As leaders, we all want our team to perform well. There are certain things that need to happen in order to move forward. Even if the plan is flexible as long as the end result is the same we still need people to perform at the top of their game. We use words like “accountability”, “ownership”, “responsibility” and “professionalism” as motivators. The reality is many of these words are used in a context that is meant to elicit guilt and to manipulate people into changing their behavior. Ah, the glory and beauty of performance improvement.

Yeah, I’m being ridiculously sarcastic but the truth in what I’m saying is what gives it humor. We have the fabled Performance Improvement Plan to try and help things along. The unfortunate part of the PIP is that it is typically used as a way to justify getting rid of a team member and employees know it. We can bury our heads in the sand and point out how employees are mis-interpreting things, but it won’t change their opinion. Time to face reality.

The idea, as we generically understand it, of improving someone’s performance is simply ineffective. We are attempting to control the behavior of an adult. If that were even possible, the prison system would be redundant. Most performance improvement attempts are thinly veiled token gestures to be able to say, “Well, we tried. They just weren’t interested in getting better.” What a sad commentary on leadership!

What’s the alternative? Certain things need to happen in order to remain viable as a business. It’s as simple as shifting your focus from the what to the who. If we are somewhat successful in changing behavior that appears to be an improvement in performance, we have still ignored the reason for the poor performance in the first place. We have ignored the person giving the performance. We are effectively communicating “What you do is more important than who you are.” Not exactly the most inspiring message really.

We must develop the person instead of simply focusing on improving their performance. Who cares if they glean some wisdom and knowledge from your organization and leave to go to another company. There will be those who choose not to do so. Developing people is a reflection of your brand. It is your reputation within your industry and one of the best recruiting tools you have at your disposal.

If you are known to develop people, you will be more likely to attract and retain the top talent in your industry. People make you money. A product or service is pretty much pointless if there aren’t people to create, improve, sell and service it. Investing in people is equally important as investing in R&D or marketing. The next time you’re thinking of how to improve someone’s performance, ask yourself how you can develop the person instead.