Ask Aubrey: Unions and Performance Feedback


I was recently promoted to a supervisory position at a federal agency where it is against the Collective Bargaining Agreement to discuss "performance standards" or "numbers" with employees. Everyone talks about how to improve performance in poetic terms that have little tangible meaning. I've read a couple of your books, but I would be run out of town if I ever showed an employee a chart of their performance. Do you have any tips for how I can get people re-focused without talking about numbers?


First let me say that I think the union has included a self-defeating provision in their bargaining agreement. The impact that performance feedback can have on not only performance but job satisfaction has been documented for over two decades. While I understand why this is an issue for the union, it is not in their long-term best interest. Unfortunately, in the past untrained supervisors and managers have used performance feedback, i.e. charts and graphs, to punish rather than to recognize improved performance, or as a tool to help employees perform better. Of course people complained about the punishment and the union took up the cause. In today's economic environment, any union that does not actively work to help the organization perform better will eventually be replaced because business and government must improve. With private-sector unions, we have not had problems even with individual performance charts, primarily because they were used to recognize good or improved performance. That said, you probably can't do anything about that immediately. I would suggest that you focus on recognizing on-task behavior when you see it, hopefully many times a day. While that is not as effective as including some performance tracking mechanism, it will improve results. If you can, I would also advise you to celebrate improved results where you give employees involved, an opportunity to tell you what they did to accomplish them. Encourage the team to share things that they saw others do that contributed to the improvement. This builds teamwork while improving performance. This kind of celebration does not expose individual performance but allows employees to voluntarily contribute. The effects of this kind of meeting can be dramatic on performance and morale. Hope this was helpful, Aubrey

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Posted by Aubrey Daniels, Ph.D.

Aubrey is a thought leader and expert on management, leadership, safety and workplace issues. For the past 40 years, he has been dedicated to helping people and organizations apply the laws of human behavior to optimize performance.