Performance management training: Line managers’ experience of performance management, their attitudes towards it and the impact of training.

1. Introduction

As part of a larger project to explore performance management in the Institution, CAPOD (University’s Centre for Academic, Professional and Organisational Development) recently ran a survey of line managers to find out more about their attitude towards performance management, their perceptions of how this is handled in the organisation, and their own experience of dealing with performance issues in their teams.

Within the data collected it is possible to compare the responses of participants who have attended relevant training in the last 2 years (CAPOD runs a number of workshops related to performance management) to those who have not. It is therefore possible to identify where there are significant differences in responses, which may indicate that attendance on performance management training has an impact not only on perceptions and attitudes around managing performance, but also on the experience line managers have with managing performance issues in their teams.

2. Survey methodology and participation

The survey was carried out using an online questionnaire. A covering letter, including a hyperlink to the questionnaire was sent out to all line managers in the institution. The survey, covering letter and survey methodology were approved by the University Teaching and Research Ethics Committee (UTREC) and complied with the required standards in terms of participation and protection of personal data.

The anonymised and aggregated survey results are not therefore attributable to individual survey participants.

The survey invitation was sent to a total of 456 people. Of this total, 107 had attended relevant training within the last 2 years and 349 were line managers who had not attended relevant training in the last 2 years.

It should be noted that the population of people who had attended training may have included some former members of staff no longer employed at the University, and also included some workshop participants who do not currently have line management responsibilities and who (as their line management status was unknown at the time of conducting the survey) were asked not to complete the questionnaire.

The total number of completed questionnaires was 127, or whom 36 had attended training and 91 had not.

This represents an overall response rate of 28%. This breaks down to 34% for people who had attended training and 26% for those who had not. As the ‘trained’ population included an unknown number of people who may have left the University or may not have been current line managers, the actual percentage response rate for ‘trained’ population and for the population overall is likely to be slightly higher than the reported rate.

3. Interpretation of the results

A number of different question types were used and this analysis only draws on those question types with responses that are quantifiable and which can be aggregated together and averaged (i.e. excluding free text responses). These include questions scored on a Likert scale, questions where respondents could choose more than one option from a list, could choose just one option from a list and simple Yes/No questions.

As not all questions were ‘required’, the sample size varies between questions. In every case the percentages presented represent the percentage of the sample group for that question who gave the specified response. Raw numbers of sample size and respondents choosing the specified response are also included.

A ‘positive response’ is defined as one where respondents selected either 4 or 5 on a 5 point scale, with 5 being the highest.

4. Overall results of the survey

The overall results for all respondents are as follows:

  • 72% of respondents (91 out of 127) reported that they have experienced underperformance issues in their team in the last 2 years
  •  52% of respondents (56 out of 108) stated that they currently have unresolved performance issues in their team
  •  Only 44% of respondents (40 out of 90) felt they have been successful in dealing with poor performance in the past
  •  Respondents rated the most common types of underperformance as ‘negative attitudes’ (64% of respondents, or 61 out of 96) and ‘poor quality of work’ (58% or 56 out of 96)
  •  Respondents rated the most common causes of underperformance as ‘failure to deal with underperformance in the past’ (55% or 53 out of 96) and ‘failure to recruit the right people in the first place’ (53% or 51 out of 96)
  •  49% of all respondents (62 out of 126) feel well-equipped to deal with underperformance.
  •  59% of all respondents (73 out of 124) feel their own line manager supports them in dealing with underperformance issues
  •  35% of all respondents (44 out of 126) feel the University provides effective support for managing underperformance.
  •  46% of respondents (58 out of 126) say they are familiar with written procedures for performance management.
  •  47% of all respondents (58 out of 124) are confident that they will receive effective support for taking action under formal written procedures.
  •  35% of all respondents (44 out of 127) are confident that the University will deal effectively with poor performance when formal action is taken.

Three further questions asked respondents to rate a list of eight items in terms of how important each of them are to effective performance management, how confident they feel with each of these and how well they feel the University supports them in each of these. The eight items are:

  • Recruiting the right people in the first place
  • Providing new staff with a well-planned induction programme
  • Setting out clear standards and expectations relating to conduct and performance
  • Setting clear and measurable targets/objectives
  • Supporting staff to develop their confidence and competence
  • Monitoring performance and providing feedback
  • Identifying and addressing underperformance at an early stage
  • Providing recognition for good performance

Respondents were most positive when rating the importance of these items to successful performance management, with an average positive response ranging between 76-97% for different items.

Respondents were less confident about their own effectiveness in all listed aspects of performance management, with an average positive response ranging between 48-78% for different items.

Respondents were even less positive about the effectiveness of the University in supporting them in different aspects of performance management, with average responses ranging between 19-50% for different items

5. Differences between trained/not-trained respondents

While the overall results are of interest, with no internal or external benchmarks against which to compare these results, only general conclusions can be drawn from the responses to each question or by comparing responses between questions. For example it is interesting to note that almost three quarters of respondents have experienced performance issues in their team in the last two years and that more than half of them currently have unresolved performance issues in their team. Or that almost half of respondents (48%) feel well-equipped to deal with underperformance issues, but only 44% of them felt that they have been successful in dealing with performance issues.   However, the data can be subjected to further analysis which enables us to explore any differences of perceptions, attitudes and experience of respondents who have attended training and those who have not.

Based on a comparison of responses between the two groups, line managers who had attended relevant training within the last 2 years are more positive about:

  • The importance of the range of eight listed issues in relation to successful performance management.

The overall aggregated average positive response across the range of issues was 95% for trained managers and 87% for not-trained managers. Notable differences in the positive response rates for specific issues include:

o   Importance of well-planned induction (89% [32 out of 36] for trained managers against 71% [65 out of 91] for not-trained)

o   Importance of setting clear and measurable targets/objectives (94% [34 out of 36] trained: 78% [70 out of 90] not-trained)

o   Importance of monitoring performance and providing feedback (100% [36 out of 36] trained: 79% [71 out of 90] not-trained)

This indicates that line managers who have been trained are more likely to recognise that a wide range of factors is important to successful performance management than those who have not, and to appreciate the importance of those factors. Managers who have been trained are therefore more likely to address these issues (or to address these issues more diligently) than managers who have not been trained, so they are more likely to deliver well-planned inductions, set clear targets, monitor performance and provide feedback.

  •  Their own confidence in addressing these issues.

The overall aggregated average positive response across the range of issues was 71% for trained managers and 66% for not-trained managers. Most notably this includes a difference in:

o   Confidence in identifying and addressing underperformance at an early stage (61% [22 out of 36] trained: 43% [38 out of 89] not-trained)

This shows that while confidence levels with the range of performance management issues are overall lower than the levels of recognition of the importance of those issues to effective performance management, those that have been trained are more confident than those that have not.

Confidence is an important component of performance and this must therefore be considered in relation to the effectiveness of trained managers in managing performance issues.

  • The effectiveness of the university in supporting them to address these issues.

The overall aggregated average positive response across the range of issues was 46% for trained managers and 30% for not-trained managers. Notable differences in positive response rates for specific issues include:

o   Recruiting the right people in the first place (56% [20 out of 36] trained: 46% [41 out of 90] not-trained)

o   Setting clear standards and expectations (53% [19 out of 36] trained: 34% [30 out of 88] not-trained)

o   Setting clear and measurable targets (44% [16 out of 36] trained: 27% [24 out of 89] not-trained)

o   Monitoring performance and providing feedback (43% [15 out of 36] trained: 23% [20 out of 87] not-trained)

o   Identifying and addressing underperformance at an early stage (33% [12 out of 36 trained]: 13% [11 out of 86] not-trained)

o   Providing recognition for good performance (28% [10 out of 36] trained: 15% [13 out of 66] not-trained)

Again, this shows that while respondents rate the support they receive in addressing the listed aspects of performance management lower than either the importance of those issues or their confidence in dealing with them, those that have been trained rate the effectiveness of the University in supporting them as higher than those that have not.

  • Feeling that they have dealt effectively with performance issues in the past (57% [13 out of 23] trained: 40% [27 out of 67] not-trained).
  •  Feeling well-equipped to address performance issues in their team (61% [22 out of 36] trained: 44% [40 out of 90] not-trained)
  • Being supported by their line managers in addressing performance management issues (64% [23 out of 36] trained: 57% [50 out of 88] not-trained)
  • Receiving effective support from the University in managing underperformance (53% [19 out of 36] trained: 28% [ 25 out of 90] not-trained)
  • Familiarity with formal written procedures for dealing with poor performance (58% [21 out of 36] trained: 41% [37 out of 90] not-trained)
  • Confidence in receiving effective support when taking action under formal written procedures (56% [20 out of 36] trained: 43% [38 out of 88] not-trained)
  • Confidence that the University will deal effectively with poor performance when formal action is taken (53% [19 out of 36] trained: 27% [25 out of 91] not-trained)

The differences indicated above show that trained line managers are significantly more likely than their colleagues who have not been trained to feel that they have dealt effectively with performance management issues and to feel well-equipped to deal with performance issues.

They are also more likely to feel well-supported by their own line manager and by the university. Unsurprisingly, as this is covered during training, they are likely to rate themselves as more familiar with written procedures, but they also have higher levels of confidence that they will be supported in using those procedures and that the University will deal effectively with formal action.

Very significantly the analysis of the data reveals one more key difference between those who have attended training and those who have not:

Line managers who have not been trained in the last 2 years are more likely to:

  • Have unresolved performance issues in their team (58% [42 out of 72] not-trained: 39% [14 out of 36] trained)

This suggests that line managers who have attended relevant training are more effective at resolving (or preventing) performance management issues and therefore to have higher performing teams.

6. Conclusions

The results show (across the whole range of questions around perception, attitudes and experiences of performance management) that those who have been trained are more likely to appreciate how performance is effected by a variety of issues, they are more positive about their own level of knowledge and confidence in dealing with performance issues, they feel that they are better supported in managing performance and feel more confident that the University will support them and will deal with performance issues effectively.

Ultimately those who have been trained feel that they are more effective at managing performance and are less likely to have unresolved performance issues in their team.

This strongly suggests that attendance on relevant training has a positive impact on management skills, knowledge and attitudes and on the effectiveness of managers in dealing with performance management issues.

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