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Improving Staff Performance on New Responsibilities

Posted on Tuesday, November 27, 2012 at 10:46 AM

A reader's question: How can I get my staff to meet my expectations as we move further into digital?

By William Dunkerley

Q. At my publication we're working hard to meet today's digital challenges. We now have a digital replica edition that contains enhancements. These include supplementary text for some major feature articles, video and audio content that we produce, and QR code links to external content. I've provide the editorial and ad sales staff with plenty of training opportunities to advance their technical skills in new areas. But I'm not seeing the results I want. It seems like some of the staff just don't get it. I wonder if I've got the wrong people working here.

A. The problem may not be that you have the wrong people. It is highly possible that you are not clearly communicating your expectations. That is not an unusual phenomenon in this rapidly changing era in the magazine business.

Change introduces the need for new job functions and for people to perform old tasks differently. You may not know yourself the full extent of newly created responsibilities, or exactly what results can be expected from an employee. Nevertheless, it is very important to communicate your expectations at the outset, and to jointly revise those expectations in concert with the employee as circumstances continue to evolve.

Are Your Expectations Clear?

The most effective way of doing this is through a written job description. You may already have one. Even so, rapid industry changes have probably created a need for updating. As a starting point, consider that every job description should include the following elements:

1. What is the overall job function?

2. To whom does the person report?

3. What are the specific responsibilities of the job?

4. What authority does the person have in order to carry out the responsibilities?

5. What quantitative and qualitative results are expected if the job is performed satisfactorily -- i.e., what are the performance standards?

If your employees are given an opportunity to do their work with the benefit of such a job description, it is much more likely that you and they will have a common understanding of the job. The job description will also facilitate your performing a periodic appraisal of the employees' performance.

An Example

Let me use a concrete example. Mary is an advertising sales representative. Her overall job function is to boost advertising for the digital edition and service print advertisers. She reports directly to the ad manager. Her primary responsibility is to sell print advertising to her existing accounts and prospect list, and to promote the sale of the enhanced features available to them in the digital edition. To carry out that responsibility, she has been given several authorities. They are (a) to contact her assigned advertisers on behalf of the magazine, (b) to offer any print and digital advertising for sale, and (c) to offer discounts based on the frequency and volume of a customer's advertising orders. Mary's standards of performance are (a) at least 100 sales presentations will be made every week, (b) whenever a new advertiser is seen using a competing media outlet, it will be contacted within one month, and (c) total sales volume each month will be at least $100,000, with 20 percent of sales coming from digital.

That sounds simple enough, doesn't it? But how do you arrive at the standards of performance? How do you know what can be expected?

There are three kinds of standards. The first is an engineered standard. This kind of standard is arrived at by asking the question, "What results are necessary for me to be satisfied?" Obviously, this is a subjective way of developing a performance standard. There are two alternatives that are objective ways, however. A comparative standard is an expression of results that are desired based on the typical performance of others. A historical standard is one based on the past performance of the individual employee.

In practice, a given performance standard may be arrived at my using a combination of the foregoing three kinds. Regardless of the method you utilize to establish a performance standard, however, there are several criteria that you should consider. For instance, each job responsibility should have its own performance standard. Next, every standard should contain a target date for its achievement, or definition of the period of time to which it applies. And finally, all performance standards should be attainable. Not much can do more harm to an employer/employee relationship, or limit an employee's enthusiasm for the job, than giving him or her a performance standard that is simply an unattainable dream of the employer.

Invite Employee Participation

If you are going to prepare a job description for an existing employee, you should do it in concert with that employee. Rather than hand a document to the person as an edict, it is far better to solicit his or her participation in the development process. Often, the employee can contribute a lot of information about the details of the job and the specific problems encountered -- things that you as the manager may not be aware of. And the level of acceptance of the job description will be higher if the employee feels a sense of authorship.

A job description need not be a static document. Indeed, it must not. Because your magazine is growing and changing, your understanding and your employee's understanding of the job may also evolve over time. If that is the case, set a schedule for periodically reviewing with the employee the content of the job description. Try to achieve a consensus regarding any changes that are necessary.

Appraising Performance

Aside from promoting a common understanding between employer and employee, a job description also serves as the basis for conducting performance appraisals. A performance appraisal is a meeting between you and the employee wherein you compare the actual results produced by the employee with the performance standards for which the employee is responsible.

You will first discuss the things that are being done well. This helps to create a positive atmosphere for the meeting. Then you go on to discuss any areas where the employee is not meeting the standards. Avoid bringing up too many weaknesses here. Usually, it is not practical to focus on more than two or three weaknesses at a time. The discussion should not stop here, however. The next step is for you and the employee to devise a development plan geared to overcome those weaknesses. It may include providing further training, or perhaps mentoring by a more experienced coworker, or a change in the employee's work routine. Incorporate this development plan into the employee's job description, even including a target date or time period for completion.

By using these techniques, you should be able to make great strides toward getting your employees to meet your expectations. Indeed, if you desire a higher level of productivity and professionalism from your staff, start by giving them a higher level of professionalism in your management of the magazine. This method of instituting job descriptions should be done not only for advertising salespeople; it applies equally to your editorial staff, production personnel, audience development staff -- and even to you!

William Dunkerley is principal of William Dunkerley Publishing Consultants, www.publishinghelp.com.

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