Performance Management vs. People Management
Why it’s better to manage promises rather than actions
People Management
When we first become managers we immediately fall into the false assumption that our main
responsibility is to manage the people who report directly to us. This is a common practice that
soon starts to be unproductive and even damaging.

When we talk about managing people this includes all of the following tasks:
• Provide detailed specification of what their responsibilities will be
• Supervise and track the development of their tasks
• Instruct and verify how they go about executing their tasks
• Indicate when they can work on their tasks
• Instruct with who they can work
• Indicate what resources they have access to
• Etc...

When we take on all of these responsibilities we cannot help but start micromanaging, and nobody likes to be micromanaged. When employees are (or feel like they are) being micro-managed they perceive the message of not being trusted, respected or valued.

NOTE: The number one reason why people quit their jobs is because of how they are
being managed. And the top four ways that people dislike being managed are:
1) being disrespected
2) being ignored
3) being micromanaged
4) not being empowered and trusted

Another cost of micromanaging is that it’s heavily time consuming and energy draining for the
managers themselves and takes time away from doing the strategic part of their jobs.
The only time it’s actually appropriate to manage a person is when they are beginners at their tasks, and they are still becoming fully competent.

But once our direct reports become competent, it's time to start managing their performance and
not their actions. Giving them freedom with accountability, i.e. full responsibility and ownership of how they get their job done.

Performance Management
In the shift towards managing performance, we must put our attention on the promises that our
direct reports make regarding their responsibilities within their own projects. Notice that we use the word promise and not task, responsibility, objective or goal. The words that we use matter given that they create different expectations. When we use the word promise that connotes that we are giving our word and in the giving of our word, our reputation and identity are at play. This is why it’s more powerful to use the word promise instead of any other word... it promotes ownership.

NOTE: which of the two following statements do you feel carries more weight:
A. I didn’t meet my objectives
B. I didn’t keep my promises

Our main responsibility becomes to manage promises made by the people who report directly to
us. This is where this approach becomes very efficient. We only have one central focus where we interact with our direct reports: promises made. And as long as they're doing it in an ethical manner, we shouldn't care how they do their job; when they do their job; where they do their job; or with whom they do their job.

Micromanaging is too time-consuming for us to do. And employees need autonomy for
empowerment in order to fully engage and take ownership of their jobs.

In order for a promise to be effective it has to be well grounded. For the most part we make very
loose and unstructured promises. We take on tasks without getting all the information needed, by when exactly it is needed, in what context it should be done, who can and should be involved, etc. Before making or accepting a promise, we need to carefully assure that it meets the following 4 structure points:

  • Clarity: Make sure you have all the necessary details: What exactly am I promising to deliver?
By when (day and hour)? What’s the context (or background) that I need to know?
These questions save time by avoiding having to go back for clarification.

  • Capability: Assess your competency and possible support needed as well as your capacity
to fulfill the promise: Do I have all the know-how to fulfill this promise? If not, do I know
where and/or with whom I can work with to get it? What’s my estimated time to do this?
How much time do I have available?

  • Impact: Chances are that more than one person around you and the requester will be
impacted in the fulfillment of this promise. You need to make sure that you identify these
people and let them know the magnitude of the possible impact on their business by your

  • Negotiate: Know that you always have some negotiation space, it might be small, but you
have some. You can ask for more time, more resources, or for a previous promise to be
dropped or altered to make more time available.

Our Shift
This shift from people management to performance management is not only challenging for the
direct reports but for us as managers too. Chances are that one of the reasons we were promoted
to manager is because we did our job as individual contributors very well. And when we see others doing the job that we used to do in a different manner, or a different pace, or a different style, we get this strong inner urge to correct them and show them the “right” way of doing it, which is actually just our way of doing it.

So, the first step in this transformation belongs to us. We need to assess when we judge an
employee to be competent in taking responsibility and ownership of their projects and
communicate to them where we have set the bar, so they are clear.

And once we start managing performance, we also need to make room for mistakes, breakdowns, misunderstandings, and conflicts to arise. These are all part of all of us doing our jobs and learning throughout this journey.
Gabriel Acostalopez
Peter Haddow
Andreas Papadopoulos
Nuno Quinteira
Sudhir Duche
Stefan Ischi
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