When I began writing this article the Tour de France, centenary edition was entering its third week of racing, including three days of successive gruelling mountain activity. By any measure, this is one of the toughest Tour routes in history and was devised to test the best. Whilst Chris Froome from Team Sky was in the lead, the overall performance of the Sky riders was mixed to say the least. In recent years (2011 & 2012) Sky has tended to dominate races, they are usually very well prepared and nothing is left to chance. What was going on this year?  What lessons can we learn regarding performance management?

Arguably, to achieve success, significant planning and preparation is necessary and hence the establishment of meaningful metrics. Within Team Sky, under Brailsford’s leadership, pre-season training performance is constantly measured, developed, analysed; quantifiable outputs are established and targets set. Riders are continually coached and ‘marginal gains’ constantly sought. This approach is well-tested and honed during the early season races. So what (if anything) has gone wrong? Have there been unintended consequences of over measurement or were the expected levels of performance for some individuals simply wrong?

I accept that there are many examples of over-measurement of activity, in both work and personal life, as people attempt to quantify their activity – they run the risk that measurement becomes obsessive and that one loses sight of the goal in pursuit of the numbers – or worse the metric drives a particular type of behaviour or course of action. But I don’t think that was the case here. I firmly believe that the old adage of ‘you can’t manage and influence what you don’t measure’ still holds true. You can only really know if something is getting better or worse if you have some scale or metric upon which to base a further decision or take a particular course of action. If we don’t measure and manage do we risk underachieving? and if so, in who’s eyes?

Back to the Tour, a review of performance was necessary along with finding a solution in order to support Chris Froome; no matter how strong he was individually, without a team around him any chance of victory would slip away as other teams strategically attacked. They needed to look at the collective performance.

 

Underperformance: Having the Difficult Conversation

Brailsford’s conversation with the team revealed that two team members were underperforming – achieving only 80% of their expected levels of performance – which the individuals duly recognised and agreed. Brailsford is reported to have said: “Nobody can blame you for that. It happens to everyone. What we need is 100% of your 80% (i.e. what you can actually achieve). You do this and everyone (sic) will be happy!”

Brailsford then outlined his new plan for the two under-performing riders which they set about delivering over the remaining week and for which they received praise and acknowledgement from their teammates – “they were back in the fold”. Consequently individual morale improved along with their own performance level.

Situations of underperformance often provide the most challenging situations for managers. Difficult conversations should not be avoided, but discussed with tact and a focus on how the individual can deliver to agreed revised parameters.

The Team Sky situation is a powerful reminder for business managers that it may not always be possible for all individuals to deliver to initial expectations; however, losing the commitment of colleagues to achieve what is still attainable could have a significant outcome, not just individually, but collectively.

Such difficult conversations are often undertaken without due consideration of the other party. In our experience it is important for managers to consider the following:

  • The manager should convey positivity and optimism and seek to dispel any negativity displayed by a colleague due to perceived or actual underperformance
  • The talk-to-listen ratio in such conversations should be at least 60:40 in favour of the employee
  • Seek to encourage action and problem solving from a colleague when reviewing ‘underperformance’ to avoid them going into a defensive critical analysis of why target / objectives were missed
  • Ensure active listening, asking open-ended questions and summarising salient points is undertaken.

Effective ‘personal’ management of measures by a manager can help to turn around underperformance as long as they are handled well and expectations re-calibrated.

 

“Effective ‘personal’ management of measures by a manager can help to turn around underperformance as long as they are handled well and expectations re-calibrated.”

 

Measurement and Performance Management: Client Stories

In support of managing measurement and affecting performance, OE Cam is working with a client to develop a focused set of measures and outputs that reflect the business activity, the key deliverables for customers and stakeholders and give employees clarity with regard to their overall activities.

This organisation is very capable and successful in measuring business activity, revenue generation and efficiency across a plethora of metrics and departments however, they lack a collective and focused business perspective and subsequently the opportunity to deliver co-operative management actions and support each other in tough times or when budgets are under attack become forced. This has reinforced ‘siloed’ reactivity when the numbers don’t stack up and consequently only some departments answer the call for constraint or improvement. Going forward, there is also a desire to impact individual financial reward to corporate achievement and not withstanding a primary necessity for collaboration, agreed aspects of measurement must be established.

 

“There are many examples of over-measurement of activity, in both work and personal life, as people attempt to quantify their activity – they run the risk that measurement becomes obsessive and that one loses sight of the goal in pursuit of the mungers – or worse the metric drives a particular type of behaviour.”

 

With another organisation in the financial industry sector, OE Cam have been addressing criticism of their existing performance management process through re-defining manager’s activities in mid -year reviews. Again measurement activity and objective setting is well established and provides line of sight in a very financially driven environment. However, the company has to be responsive to the vagaries of commercial markets and as such targets can change frequently with limited ability for individuals to influence them. Consequently, the ability of managers to reflect upon current achievements, market pressures and subsequently look forward and provide management support to colleagues in the delivery of changing metrics is paramount. This requires a differing skill set of management capability in using the ‘numbers’ to explore not only ‘what’ and ‘how’ the objectives are achieved but the ‘why’ i.e. what personally/operationally is affecting individual capability?

A historically ‘hard’ approach to dealing with under-achievement against metrics in a fluid business market has resulted in some individual’s performance being recognised, whilst others have been negatively impacted by this approach and consequently overall corporate performance has been adversely impacted through overly prescriptive performance management criteria. The realisation is that numbers/metrics change quickly and it’s a mangers role to seek the optimum outcome through actively and positively engaging with colleagues in order to achieve ‘the numbers’.

 

Conclusion

Measurement and monitoring is evident in nearly everything we do in both work and in our personal lives – it is not only hard to avoid, but perhaps it is a necessity and is a consequence of the busy and demanding lives we all have. In fact technology permits us to quantify just about anything via our smart phones, apps and instant connectivity. We are also constantly bombarded with measures and metrics via the news, the press, internal communications and conversations with peers and managers for many of us, it provides a focus for activities undertaken, performance attained and the subsequent output achieved. It can reflect financial, business, customer satisfaction or physical wellbeing and offers the opportunity to achieve better outcomes if guided properly – be that by others or through self-analysis and personal drive.

Whilst the pursuit of the yellow jersey is a very focussed activity, it is a reward for team effort underpinned by a clear goal, measurement, management and performance attainment, and yes it is linked to reward – traditionally the winner gives his prize money to the whole team. Brailsford’s management of the Sky team is not dissimilar to typical business activity and as such the following provides a nice summary for achieving measurable success:

  • Ensure that you manage and measure what is important
  • Assess the likely behavioural consequences of establishing specific measures
  • Engage and communicate with employees to address inconsistencies in performance against objectives
  • Reward people for achieving / exceeding their goals (but not necessarily financially)
  • Reappraise objectives based on changing circumstances
  • Manage in a style that respects and understands individual capability.

The process of measurement and management implies that achievement of agreed targets or objectives is anticipated or expected. However, a consequence of establishing metrics is that there will be ‘failure’ or to be fairer, ‘non-attainment’… This can be for a host of reasons and awareness and recognition of this will allow managers to still deliver success.

In case you missed the overall result, Chris Froome won the Tour, supported by all the remaining team working to their individual optimum, but in a collective pursuit of the yellow jersey. I’m sure there were some ‘difficult and colourful’ conversations on the team bus and I’m not advocating such in the workplace, however, Brailsford and the Team Sky’s management approach to re-calibrating expected levels of attainment and consequently supporting individuals had the desired effect.

chris.legge@oecam.com