Why you need to banish these 8 employee performance myths

employee performance
Tim Baker


written on February 13, 2017

Performance management is a hot topic; it has been for some time. Managers universally want to know what can be done to escalate company performance and improve employee performance. 

What are the secrets, shortcuts, and strategies to optimise performance? Where do I begin? Employers and their managers all want answers to these and other employee performance questions.

They want to know what can be done to optimise performance, gain a competitive or adaptive advantage, and build capacity. Further, they want to know how to responsively deal with the fickle and ever-changing demands and heightened standards of the end user: the customer.

Being agile, manoeuvrable, and flexible are success factors for the modern, high-performing company. But where to begin?

There are eight long-standing roadblocks to agility. Each employee performance obstacle is based on management myths rooted in Frederick Taylor’s scientific management philosophy.

Scientific Management

What’s commonly referred to as Taylorism, began over 100 years ago on the factory assembly lines of several businesses, including the Ford Motor Company. Taylor’s philosophy was very successful at yielding high profit margins. But work itself has radically transformed from the factory assembly lines of the early 20th century to the knowledge work of the 21st century. Notwithstanding this transformation, Taylorism continues to guide and inform our performance management practices.

What’s more, the philosophy of scientific management is deeply embedded in the psyche of management today. It’s still the driving force for performance practices that are outdated. Management as a profession is ultra-conservative – and it’s doing a disservice to companies, who are seeking to adapt and innovate – and employees, who are expected to do the same.

To make your workforce more agile and productive, management myths need to be debunked. Here are 8 that you can start with:

Myth 1: Job specification improves performance

Job specification narrows the focus of the employee to a specific set of job requirements. This inhibits the ability to think in terms of systems. Therefore, employees find it hard to understand the interdependencies of the various elements of the workplace and how their work connects to wider company objectives.

Myth 2: Quality systems and processes guarantee good outcomes

Quality assurance (QA) is, without doubt, a well-established plank of organisational success over more than 100 years. But QA is by-and-large an internal focus. This can mean that the end user—the customer—is sometimes overlooked in the quest for better internal systems and processes.

Myth 3: Job descriptions help the employee understand their organisational role

Job descriptions generally only cover the technical requirements of the job. Non-job tasks such as working in teams, innovation and continuous improvement, having the right attitude, and enhancing one’s skills-set are often neglected. Yet these non-job tasks are becoming increasingly important to organisational and individual performance.

Myth 4: A business is best organised around functions

The organisational chart is generally still structured around departments or functions. The result?  Cross-functional communication can suffer. Further, most products and services transcend several organisational functions. Cross-functional cooperation is becoming increasingly important for performance, yet doesn’t play nearly a big enough role in employee performance management systems.

Myth 5: A satisfied employee is a productive employee

A satisfied employee may stay longer in business.This increases overall employee retention and reduces turnover. But that doesn’t mean they are productive. Satisfying employees with a range of monetary and non-monetary incentives is only the first step. Engagement is the key to employee performance; we want engaged employees, not satisfied employees.

Myth 6: A loyal employee is an asset to the business

Rather than a loyal employee, a committed employee is now a greater asset to a business. A committed employee may stay with an organisation for a shorter time-span than a loyal employee. But while they are employed, they are committed to driving the strategic direction of the business.

Myth 7: A technically superior workforce is a pathway to a high performing business

Learning and development is much more than competency-based training. Comprehensive learning and development programs help to develop the person’s ability to use their competencies most effectively; for example to assist them to solve challenging problems, or bring together several skills to achieve a goal

Myth 8: Employees can’t be trusted with sensitive information

Managers restrict the information channels to employees based on the fear that they will leak this information to the public, the union, or competitors. But managers are just as capable of doing this!  By holding back important information, employees have less knowledge and information to make quality decisions that enable the business to thrive. Ultimately, restricted information channels breed a lack of initiative.

These eight employee performance myths are at least 100 years old. They emanate from the idea of scientific management and have little value now in a new century. We in HR need to question these myths in order to manage performance in a way that mirrors 21st century work.

This article was drawn from Dr Tim Baker’s book Performance Management for Agile Organizations: Overthrowing the eight management myths that hold businesses back.

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12 thoughts on “Why you need to banish these 8 employee performance myths

  1. Thank you Tim. You have nicely articulated a number of long held beliefs of mine and others.
    As a HR practitioner I have forever been pressed to provide JD’s and training plans and other policies and procedures that I have dutifully prepared – yet often wondered as to their efficacy to the organisation and the individuals and teams we are desperately trying to squeeze the most performance from.
    Many of our efforts led to black and white ‘solutions’, for the management of people – of which every individual is their own ever-changing shade of grey.
    I hope to remember your article in years to come, and to try and help managers and their teams with better understanding of the human worker.
    Thanks again and best wishes for 2017.

    1. Tim – Do you believe that these principles are never applicable? Even in high-volume, low margin industries such as mining, manufacturing and construction? It seems to me that over 50 years of research and a great deal of evidence suggests that there are “horses for courses” and while what you suggest may apply to the Googles and high-tech orgs of today, a job description and a quality system is essential in some industries!!!

      1. James, thanks for your comment. I am in favour of a work document that explains what people are suppose to do in their role. I just think the job description, which focusses on the technical requirements of the job, is obsolete. I’m advocating a role description, which covers five roles, one of which is the job role.

  2. Great article, I agree wholeheartedly. There needs to be a more holistic approach to performance management in order to drive high performance. The “human” side of HR, e.g. behaviours, norms, values etc. need to be considered at every opportunity.

  3. It is one thing to point out the myths Tim, which most people will agree with, but what about raising somw possible solutions.

  4. Ross, I call them myths for a reason. Most people in my experience accept them. Pleased to hear that you don’t. The answers can be found in my latest book that’s just been released.

  5. I couldn’t put a number on the PD’s I have written as a HR professional. Too many probably! Nevertheless, I believe that broad objective-based PD’s are superior to narrow task-based for most roles. I also agree with Tim that every PD should be broad and encourage the following behaviors, relevant to the job of course:
    * Innovation
    * Team work/collaboration
    * Continuous improvement
    * Commitment to personal learning/development
    * Involvement with projects outside core duties or current silo (i.e. OHS role)
    * Mentor, role model
    * Can do attitude

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