Performance provide many practical tips on conducting performance interviews.


  2. Build in milestonesIdentify specific points along the way to ensure that the goal is still relevant and that the person is still on track. The main reason for executing a performance agreement is to maximize success. Do what you can to make success as achievable as possible.In our above example, someone needing to improve communication skills may need to start by attending an interpersonal communication workshop, and this may have a milestone of completing it by a certain date. After attending the workshop, the person can move on to one-on-one coaching.If the person doesn’t attend the workshop, then the milestone provides an opportunity to ask why. Was there a scheduling problem, or is there a deeper issue to address? Either way, the person can’t move on to one-on-one coaching, so the second goal needs to be adjusted.
    With a routine performance goal, you need milestones to ensure that things are progressing smoothly. You don’t want a surprise when it’s time to evaluate a person’s overall performance, so build in checkpoints to stay on top of performance before it gets too far off track.


  3. Agree on the terms Performance agreements are a two-way street. If you simply dictate what the person will do, you may be disappointed with the outcome. When goals are agreed upon mutually, you’re more likely to see progress. Take time to develop goals together, and be prepared to discuss the “whys” at length. This is a joint process – it needs acceptance from both parties for it to work.  

  4. Schedule accountability meetingsMilestones form the basis for accountability. When people know you’ll be following up, they’ll be much more likely to quickly get to work on the goal. If they think you’ll simply forget about it, they probably will too. Schedule regular meeting times to review goals, discuss what’s happening, and make adjustments as necessary.
    This is the communication benefit of performance agreements. You’re much more likely to be involved in your staff’s development and performance when you agree to, and commit to, regular performance meetings.


  5. Establish outcome results and consequencesWhenever you put together a contract, the other person probably expects to get something for fulfilling the terms of that contract. With performance contracts, this may be a bonus or reward, or it may simply be continued employment.Whatever the case, clearly state what happens if the goal is or is not met. This is especially critical for performance improvement agreements, because you need a next step if the person fails to improve within an agreed upon, and reasonable, amount of time.
    Make the performance agreement transparent – everyone should understand the consequences of action or inaction. When a formal agreement outlines specific and measurable expectations, it doesn’t leave much room for argument. If the person fails to live up to the agreement, then you have a process in place that you can follow.


Tip 1:

Because performance agreements are intended to help staff with their development, put in place at least one more chance to meet the expectation. Agreements that are too harsh can seem unreasonable, and they may contradict the spirit of supporting staff efforts to improve and contribute value to your organization.Of course, if the person fails to meet these agreements, you may have fair and defensible grounds for dismissal. This can make the termination process cleaner for everyone involved – however, that’s judged on a case-by-case basis.

Tip 2:
Before engaging with this process in full, talk to your HR department. The approach may need to be tweaked to ensure that it complies with local employment law and corporate HR policies.


  1. Sign it and date it All that’s left is for the member of staff and you to sign the agreement and date it. Well, almost all… now you have to monitor and enforce the agreement, as well as hold up your responsibilities in terms of follow-up and support.  

Tip 3:

Here we’re talking about using performance agreements to correct people’s behavior. Essentially, we’re balancing the benefits of using performance agreements to orient people towards desired goals, with the considerable managerial effort needed to draw them up and manage them, and suggesting that they’re used only in the most important situations.However, in some circumstances (possibly in high risk situations, or where a great deal of unsupervised work is needed) it may be worth making performance agreements with all members of your team. If you’re thinking of doing this, make sure that members of your team are comfortable with the approach, and ensure that you don’t rely on them exclusively to manage performance. Everyone needs good levels of trust, respect, and communication from their boss!

Key Points

Performance agreements are a great addition to a performance management system. They enhance accountability for both workers and managers, and they establish clear expectations that staff can use to take responsibility for their own performance.

That’s really what good performance is all about – providing people with the understanding they need to do a good job and achieve the results that are expected of them. By identifying this information and setting up a contract, you can create a system for success.


In the Career Excellence Club…
Every week, we publish a new “All Readers’ Article” like the one you’ve just read. You can take your personal and career development to the next level, by joining the Career Excellence Club, with its wider resource set that includes our Extended Toolkit of member-only tools, downloadable Bite-Sized Training lessons, podcast Book Insights and Expert Interviews, Coaching Clinics, and debate, discussion and support in the Club forums.If you are already a member, simply click on the links provided below to access the recent resources in the list. If you are not yet a member, take our tour to find out more about what the Club gives you.


A Final Note from James

If you’re in that frustrating situation of trying to get someone to mend their ways, do try using performance agreements. They’re fair, they send a very clear message that things need to change, and they can save you a great deal of wasted time and expense.
On another subject, this is traditionally the time of year when gyms start to empty, as people’s will-power weakens and they quietly forget their New Year Resolutions.In the last newsletter, I challenged you to set goals for the year. Having done this, make sure you don’t lose sight of them! In the real world, will-power and good intentions only last so long – which is why you need to embed your good intentions in the everyday way you run your life.One way of doing this is to make sure that the goals you have set are on the same page as your To Do List, and that there’s always some small action on your To Do List moving you towards these goals (if you’re using an Action Plan, well done – your goals will already be integrated!) If they’re not already on your list, write them on now and add a small action moving you towards them. If you do this every day, you’ll be shocked by how quickly you start to live the life you want! We’re back in two weeks’ time with the next newsletter. Until then, have an excellent fourteen days!
James Manktelow

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Mind Tools
Essential Skills for an Excellent Career!

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