“Partnering for Performance”

Partnering for Performance

Geoff Moss & Elizabeth Floyer

In this series so far we have described how to apply the framework of Situational Leadership® II to promote teacher professional development within a positive performance management process.  We have shown how to transform the potentially bureaucratic procedures of performance management into a dynamic process for CPD. This leadership process follows three main stages – in the language of Situational Leadership® II these stages are defined as ‘diagnosis’, ‘flexibility’ and ‘partnering for performance’.

We have described the framework for diagnosing a person’s “development level” on any of the key performance competencies. Flexibility then means selecting the leadership style that now matches the diagnosed needs of the individual for that task. In the last article we also described how to use the same approach when working with groups, applying the appropriate leadership style to develop really effective teams.

Now we need to show how leaders and their direct reports, using this framework, can work positively together in order to improve performance whenever new skills are introduced or at those times when questions of competence or commitment may arise. We don’t just suppose that everyone in the team will just pick up on the latest initiative and implement it within their professional practice without further support. We don’t just leave team members to become frustrated or disheartened if they cannot sort it out for themselves. We take a proactive stance with our leadership and apply it to develop positively orientated performance management.

In an earlier article we said that an effective performance management system has three components –  performance planning, performance coaching, and performance review.  We observed that more often than not what we see is an organisation committing most of its time and effort to the last component, performance review, and least to what should in fact be the most important part – performance coaching.  The professional development aspect of performance management is glossed; the process becomes one of judging, not coaching; a chore to be avoided, not a resource to be sought.

Partnering for performance is the term we use to describe the arrangements that leaders make with each member of their team – their ‘direct reports’ – in order to provide them, when it is needed, with the proper level of direction and support with their tasks. The goal of this partnering is for each team member ultimately to become self-managing and self-motivated in performing the key tasks of their job.

What are the steps in Partnering for Performance?  First we identify the key development goals – those priorities for action which should be clearly described in the school or department improvement plan. Don’t select too many goals. According to most research it would seem that three to five goals is about the number to aim for. So limit the number and focus on those key activities that will have the highest impact on performance and outcomes.  We will often find that these goals, when set by others, are described in quite general terms. So we will need to convert these general goals into “SMART” targets i.e. specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, trackable and time-bound.

  • Describe each goal in specific terms – we need to clarify what a good performance looks like.
  • Make sure the target performance is in some way measurable – if you can’t measure it you can’t manage it.
  • Set targets that are attainable – goals that will stretch you but that are not impossible.
  • Select targets that are relevant – achieving this goal will make a real difference to the quality of the job.
  • Define them in such a way as to allow them to be trackable and time-bound – you need some way of monitoring incremental progress over time, by setting up some sort of tracking system marked out by interim goals along the way.


That is the ideal, if we wish to create effective parameters to help our team members achieve your school or department goals. Sadly what teachers may otherwise face might be called “DAFT” targets. They are dictated, arbitrary, fuzzy, and temporary.

“DAFT” targets

Far from being the “SMART” targets advocated by management experts, what teachers are sometimes asked to aim for are just plain “DAFT”. They are dictated, arbitrary, fuzzy, and temporary.

  • Dictated – they are determined by someone else without discussion or negotiation
  • Arbitrary – they don’t seem to have any particular purpose for the person or organisation in terms of their priorities or meaningfulness
  • Fuzzy – they are expressed in general terms, without sufficient clarity to describe unambiguously what the person is to do. (We noted in an earlier article how the TDA expectations of teacher performance don’t actually tell us what any one ‘competence’ would look like in actual practice.)
  • Temporary – they are the flavour of the month; just sit it out long enough and these goals will fade away (but sadly only to be replaced by another set of “daft” targets with the next round of initiatives).

If we can achieve more clarity about what a good job looks like we can now  measure the extent to which this target has been reached by each of our direct reports. This is where we use the Situational Leadership® II concept of development stages to identify the level of competence and the degree of commitment each person has for this particular task.  Each development level describes a different degree of competence and a different degree of commitment.  Each development level will need a different style of leadership.

Development level 1 describes the enthusiastic novice – the task is new, the person unskilled and yet motivated to tackle it.

Development level 2 describes the disillusioned learner – the task has been attempted, but the person still cannot manage it, and has lost the motivation to do so.

Development level 3 describes the capable but cautious performer – the person has most of the skills to perform the task but is uncertain of their ability at this stage.

Development level 4 describes the self-reliant achiever – the person can perform the task well and is both confident and motivated to do so.

Once we have undertaken this sort of assessment of each person’s development level on each of their key tasks we are able to determine the type of leadership the person will need to now move forward. On this task does the person need more or less direction, more or less support? This is now where we meet with each of our team to compare our perceptions. Ask each one to assess their own development level on the key tasks. What is the match between their assessment and your own? Where there is agreement on the development level we can readily identify the required leadership style. Where there isn’t agreement we go along with the direct report for now – but ensure that we also agree how we set up ways of measuring performance with this skill for the future, to either confirm or correct this present assessment.

Now this where we reach the stage in Partnering for Performance where we put into practice the underlying rationale for the whole approach – that this is not something done to people, but something done for them. Leaders at this stage will only offer their support. They won’t impose it. Direct reports are given the responsibility for identifying and meeting their own development needs.  We hand over the initiative now to the direct report to take action. You will see that this process is a quite informal arrangement, but if such a voluntary system operates positively it can pave the way for a more formal arrangement to be accepted, with partnering for performance as a core element.

If between us we have identified areas of need and a willingness to receive help then we set up a series of one to one meetings. This continues to be a voluntary arrangement but it is led by the direct report, who determines the agenda for these meetings. That agenda will contain the areas of performance development which presently concern the direct report. You will, however, probably need to get things moving by creating a structure by way of a loose format for these one to one meetings.

Get your direct reports to list 4 or 5 agenda items based on their development needs, with each item categorised as a D1, D2, D3 or D4 type of need. You might suggest conversation starters for your direct report for each development level e.g.

D1 – “I need direction with this task. I want to learn about …… How can I develop my skills with ……..?  What are my goals? What will a good job look like? What information would be helpful for me? How can I learn more?”

D2 – “I need direction and support. I need more clarity about this task. I’m not sure of my success doing it. Tell me again why I should be doing this? Am I making any progress with it? These are my concerns about this goal…”

D3 – “I need support and encouragement. I’m anxious about whether this is a good enough job. I would like some reassurance about whether I am on the right lines. I’d like your vote of confidence about the way I’m handling this task.”

D4 – “I’d like to share something with you. This what I’ve done on this task. Here’s an idea I have for improving how we manage this goal. I’d like to share the success we’ve had with this project.”

During these one to one meetings it is important that the leader adopts the correct leadership style for each of the goals or tasks for which their direct report seeks help. The style will match the development level.

Style 1 – A directing style takes an instructional approach to leadership. At this level your direct report mostly needs information on how to do the job well. You will clarify the goals. You will explain how to perform the task. You may demonstrate it yourself. You check for understanding. (If your own skill on this task is not great you may find someone else who can.) Where the task is relatively complex you may want to set out a programme of the steps the direct report will follow to achieve sufficient competence with it. You may break the task down into smaller elements, and set smaller targets to achieve.

Style 2 – A coaching style provides both high levels of direction and high levels of support. Directive communication from you continues to be instructive to develop faltering competence, but more support is now added. That support is designed to deal with the person’s feelings of disaffection with the task. It may be that you have to remind them of why the task is important by reiterating the priority it has within your team, department or school. It may be that you have to provide perspective about the performance required – that this is a skill that can take some time to acquire, that it is alright to make mistakes when learning. You will need now to engage in more two-way conversation, to get your direct report to engage in some solution-focused thinking, in order to gain commitment. You also provide a lot of supportive feedback at this stage about the person’s achievements to date, in order to build confidence.

What we mean by a coaching style

The educational management literature is replete with manuals on ‘coaching’. Every book seems to contain a different definition – at times incorporating just about everything that could possibly be conceived of as a form of leadership or teaching, at others merging or exchanging the concept with mentoring. For us coaching is a specific skill subset of leadership or teaching.

Coaching is made up of two elements – high levels of direction combined with high levels of supportive feedback.  Supportive feedback contains both confirming and corrective feedback. This feedback is neither simply praise nor criticism. Supportive feedback does not consist of vague generalities such as “well done” – comments which are intended to be encouraging but which don’t explain why the praise is forthcoming. It doesn’t describe what it is that the person actually did that was correct. Even “that was a good job you did”, while apparently focused on a specific task, doesn’t describe the particular behaviours that were successful.  When giving confirming feedback make use of behavioural narration. Describe the behaviour that you observed in functional terms and then add your word of congratulation.

Criticism that just tells the person they did a bad job results in demotivation. It is neither accurate feedback nor is it supportive. Telling someone they got it wrong doesn’t tell them how to get it right. On the other hand corrective feedback lets the person know where they were going wrong, perhaps with an indication of the effect that had, and then redirects the person back on target by reiterating what they can do to be successful instead. It doesn’t carry blame or personal judgement.

Reaching goals requires feedback. Accurate and supportive feedback on  performance is a major motivator.

Style 3 – A supporting style is appropriate when your direct report is actually capable of performing the task but seems cautious about applying the skills. You listen to the concerns and provide reassurance. You are careful to encourage the person to engage in their own problem-solving and place less reliance on you. You therefore give less direction or instruction. You may remind your direct report of previous successes, refer to examples of jobs well done, and express your confidence in that person.  This is a more non-directive type of support, building self-confidence and independence. You are playing the role now more of a mentor – someone with whom your direct report can sound out ideas, experience an empathetic listener, and get reassurance that they are on the right lines with this task.

Style 4 – A delegating style is needed when your direct report demonstrates both competence and commitment with the task. One to one meetings at this level are actually no more than opportunities for you to get feedback on how well this person is doing. They also provide the opportunity for that person to be recognised for a job well done – but probably not much more. Because at development level 4 someone has reached the goal, there isn’t a need to partner for performance any more – not on this task anyway.

Within school organisations, with their many stresses and tensions, with people’s suspicion of judgemental performance management, these sorts of conversations between leader and direct report will require sophisticated interpersonal skills. The first attempts with one to one conversations may well, therefore, not run as smoothly and be as productive as you might hope. However if you are able to maintain the good faith that underpins the philosophy of Situational Leadership II you reduce the suspicion and begin to build a culture of trust within your team. As your direct reports become more familiar with these concepts then Partnering for Performance will become an increasingly positive and easy way to work with each other, to open up honest professional conversations.

What’s the match?

A task for team leaders

Ask each of your direct reports to write down five key goals that make up part of their current job responsibilities. Ask them, as far as they are able, to re-write these goals as SMART targets to describe how someone would know what a good job looked like. Without looking at your direct reports responses, now write down what you believe each person’s five key goals to be and how you would know if that person was doing a good job.Now compare the two lists. How often do the two lists match?

Geoff Moss & Elizabeth Floyer are accredited by the Blanchard Organisation to provide training in Situational Leadership® II and Situational Team Leadership. Contact Behaviour & Learning Management  www.behaviour-learning.com  tel: 0870 241 8262 for details.