“Commanding Performance”

How can the art of performance management be refined by the techniques of Situational Leadership? Geoff Moss and Elizabeth Floyer’s series investigates 

Published in Managing Schools Today March 2008 

Commanding Performance

In the last article we asked how school managers make use of the key process of Performance Management to promote individual and organisational development [1]. We pointed out that in order to make this a more open, positive, and effective process for promoting School Improvement Plans then certain conditions needed to be satisfied. We need to be clear about – 

  • the expectations for each person’s professional performance as a result of engaging in their own CPD programme
  • the plans for supporting teachers to develop their skills in each particular area
  • who will provide this help
  • how skill development will be monitored
  • how teachers will receive feedback on their performance 
  • the timelines for the stages along the way
  • a date for the completion of this process  

The point we made is that professional performance is unlikely to change much if left to the vagaries of an unsystematic and unstructured school CPD programme. As the TDA has observed CPD is most effective when it is sustained, as part of a deliberately planned process [2]. 

Performance Management in practice is often big on ‘performance’ but short on ‘management’. There is much written and spoken about what teachers should do, in particular for English teachers by the Department for children, schools and families on their Standards Site, which dispenses copious prescription of what their performance should be (albeit in general terms that don’t actually provide clear management goals). But within the actual process of Performance Management there is often little that can be readily recognised as management in any but the most restricted sense (i.e. what might better be called the administration of set policies and procedures).  

While there are organisational features that do indeed need to be managed – the systems and policies aspect, the professional features of performance management – the skills of pedagogy and curriculum delivery have need not so much of management as leadership. Leadership in this context is not just about setting standards and then evaluating whether they have been reached or not. 

Performance Management, if it is to be seen as a dynamic process for development rather than as a static system of judgement, should contain three components –  

  • Performance Planning
  • Performance Leadership
  • Performance Review 

In practice it is mostly made up of the first and third elements; there is often precious little time given over to the second. In England the government has set the goals for Performance Management, while within schools senior management undertakes the evaluation. But what of the performance leadership? Clearly performance planning must include goal setting, and plans about how data on performance will be collected and shared. It may include intentions about how the development of performance will be supported. Performance leadership is then about the realisation of those plans.

Leadership at this point is about coaching for improvement; the style of that coaching will be dependent upon the situation. In practice this means that there is a leadership philosophy and practice embedded in the culture of professional development in which leadership is shared and varied according to the resources of the leader and the needs of the follower. So then, when we reach the stage of performance review, our hopes for the successful implementation of professional development initiatives may have more of a chance of being realised. 

Let’s focus upon this ‘performance leadership’ aspect of Performance Management.  The performance leadership style that managers provide for teachers should, one might expect, mirror the performance leadership those teachers strive to give their pupils in the classroom. So the leadership of teachers’ professional development, whether or not it falls within the remit of Performance Management, should reflect best practice within the classroom. But this is the nub of the problem – it is often the very fact that it is not present that requires the initiatives of professional development in the first place. Yet if that best practice is not being generally recognised and attempted within the classroom it is unlikely to be put into practice by those same teachers if they ate to take on a leadership role within Performance Management. Conversely, if senior managers themselves do not model the process in their own leadership role with teaching staff, then it is somewhat disingenuous of them to expect the process to be demonstrated by teachers in their lessons. 

In some schools at times the approach to professional development has the air of a somewhat passive activity – almost as if a teacher will “develop” professional skills through some natural maturational process. The hard reality is that change often needs to be strategically managed, clearly led and enthusiastically encouraged. It takes time, energy, and strategy. Performance leadership is an active process within which we often need to provide direction and support to others to get them to particular stage or goal. How much direction, how much support? The answer is dependent upon each person’s stage of development with each task. 

In our work on performance leadership we therefore employ the strategies of Situational Leadership® II to provide schools with a clear and open management framework [3]. In the course of learning some new skill or a new area of knowledge we may often go through four levels of development. As we continue to learn our competence mostly continues to improve, but our commitment may vary at different stages.  

  • Our competence on any task is a product of our knowledge (what we understand) and our skill (how we are able to put it into practice).
  • Our commitment to any task is made up of motivation (wanting to do it) and confidence (believing we can do it). 

Our varying degrees of competence and commitment to a task as we learn it can be categorised into four development levels, which we simply refer to as D1, D2, D3 & D4.  

D1. Development Level One occurs at the stage when we want to learn the skill or acquire the knowledge but right now we don’t know how to do it.  Our commitment is high (we are motivated to learn and confident we can learn) but our competence is low (we don’t know much about this new task and we don’t have the skill to perform it).  At this stage we can say we are the “enthusiastic novice”.  So right now – at development level one – we need a high level of instruction, but we won’t need much encouragement to learn.Not everybody who begins to learn something new is at Development Level One. Sometimes they begin at Development Level Two. 

D2. Development Level Two mostly occurs a little while after we have started to learn something, but we still can’t really do it, and we are finding it hard to learn or to do. At those times our competence is still low, and our commitment may drop. We lose motivation – we begin to wonder whether it is worth the effort to learn.  At this point we might be called the “disillusioned learner”.  At this stage we still need a high level of instruction, because we are still learning, but we also need a high level of support to encourage us, because our commitment is low. Some people begin to learn a new task at development level two; they don’t know much about it, they can’t do it very well, and they don’t really want to learn it.  Some people never go through development level two; they may find this learning task hard but they remain self-motivated and are determined to overcome the difficulties themselves. 

D3. Development Level Three is the stage when we have now acquired a reasonable level of skill or sufficient depth of knowledge to cope with the task for ourselves. However we are not always confident of our abilities, and so we may not always apply our new skills because of uncertainty. Now we might be called the “uncertain performer”.  At this stage we don’t really need yet more instruction – we do know how to do it. If right now our manager took us through the whole instructional process again it would be a waste of time because really we do know it – we just don’t believe that we know it. What we mostly need are high levels of support and encouragement to boost our confidence and to help us believe in our own abilities. 

D4. Development Level Four is reached when we have the knowledge and skill to perform the task well, and when we have the motivation to do it and the confidence to apply our skills with a variety of problems. This is the stage of the “competent practitioner”.  What we need now at this level is the chance to practice our skills, and more challenges to deepen our competence and commitment. Our biggest danger is boredom by just going over the same ground time and again. We need to move on to the next challenge! 

This pattern of development for someone facing a new undertaking is not an invariable one but it is a common one. When given new tasks to perform in the wake of the latest government initiative the progression path of teachers will typically follow this pattern – up to a point. In practice we see that many pedagogical initiatives only get so far, falter, then are lost.  In the terminology of Situational Leadership® II the development reaches D2, the point when we are still learning the skill but when motivation drops. Then, in the absence of external support to coach the teacher through this stage, the learning stalls and then crashes.  And so we need to look at the style of leadership that is being provided to take teachers through this progression – to manage the performance in a positive way – in order to reach the goals we have set. 

Sadly what we often observe is a mismatch between the needs of the learner and the style of the leader.  There is a lot of inappropriate delegation – managers telling staff what the task is, giving them the goal, then expecting them to manage it successfully themselves. In an earlier article we called this “Seagull Management”, so called because the manager, after leaving the teacher to struggle alone, then swoops in with much noise, ‘drops on’ the bewildered teacher, then flies off again [4]. So performance review can be somewhat like that – the teacher being left to get on with the task, and then manager reviewing the performance finds little or no progress on the task, resulting in much noise and fall-out!  

For performance leadership to work the style of leadership must match the needs of the learner. Having identified a teacher’s apparent Development Level on a given task, the leader then needs to select the required leadership style.  Effective leaders need to be flexible, and must adapt themselves according to the situation.  Situational Leadership®II describes leadership style in terms of the amount of direction and support that the leader provides to their followers.

  • Direction is mostly task-focused. It is akin to instruction – it is when the leader explains what needs to be done, sets goals, establishes time lines, demonstrates good practice, checks for understanding – the sort of thing that teachers do at the presentation phase of the lesson.
  • Support is mostly person-focused. It is how the leader gives encouragement, delivers praise, explains the rationale for the task, puts it into context, asks for the follower’s input about how the task can be tackled etc. It is what teachers do when they move onto the operational phase of the lesson.  

In Situational Leadership® II the various combinations of leadership styles are categorised into four behaviour types, simply designated S1 to S4:  

S1: the leader as instructor – the leader defines the goals and tasks of their direct reports or team members, ensures they receive adequate instruction about how to do this job, and supervises them closely. At this stage decisions about the best course of action are made by the leader, and so the communication tends to be mostly one-way. The leader does most of the telling. The leader therefore provides high levels of direction, but because at this stage follower commitment is high, the leader need use only low levels of supportive behaviours. 

S2: the leader as coach – the performance leader still define roles and tasks, but seek ideas and suggestions from the follower. Decisions remain the leader’s prerogative, but communication is much more two-way. The leader is concerned to overcome emotional resistance and build up motivation as well. This is the stage when progress can falter or the learning fail because of a loss of commitment by the teacher. Now the leader not only provides high levels of directive behaviours but also high levels of support. 

S3: the leader as mentor. At this stage the teacher is mostly competent to manage the new task but may be uncertain about how well they are doing. So from the leader there is little instructing at this stage as the follower mostly knows well enough what needs to be done and how to do it. The barrier to development is more to do with the confidence of the follower to rely on their own abilities to cope.  So now the leader facilitates and takes part in decisions, but tries to shift more control over to the follower. The leader provides low levels of direction but uses a high level of supportive behaviours to boost self-confidence. 

S4: the empowering leader.  By this stage the teacher is quite capable of performing the task and is committed to doing a good job. The leader need only apply low levels of both direction and support. Essentially the task has now been fully delegated, and when the time comes for performance review the criteria for assessing competence will have been achieved. 

So the style of performance leadership that we use will reflect the development level of each teacher for each of the tasks they are required to perform. Situational leaders provide a mixture of directive and supportive behaviours matched to the level of competence and commitment displayed by the teacher for that task. As teachers we should be well placed, at this stage, to consider how to facilitate the learning process for each teacher at each stage of their development. We can personalise the learning to suit the diverse needs of learners, whether they be pupils or teachers.

Differentiated learning for teachers will follow best practice for our pupils. Using the Strategy for Differentiation that we use with pupils [5] we can differentiate the directive functions of teaching into four factors – 

  • task factors
  • teaching factors
  • resource factors
  • learner factors 

Task factors – We might expect that as teachers we would be able to give our direct reports clear instruction about what is to be done and how it is to be done. We should be able to convert general organisational goals into specific targets for departments, and then, for each individual, to determine the nature of the task each has, to break down larger tasks into their manageable components according to the needs of the learner using task analysis, and for each of these establish clear learning objectives. 

Teaching factors – There can be any number of ways to conceptualise the variety of potential teaching strategies we might adopt. We might, for example, just consider the variety of modalities within which the teaching or instruction may be couched e.g. using the concept of multiple intelligences we might express the instruction within the verbal-linguistic, the visual-spatial, the bodily-kinaesthetic, the logico-mathematical, the interpersonal, the intrapersonal.  

Resources  – These typically will include all the equipment, artefacts and media we employ to facilitate learning, for example by the written word using instructional manuals and  workbooks, through visual examples using film and video, and by kinaesthetic learning using video feedback on performance. 

Learner factors – This factor overlaps with that of teaching style but also asks us to consider where we may make a difference in respect of grouping arrangements. Do we work with teachers one to one, do we have them working together in pairs, do we create group work opportunities like jigsaw or expert groups? How do such learner factors as personality types influence progress here? We might allow for different preferences based upon levels of extraversion – introversion (the need for more or less stimulus), sensing – intuitive (the inclination towards more practical or more theoretical explanation), thinking – feeling (the preference for focus on task or on person issues). Of course these personality factors not only influence the ways we like to learn, but also the ways we like to teach, and by extension, the ways we may prefer to lead – but that is another story. 

We’ve barely scratched the surface of pedagogy. What you are likely to observe is that there isn’t much of this being applied to support teachers when we expect them to be learners. What we have tried to show in this article is how the process of Performance Management can become more than the bureaucratic activity of ticking the boxes. We will not increase competence without gaining commitment. However, by using the framework of Situational Leadership® II we can encourage a more positive partnership between leaders and teachers to develop professional skills. We will describe the ‘nuts and bolts’ for putting together that partnership in our final article. In the next issue we will look at the leadership of teams, rather than individuals, and show how their development can follow a similar journey. 


1. Moss, G; Floyer, E (2008), ‘Another wasted day’, Managing Schools Today 17:2, Jan/Feb

2. TDA (2007), What does good CPD look like?

3. www.tda.gov.uk/standards

4. Blanchard, K et al (2000), Situational Leadership II

5. Moss, G; Floyer, E (2007), ‘Beyond seagull management’, Managing Schools Today17:1, Nov

6. Moss, G (1996), A Strategy for Differentiation, Behaviour & Learning Management 

Geoff Moss and Elizabeth Floyer are accredited by the Blanchard Organisation to provide training and consultancy in Situational Leadership® II  www.behaviour-learning.com tel: 0870 241 8262