Performance Management (PM)
Performance Management is the application of behaviour analysis and behavioural science to staff teams and individual performers. It aims to create an environment that is conducive to efficiency, while generating the highest value for an organisation.
Traditional management tends to focus on business results, that are often occur much later than a behaviour, and therefore too delayed to have much of an influence on behaviour. They also tend to rely on the use of threats and punishers, and often micromanagement, which creates an environment that fosters burnout, dissatisfaction, and resistance. A behaviour analytic approach of performance management focuses on provided in the moment feedback, primarily positive reinforcement, which influences behaviour directly, and compounds business results. It also allows leaders to have positive, relaxed relationships with their supervisees, while maintaining high levels of performance and satisfaction. It’s practical and effective yet does not require high levels of psychological training to implement.
Performance Management has been used and has been shown to be highly effective in many industries including human services, governments, manufacturing, mining, retail, hospitality, education, finance, transportation and logistics, and so many more!
Pinpointing and Measuring Behaviour
Behaviour is anything a living person can do, that a dead person can’t. If you are unsure if something is a behaviour, consider if a dead man can do it (as morbid as that is). If they can, it is not a behaviour. This does, however, leave an almost inconceivable number of things that are behaviours. The behaviours we want to focus on in Performance Management, however, are behaviours that add value to an organisation and are necessary to produce a business’ outputs and results.
First, we need to consider the results, outcomes, or accomplishments we want to impact, and then identify behaviours that reliably produce that result, outcome, or accomplishment. When thinking about these behaviours and outcomes, we need to get as object and as precise as possible. These pinpointed behaviours need to be measurable, observable, reliable, and must always be under the control of the performer.
We then want to measure this behaviour. This can be in many different ways, including count or frequency, duration, through time sampling or percentages, through ‘behaviourally anchored’ rating scales, or through permanent products (e.g. units of items produced per hour). We measure behaviour so we can tell how behaviour changes when we implement strategies, and how much improvement is made. We are also better able to provide feedback on performance, which is essential in performance management.
This is what happens prior to a behaviour and tends to be where businesses and organisations tend to focus most of their time. These may include training, policies and procedures, job descriptions, and goals. Although they do give clear indications of what positive, or negative, consequences can occur from engaging in different behaviours, and what expectations there are for the individual, they do not ‘cause’ or ‘maintain’ behaviours.
There is a place for antecedent strategies, however, but it needs to be considered if an individual can’t do or won’t do the behaviour in question. If they have never engaged in the behaviour and wouldn’t be able to engage in the behaviour right now, training is important to implement. However, if they have engaged in the behaviour in the past, have received training, and are able to engage in the behaviour, it’s a won’t do problem, and no amount of training is going to solve the issue.
Antecedents can clarify what is expected of an individual, provide instruction, remind an individual what they need to do in the moment, so they don’t forget an important step, or support them to engage in the behaviour in question faster or sooner.
A consequence to behaviour is what happens afterwards. According to Operant Conditioning, these consequences can either reinforce (and therefore increase future likelihood of behaviours occurring again in the future) or punish (and therefore decrease future likelihood of behaviours occurring again in the future). It is therefore important for us to consider what happens after our staff behave in certain ways, and if they are reinforcing or punishing the behaviour in question.
The use of threats and fear-based strategies, such as saying to an individual that if they don’t perform better, they will be fired or demoted, will often result in an individual complying, but doing only enough to avoid the undesired consequence. Alternative they may lie or cheat to avoid the negative consequence all the same. They may then quit, in an attempt to escape an aversive environment and the threats themselves. Although these strategies do have their place, they should not be used all the time, and only to enforce compliance with mandatory procedures and to get behaviours started. You cannot threat or punish your way to better performance.
Positive reinforcement, on the other hand, such as praise and rewards, creates a culture that wants to do more work, instead of having to do work. These don’t have to be monetary, and in fact social and non-monetary tangible reinforcers tend to be more effective anyway! It is important, however, to consider if the individual finds it reinforcing. A 1:1 lunch may be reinforcing to one individual, but not to another that hates social interaction. That same 1:1 lunch may be reinforcing if it’s with their favourite supervisor, but not if they don’t have a rapport with that supervisor, and they would rather not spend time with them.
There are many different assessments that can be completed with staff to determine what environmental variables influence an individual’s behaviour and performance. Assessments may include:
- looking at historical data to determine the current state of the organisation, and whether past interventions or strategies were effective.
- interviewing staff or doing surveys to gather information on antecedent and consequence variable currently in play. Some examples of these include the Performance Diagnostic Checklist (PDC) or the ABC/Consequence Analysis (PIC/NIC).
- We also want to take data as soon as possible and may even observe staff.
- Lastly, we may complete assessments to find out what an individual finds reinforcing. These are known as ‘preference assessments’ and helps finds things that can positively reinforce behaviour for your staff.
Strategies to Improve Performance
Strategies that improvement performance target the antecedent or consequence of the pinpointed behaviour(s). Although this may include training, this is far less likely that you may think. We want to put systems in place that rewards and reinforces the behaviours we want to see, so that they occur more frequently in the future. We may also put in antecedent interventions, such as task clarification or checklists, to support individuals to know and remember everything they need to do.
If you would like support to assess what is impacting your staff teams, and how you can implement strategies and systems to systematically increase performance and efficiency, as well as improving staff satisfaction, contact us to arrange a free consultation to discuss how we can support you and your organisation.