New Book Says It's Time To Redefine Management

How's this for an unique theory - People and specifically their job performance can't be managed.


Over the course of time, we have established a system in which millions of people are hired and trained to do one thing: manage people.


And no one seems to be happy with this set-up. Managers are feeling stressed and employees are feeling neglected.

A recent global survey conducted by Towers Watson found only 46 percent of employees believe their managers have enough time to handle the people-related aspects of their jobs.

The position of manager has become "a ragged conglomeration of pieces and parts, designed to do too many things and engineered to do none of them well. People both higher and lower in the organizational hierarchy question its value, resent the authority it confers, and criticize the competence of the people who do it."

In the new book, Manager Redefined: The Competitive Advantage in the Middle of Your Organization Tom Davenport says it's time for a change that managing employees isn’t like following a recipe card (the mundane process of goal setting, reviews, etc.). Instead the author says managers should take a different – perhaps counterintuitive - approach, one that he further explains in his guest post that's on the following page.


Guest Author Blog: People Can’t be Managed, but Environments Can by: Tom Davenport author of, Manager Redefined: The Competitive Advantage in the Middle of Your Organization

Guest Author Blog
Guest Author Blog

Among the many processes that managers implement, few produce as much frustration as performance management. Companies talk about managing performance as if it involved a simple recipe: start with a pinch of goal setting, add a splash of performance ratings, throw in a dash of rewards, don’t forget just a soupçon of training, and voilà, a high-performing person.

But human performance can’t be controlled by mechanically mixing a few ingredients and hoping for the best. The factors that contribute to employee performance are too numerous and too intermingled, a bubbling bouillabaisse of motives, abilities, behavior drivers and environmental factors. Managers can’t manage performance – only employees can do that. What managers can do is create the circumstances in which employees grow their skills and knowledge, gain motivating self-confidence and improve their contribution to enterprise success. They do so not by managing employee performance, but instead by managing the performance environment.

The problems with performance management usually begin with goal setting.


All organizations expect managers to work with employees to set goals for output and performance.

After all, they reason, how will a company motivate employees without a set of goals and an array of rewards to spur them on to high performance?

The problem is that performance-specific goals don’t do a very good job of spurring people.

A recent study by researchers from Drexel University, Ohio State and the University of Western Ontario found that goals emphasizing learning and gaining mastery often produce higher performance – not just improved skills, but also greater achievement – than goals focusing on explicit direct output.

But how many managers don’t – or can’t – take the time to work with people to develop the individual learning strategies that could be reflect in goals. It’s simpler just to say, “Produce 10 percent more than you did last year.”

Managers sometimes compound the problems of goal setting by using stretch goals.

Stretch goals seem like a handy shortcut, a way to get people to jump several performance levels at once.

"Managers can’t manage performance – only employees can do that." -Author, Manager Redefined, Tom Davenport

Their success depends on two underlying notions: first, that challenging objectives motivate; and second, that even if people fall far short of achieving the goal, they will still feel a sense of accomplishment at having made a good effort.

The first premise is correct; the second, more dubious. In fact, motivation can’t last without what Stanford psychologist Albert Bandura calls “affirming accomplishments.”

Failure engenders performance motivation only when the discrepancy between goal and performance is small.

So what’s the answer? We think the acronym FAMIC provides a useful guideline for setting goals.

FAMIC means:

  • Few in number and focused. Too many goals produce confusion and contradiction. It’s better to focus attention on a few important objectives – about three or four – than to dilute effort across many targets.
  • Aligned internally and organizationally. Goals shouldn’t contradict each other or force employees to make impossible and conflicting choices. They must clearly support the organization’s strategic objectives.
  • Mastery building. Goal setting contributes to learning when tasks are broken down into steps that become progressively more challenging and satisfying when mastered.
  • Incremental. Goals should be expressed in workable increments and reviewed frequently. Small wins build big momentum.
  • Controllable. In a complex organizational environment, achievement of goals will often depend on an array of factors, some within an individual’s control, some at least partly outside the range of personal influence. The more individual control a person exercises, the more gratifying achievement becomes.

The angst associated with goal setting usually ratchets up a few notches when managers set about to evaluate employee performance. The evaluation event – and it’s too often a single event, a once-a-year drive-by session – is frequently distant from the time of performance, focused on inter-employee comparison and competition and sometimes prelude to a forced ranking exercise.

These elements create stress for both manager and employee.


Guest Author Blog: People Can’t be Managed, but Environments Can by: Tom Davenport author of, Manager Redefined: The Competitive Advantage in the Middle of Your Organization

To reinforce self-confidence and overcome the negative emotions that bad news and perceived criticism usually provoke, manager feedback on goal performance must be FITEMA:

  • Fairly determined. Employees must have confidence that the goals were realistic to begin with, an accurate depiction of the intersection of employee ability and opportunity. In other words, performance must be assessed against FAMIC goals.
  • Individual, not comparative. People react best when they receive feedback framed against their individual performance in the context of goals, past achievements, or rate of improvement. Comparing one person with another elicits an ego-protection impulse that interferes with attention to improvement strategies.
  • Task-focused, not person-focused. Feedback carries the greatest cognitive power, and the lowest emotional drag, when concentrated on job performance and outcomes achieved, not on the character or the personality of the employee.
  • Error-tolerant. People can learn from their mistakes, but only when managers treat mistakes as opportunities to improve and not as signs of personal flaws. Our research shows that supervisors in high-performing organizations score ten percentage points higher than their counterparts in other companies on employee survey items like “My manager encourages people to learn from their mistakes.”
  • Matched with the cadence of work. Feedback should come at the completion of a discrete unit of work: a week’s production, a project completed, a month’s worth of sales, or a year’s output of new product research. It should fit seamlessly into the flow of work. The real challenge for managers is to tread the fine line between overobserving (second cousin to micromanagement) and being too distant.
  • Action oriented. Feedback has little meaning without plans for developing the competencies required for improved performance. Pointing the feedback discussion toward concrete growth strategies enhances goal achievement. Focusing on tactics for future improvement also gives the discussion a positive spin. This increases the likelihood an employee will walk out of the feedback session with a sense of optimism, a strategy for improvement and a renewed energy to get it done the next time.

What prevents managers from FAMIC goal setting and FITEMA feedback?


When we survey HR managers, they said the main obstacle is manager unwillingness to spend time in these areas.

We think lack of available time, not willingness to invest it, is a more likely cause.

In fact, Towers Watson global research indicates that only 46 percent of employees believe their managers have enough time to handle the people-related aspects of their jobs, including setting FAMIC goals setting and giving FITEMA feedback.

Organizations that are serious about improving the processes they lump under the heading of performance management will likely need to redefine that manager’s role and redesign the manager’s job.

Only by doing so can they afford managers the time they need to stop managing performance instead look for ways to inspire it, encourage it, direct it and, with luck, improve it. This may ultimately prove to be the single most important element in the formula for improved employee performance.

About the author:Tom Davenport is senior practitioner, Talent Management group, Towers Watson author of, Manager Redefined: The Competitive Advantage in the Middle of Your Organization

Email me at bullishonbooks@cnbc.comAnd follow me on Twitter @BullishonBooks