Positive Performance Management

Is there a better way to manage performance?

I’ve railed long and hard throughout my career about the ineffectiveness of performance reviews. Managers have said to me, “But, Bob – We need performance reviews to make sure everyone is meeting their objectives”. I see nothing constructive about an annual pay and performance review. It's a mainstream practice that has confounded me for years.

The alleged primary purpose of performance reviews, is to enlighten staff about what they should be doing better or differently. Unfortunately, they’re often used and seen negatively – sometimes by both managers and their people.

Some years ago, a good friend, the late Shaun Saunders, wrote a great piece that I believe sums up what many see as the problems of traditional performance reviews.


I post it here to illustrate and in memory of Shaun who was one of the most impressive and humorous thinkers and writers on how to manage well, that I’ve had the pleasure of knowing …


“Oh, there you are,” said the supervisor of Team Four, 4pm to 12am shift, at the FabCola Customer Service Centre.  “Don’t be shy,” he enthused, his smile almost warm. “Have a seat and make yourself comfortable.”

Derek reached for the chair, but it was bolted to the floor. At FabCola, comfort meant fitting in, even with the pre-arranged furniture.

The supervisor continued with his patter. “So – ” (he thumbed through the papers in front of him) “Derek? – how are you fairing at Customer Service Station 117?”

“Ah, everything’s fine, Sir.” Derek’s eyes dropped back to his lap. They would have stayed there, too, but the supervisor began tapping at the performance reports.

“Well, let’s see before we make any snap judgements, eh?” A smile. Five degrees above freezing. The supervisor scanned the wad of papers before him. Charts, histograms, tables, and percentages. “Mm. Not too bad at all, actually. Would you like to know your average score? Of course you would. You wouldn’t be here otherwise.”

With a practised start, Derek sat straight in his chair, at a calculated angle of keenness inclined twenty five degrees away from vertical towards the supervisor. Earlier that day, a scrap of paper had been slid into his 1.0 by 1.5 metre cubicle: the informal office grapevine – what was left of it – had told Derek how to answer this question. With a fixed expression of eagerness glazing over his features, he almost shouted, “Yes, sir! I would love to know my average score. And I would welcome any suggestions for my continued development that you might share with me!”

The supervisor beamed. That was more like it! “Now, before we get too excited,” (the high beam began to dim) “I should remind you that bonus points only accrue from scores of 80 or more. Your average is 79.9” (Bonus points were a currency unto themselves at FabCola, and could be used to secure subsidised electricity, computer and phone rental for the cubicle, or, with scores of 95 or more, life’s little luxuries, like stationary, or a chair with a backrest. Without bonus points, the take-home pay didn’t stretch very far…) “Your use of company lingo has improved to 88%, and you’ve taken ownership of 94% of customer problems brought before you. That’s the good news.” Derek flinched in anticipation of what was to come. “But, and that’s a big but,” the supervisor emphasised, “your rest-break efficiency is only 70%, and your creativity quotient only 67.6%. See here – you’re taking two minutes to complete a number one. Now multiply that by your running average of two-a-day, and we have a real problem. Something wrong with your bladder?”

Derek began to sweat. “Sir, what if I was to cut down on my liquids during the day – ”

“Need I remind you that FabCola is a business, not a charity? How will you get through the mandatory twelve cans a day with that hair-brained scheme? I expect better from you at the next review.”

Derek’s third performance review was over. One more, and he could call it a day. All in all, he had to admit that it wasn’t a bad first day.     

 Shaun A. Saunders.

Now I have an alternative in mind that will get people and organisations a great deal more of what they actually need – Positive Performance Management - and I think Shaun would have loved it. You can download it here.


Bob Selden