Staff Performance – Why Employee Perceptions Matter To Managers

June 28, 2012 by  Filed under: Management 


As managers, our expectations of staff are very important. But for superior staff performance we need to recognize and accept that employees have expectations of us too. Perceptions are the basis of expectations. If we fail to acknowledge them, we put staff co-operation at risk.

A Case Study: A Clash Of Perceptions

I was once called on to help an organization evaluate a bonus incentive scheme established for its factory employees. Management was disappointed that the incentive scheme wasn’t working very well, even though it seemed sound on paper.

My initial investigations revealed two things. Firstly, although the extra effort to obtain the incentive wasn’t great, a worker who obtained the incentive bonus would have to work at about 25%-30% greater capacity than his or her fellow workers. Few workers were prepared to risk the disapproval of their workmates in order to do this.

The same company also had an incentive for process operators. If they worked at the rate that would gain them the maximum incentive, their backs would be so sore that they couldn’t stand up straight for an hour after finishing work.

The Power Of Peer Pressure

In the final analysis many employees are very susceptible to peer pressure. They don’t want managers to force them to choose between what management wants and what’s acceptable to their peer group. Employees reasonably expect not to be faced with such a choice.

The Power of Pain

The “sore back” example is a stark example of a typical clash between management and staff perceptions. Management perceives employees will welcome the opportunity to earn extra money. Employees perceive management to be insensitive to their physical discomfort.

Promises; Promises

If you make a promise to employees, keep it. No frills: no fancy words needed. Once you create the perception that you fail to keep your promises, staff won’t trust your promises again. They’ll perceive you as untrustworthy. And remember: it doesn’t matter that you haven’t used the words: “I promise” or “I guarantee” or something similar. If employees perceive that you’ve made a definite commitment to them that’s a promise.

Dire Threats

You know the sort of thing. “Anyone who’s more than 5 minutes late won’t be allowed into the meeting”. “Your pay will be reduced if you miss budget”. “If a customer complains about you, you personally will have to sort out the issue with the customer to their satisfaction”.

The management perception is that employees will “do the right thing”; be on time for meetings, meet budget and improve customer service. That’s OK. But if you fail to follow through with the action you claimed you’d take, the employee perception will be that you simply make empty threats.


Employees expect their contributions to be recognized. That’s perfectly reasonable. I’m not saying that they expect special rewards. But if they give you what you ask for they expect your acknowledgement. You may expect that they’re entitled to special recognition only if they produce outstanding performance. They probably won’t tell you that they feel ignored. But it will show in their work.

The Grumblers

Is yours one of those businesses where employees who complain – the grumblers – get most of the attention? You may assume that if people don’t complain that they’re satisfied. That’s a dangerous perception to have. Over time, solid, conscientious, reliable employees will perceive that “squeaky wheels get the most oil”. They may not complain. But they’ll perceive you as unfair.

The Behaviour Trap

I’ve written about this many times. Do you talk about the importance of performance but react primarily to behaviour? You’ll be perceived as someone who doesn’t mean what you say. You’ll perceive that your words about performance are the most important. Staff will perceive that your reactions to behaviour are what is really important to you.

You’re Human

Every manager has limitations. Staff understand this. They don’t expect you to be perfect. But they’ll see what happens through their eyes not yours. Some differences in perspective are inevitable.

Minimize Perception Differences

Try these tips

  • Avoid making promises unless you’re absolutely certain you can keep them
  • Recognize the power of peer pressure: few employees will risk disapproval of peers
  • Avoid causing pain: physical, emotional or mental
  • If you’re not prepared to stand by a threat, don’t make it
  • Performance first; behaviour next. If you want staff to value performance, it must be clear to them that you really do
  • Always recognize the contribution of your conscientious, quiet and reliable employees
  • Avoid giving much attention to your “grumblers”
  • Admit your errors. If your perceptions and those of employees clash, admit it and sort out the issue. Don’t allow a conflict of perceptions to persist until it festers into a major conflict.


Staff performance isn’t merely a matter of goals, performance standards and hard nosed evaluation. These issues are crucial. But you’ll be far more likely to achieve business goals in collaboration with your employees when you accept that they perceive issues in their unique way. Perceptions, both yours and theirs are most important for first rate staff performance.

Leon Noone helps managers in small-medium business to improve on-job staff performance without training courses. His ideas are quite unconventional. Read his free Special Report “49 Practical Tips for Removing Employee Apathy, Aggravation And Resistance In Your Business”. Simply visit and download your free copy now.

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