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Opinion: Bridget Biggar on performance management

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Employers would be massively more productive if management spent more time recognising employees’ strengths rather than putting massive effort into forcing them to address their weaknesses, says Bridget Biggar, MD of Life Orientations Limited.


The difficult young man who doesn’t do his time sheets? That could well be the next Phillip Green or Bernie Ecclestone.

British business would be massively more productive if management spent more time recognising employees’ strengths rather than putting massive effort into forcing them to address their weaknesses.

Bloody minded managers will spend hours imposing their will on staff, getting them to do the things they don’t want to do or with which they are ill-equipped to cope.

It’s a mystery why some managers pull out all the stops to make their staff miserable when the answer lies in proper testing and assessment of their people.

A huge number of managers think they know what makes their staff tick – but don’t. He or she is not recognising the true skills and capabilities of their staff, and ultimately demotivating them – and probably presenting them and their employers with a glass ceiling in the process.

The typical scenario is forcing a highly enthusiastic and high achieving salesman to do timesheets or administration – which they hate – when there are probably highly capable administrators who love having a pile of information dumped with them to sort out,” said Bridget Biggar.

Look higher up the tree to major entrepreneurs: they hurtle from deal to deal and they’re trailed by people who sort out their admin. Can you imagine Bernie Ecclestone doing a time sheet? Can you imagine him ever having done a time sheet?

A manager who imposes his or her values, beliefs or working approach on somebody else is dangerous. People have underlying DNAs that only support certain types of behaviour – being forced to do something they don’t want or like to do will generate nothing more than adequate delivery. People like to do what they are good at. It gives them motivation and enjoyment.

When things go wrong, it’s the staff that get it in the ear when it’s actually the management who should be hung out to dry – and more often than not the situation could be avoided through proper testing and assessment.

Many managers hire people for their strengths then spend the next few years trying to fix their weaknesses.

The ‘fix your weaknesses’ school believes that with enough discipline, determination and training anyone can do anything. But if somebody doesn’t have the underlying DNA to support certain behaviours, they will never achieve anything better than adequate. It’s a much better idea to build on strengths, and find people to compensate for what top performers lack.

Organisations should spend time identifying strengths and making sure they are put to work. More skill at building cross-functional teams chosen for their complementary behaviours as well as their skills and knowledge will guarantee effective and efficient performance.

Performance management is not about designing a super appraisal system with a foolproof rating scale, but about identifying talent and strengths and raising each individual’s performance targets through their innate abilities. As a bonus, disciplinary issues start to disappear when people are busy doing what they do best.

One Response

  1. Its the outcomes that are important!
    Bridget,
    I could not agree more with you, the key to success is to concentrate on the strengths of the employee to ensure that you maximise their contribution to the organisation. Unfortunately some of these employees are in the type of position within the organisation that their natural skills will not be able to be fully appreciated. This sometimes means being honest with the employee and trying to find them another position which will enable them to contribute. Managers would do well to clearly understand what they want an employee to achieve in his/her position, give them the resources and let them get on with it. Sun Tzu the 5th Century Chinese philospher said that life is like a river, it starts in the mountains but ends up in the sea. The difference is that it finds its own course – avoiding the hills etc by going around them. It finds its own path to the sea(outcome). The lesson here is not to dictate the path but be sure of the outcome and let your employee find his/her own path.
    This ancient approach is reinforced by the findings of the Gallup Organisation and you might like to read the book ‘First break all the rules’ by Marcus Buckingham & Curt Coffman.

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