The Performance Management Triangle

Performance Management is the process managers use to focus, align, and improve their employees’ performance. It includes the following:


  • Setting Expectations
  • Monitoring/Measuring Performance
  • Taking Action

Setting Expectations

Setting expectations initiates the process. Managers need to sit down with each employee and clearly define what’s expected of them. Management consultant, Kenneth Philips, states that when expectations are not clear, employees may not be in sync with their job’s current demands and priorities. Setting expectations is not a once and done activity. Jobs change. Priorities change. Resources change. Managers need to revise and set new expectations throughout the year. Setting expectations revolves around the following three areas:


  • Key job responsibilities
  • Performance factors and standards
  • Goals

Key job responsibilities are the 7-to-12 major components of a job. These are often listed on the job description. For example, the key job responsibilities of a college basketball coach might include the following:


  1. Establish and implement a recruiting plan that results in the enrollment of 5-to-10 quality players each year
  2. Plan and conduct daily practice sessions
  3. Motivate 10-to-15 athletes to meet all academic and athletic standards
  4. Participate in community endeavors that help support the college and basketball program
  5. Hire, train, and supervise two assistant coaches

Employees need to clearly understand the full scope of their job.

Performance factors and standards refer to the criteria managers use to evaluate employees. For example, “quantity of work,” “quality of work,” and “teamwork” are factors that are often used to evaluate performance. Managers need to explain how they differentiate between each level of performance. What does it take to obtain an “average”, “good”, or “excellent” rating on each factor. It’s no different than my students who want to know what it takes to obtain an “A” or “B” in the course.

The third area of “setting expectations” involves establishing goals. Goals may be set that relate to the individual’s key job responsibilities and assignments outside his or her main responsibilities. When managers establish goals they need to remember the acronym SMART. Goals should have the following characteristics:

S – Specific
M – Measurable
A – Appropriate
R – Results Oriented
T – Time Bounded

Problems occur between managers and employees when goals aren’t specific, measurable, or when clear due dates aren’t established. Goals should be written and reviewed periodically to make sure both manager and employee are on the same page.

Managers can use any one of the three styles of management – directing, discussing, and delegating – when setting expectations. For example, I may just lay out my employees’ goals or I may have a discussion to get their input before establishing goals. Bottom line – it’s critical that employees know exactly what they are responsible for, what the targeted end result is, and how they will be evaluated.

Monitoring/Measuring Performance

This step refers to observing employees’ performance. What’s getting done? What’s not getting done? How effectively is the employee doing his/her job? How well does the employee’s effort and results match my expectations? Managers monitor and measure performance by the following:


  • Direct Observations – For example, watching an employee run a meeting or make a sales presentation are examples of direct observation.
  • Discussion – Ask pointed questions to evaluate how the employee is doing relative to key job responsibilities and specific goals.
  • Reviews – Budget reviews, written project summaries, and weekly reports are used to monitor/measure what’s getting done.

Some of the problems that occur during this step include:


  • Confusing activity with results – some employees are very busy. And, although it looks like they are exerting a lot of energy, very little is actually getting accomplished. It’s important to separate actions from accomplishments.
  • Insufficient observations – some managers will make one observation and then jump to various conclusions. It’s important to make sufficient observation before making any single conclusion.
  • Halo effect – just because an employee does one thing very well the manager generalizes and rates him or her outstanding in all skills. Most people have strengths and weaknesses. It’s important to be clear on each.
  • Horn effect – the opposite of the halo effect. Just because the employee has one deficiency, the manager concludes he/she performs unsatisfactorily at everything.

Managers need to be aware of these traps and avoid them.

Taking Action

Based on the results of the monitoring and measuring step, managers need to take appropriate actions. Taking action includes the following:


  • Coaching
  • Recognizing/rewarding
  • Disciplinary action
  • Performance appraisal

If an employee isn’t meeting my expectations I need to provide coaching. Kenneth Phillips states, “Coaching sessions are held to improve a person’s future performance. The purpose of coaching is not to “chew out” or threaten a person if performance is not improved.” Coaches need to make the connection between the employee’s current behavior and the business consequence. And secondly, coaches discuss what new behaviors will lead to better or improved results.

The essence of coaching is providing feedback and suggestions on how to improve performance. I’ve learned a very effective coaching technique is – show people what good performance looks like. Give people a concrete example to follow.

Recognizing and rewarding good or improved performance is an important part of every manager’s job. Rewards include things like movie tickets, getaway weekend, and time off. Recognition is the words used to praise an employee’s performance. When managers recognize people, in essence they are saying “I’ve noticed.” Most people like being noticed and appreciated for their contribution. Don’t overlook people who quietly and effectively do their job. Focus on both results and skills. One executive states, “I try to not only recognize what people accomplished, but also highlight the unique talents and special skills they used to be successful.” Words of praise can have a lasting impact on a person’s confidence and self esteem. When recognizing someone, it’s important to be specific, sincere, and timely.

Let’s assume an employee is not meeting your expectations. You’ve provided feedback and coaching on several occasions, but the employee’s performance is still not meeting your expectations. What do you do? Take disciplinary action. Most companies use an approach called progressive discipline which includes four steps:


  1. Verbal warning
  2. Written warning
  3. Final written warning or suspension
  4. Discharge

The objective of disciplinary action is to “formally” let the person know their performance is below expectations and if improvement doesn’t occur they are subject to further discipline up to and including discharge. Taking disciplinary action is an example of “tough love.” It shows you care about the person.

When issuing discipline I suggest using this format:


  • State what the employee has done
  • State what you (the manager) have done
  • State what you expect going forward
  • State the consequences if improvement doesn’t occur

The final step of “taking action” is conducting the formal performance appraisal. At most companies this is done annually. Managers complete a “performance appraisal” form that becomes part of the employee’s personnel file.

The proper focus of an appraisal meeting is to openly discuss how the employee has performed against your expectations. It’s useful to ask the employee to prepare for the session by reviewing his or her performance and key accomplishments. I recommend having your employees keep a list throughout the year of all their accomplishments. Discuss each performance factor considering both the employee’s strengths and areas needing improvement. Be specific and use examples to explain your evaluation. Be open to the employee’s point of view.


Performance Management is an important process. Managers spend a significant amount of their time on the three aspects of managing performance. It’s the essence of making sure employees receive:


  • Clear expectations
  • Feedback on how they are doing
  • Coaching to improve their performance
  • Recognition for good or improved performance
  • A formal performance appraisal to complete the cycle