August 04, 2015

Teams, Recognition and Individual Performance

“It is an immutable law in business that words are words, explanations are explanations, promises are promises but only performance is reality”.  
Harold S Geneen

How Is Your Performance Recognition Performing?

The failure to recognise and deal with the differences between good, average and poor performance is a great demotivator and a failure of leadership

It’s Friday evening and a crisis is brewing with an important customer. Who does the busy leader nominate to deal with the problem?

Typically, the recognised best performer, the person that excels at what they do, the person to whom the ‘important’ work is increasingly assigned ... the person that begins to receive less and less support.

This is a real, though understandable, scenario in many organisations; the workload is unevenly distributed with better performers being overloaded and poorer performers being under-utilised.

This is a performance management issue that, if allowed to continue unchecked, will begin to have negative implications for the team and its effectiveness.

Poorly Performing Performance Recognition

Recognition is most often thought of in terms of acknowledging good performers through thanks, rewards, promotions and bonuses. It means more however. Recognition is an important leadership function that involves recognising all levels of performance and dealing with each appropriately and consistently.


The leader who only recognises good performance and ignores poor performance runs the risk of setting in train a dynamic that becomes difficult to halt:

  1. Giving poor performers less to do creates the impression among others that they are ’getting away with’ doing less.
  2. Giving good performers more to do leads the good performers to believe that they are being punished for being good at what they do.
  3. An unfair distribution of work is likely to result in a lowering of performance standards across the team generally since the extra effort required to deliver in terms of the recognition received is not worth the effort.
  4. Team members who feel they are ‘carrying’ poorer performers observe the team leader not dealing with the issue appropriately may begin to see the leader as ineffectual in this, and by extension, other areas.
  5. Relationships between good performers and poor performers can become fractious resulting in a negative impact on team cohesiveness.
  6. Good performers perceive the situation as unfair because (i) they have to carry out more work and (ii) the poor performer is not being supported to improve.

In many cases the poor performer—unaware of their poor performance, of the need to improve, or of what they need to improve—can become isolated, develop feelings of exclusion and may even begin to feel they are being ‘constructively dismissed’ or bullied.

Performance Standards for Effectiveness

The leader needs to maintain a constant awareness of performance levels in their team and should constantly strive to improve performance across all members. S/he should be particularly interested in what is causing some members to perform poorly and in finding ways to improve their performance.

Performance standards—such as the thresholds, requirements and expectations that need to be met for appraisal at a particular level of performance—should be set at an early stage in the formation of a team and when starting a new project.

These performance standards along with equitable workloads are essential in promoting and maintaining fairness, equity and team spirit. They provide a baseline for team effectiveness.

Investing in Performance Management

Failing to deliver performance recognition effectively serves to demotivate team members, undermine morale and erode the credibility of the leader. It can also result in a significant waste of resources in striving for very short-term gains.

Learning performance management skills requires time and effort. But, the leader that recognises this and who is willing to adopt a performance management approach is investing in a productive and effective team whose members are motivated by the learning and support they receive.

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