Pushing Up Performance

pushing up performanceIt’s the start of a new year and managers and supervisors who are responsible for achieving results from their team should be focusing on how they can increase performance for the year ahead. One method is for the manager/supervisor to put their direct reports under pressure to raise their game. Some managers and supervisors shy away from doing this, but done well this method can create superior results.

Basically, the method of placing pressure on team members boils down to doing two things.

1. The team member who is accountable for a particular result is pushed by their manager/supervisor to commit to deliver something beyond what the team member believes is possible. That is, beyond the team member's “comfort zone”.

2. Having made a commitment, the manager/supervisor makes it clear to the team member that failure to deliver will be a disappointment that he or she will take personally.

The reason this method can work is that we sometimes achieve greater things than we think we can because under the pressure we raise the intensity of our actions. However, managers and supervisors must be careful when using this method not to overstretch the individual: challenge is good but stress is bad! If the team member is overstretched the pressure may cause them to do things that they know are wrong, just because it is the only way they can see to satisfy you! Very obvious examples of this exist in business: you only have to think of the mis-selling scandals that rocked the economy in 2008 and the more recent car emissions scandal  that has caused VW to lose its established reputation.

Obviously you do not want this to happen with your team, so you must put in checks to be sure that it is not happening. What do we mean by ‘checks’? Well, these will depend on the situation. But some examples will help to illustrate what you should consider.

If, for example, the target is for a salesperson to achieve an increase in sales, as it often is at the start of a new year, you need to keep a close eye on that salesperson’s subsequent expenditure so as to identify early any that might signal the “wrong behaviour” - such as inappropriate relations with customers or contracts that increase sales but reduce margins.

If the target is to get out a new product, then there may be a need to ensure that all standards and testing for that product has been carried out.
There is, of course, another consequence of applying pressure that requires the manager to be aware of – the physical and mental health of the team member. As we mentioned above, pressure is good but stress is bad. Stressed individuals do not perform to their maximum capability.

The good manager/supervisor will constantly be watching their team for signs of stress. These include unexplained absences, aggression and temper outbursts, team members isolating themselves from their colleagues, changes in appearance etc. If these signs are seen then the manager will need to reduce the level of pressure they are applying and/or increase the support they provide.

So putting pressure on your team is a positive performance management tool you can use to improve performance. Setting goals beyond what your people believe is possible can lead to great achievements provided you do this in a way that neither affects the health and well-being of your team members or the integrity of your company!