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Performance Management

Essential Leadership and Management for Engineers

Engineering performance management is all about trying to get the best out of individuals and teams. This has clear benefits for the business as well as the individual. It should not be bureaucratic for a small company. Instead, it should be tailored to meet the needs of the business and the employee, with sufficient information recorded to get the job done, as a means to drive improved performance.

Activities within engineering performance management can be divided into a number of distinct stages. Firstly performance targets or objectives are set. Employees then work towards them as part of their core job. After a set period a review (appraisal) takes place to see how the employee has performed. Guidance, advice and support are offered as actions to be practiced on the job. It is a cyclical process where performance is monitored on a continual basis, with the aim of improvement over time.

Engineering performance management can incorporate training, learning and development, with the emphasis on applying these skills to the individual’s core job.  For ambitious employees who learn and apply skills quickly, they can be set more challenging performance targets so as to stretch them and help them realise their potential. This is a useful method of plugging skills gaps within companies. Effective performance management is a valuable way of raising productivity within the business.

The objectives or targets used in engineering performance management should be aligned to those of the team, and in turn those of the business. Business objectives may be set out in a business plan or strategy document which ideally should be able to be cascaded all the way down the business, as just mentioned, so each employee can clearly understand how they contribute to the whole.

Whereas this section primarily deals with managing the performance of the individual, the performance of the team is extremely important. There is a strong link to developing employee and team skills and therefore the impact this has on performance. The Skills Chart System section offers an innovative, yet comprehensive solution designed to illustrate skills and drive team performance.

Engineering performance management relies on employees undertaking work allocated to them. For this to be successful work allocation involves a number of considerations including the necessary resources, motivation and the correct knowledge and skills. It is a management responsibility to put these in place or create alternative incentives (other than pay) to motivate staff.

But how do you go about drafting a clear engineering performance management plan, as a means to improve performance? Well the first thing is to fully understand what the job role entails. To do this, list the key role responsibilities – the key parts of the role for which some form of delivery or output is expected. This may differ from the official job description particularly if the role has evolved. Next, for each role responsibility have a go at defining a corresponding objective.


Engineering Performance Management & SMART Objectives

If possible make objectives quantifiable. Ideally make objectives SMART - Specific, Measurable, Agreed, Realistic and Timely. Ensuring every objective hits all of these points may be quite difficult. However consciously considering how objectives can be made as SMART as possible, ensures they are likely to have been rigorously thought through.

Once you have a series of SMART objectives, it is possible to check performance against them. This takes place at performance reviews (appraisals). The frequency of reviews can vary, but it highly recommended they take place at least once a year. Half-yearly reviews are very useful to ensure employees are on track, performing their role to the levels expected, as well as providing an opportunity for feedback.

There is nothing to stop an employee and their manager having more frequent review sessions. For certain circumstances more regular meetings may be beneficial, such those being coached, those on intensive fast track programmes or alternatively those who are on improvement programmes and require additional support. For these examples quarterly or monthly meetings may be more suitable.

Use the SMART acronym to examine whether or not objectives have been met. Ask questions to examine how well the basic aim has been achieved. Question whether the goal was completed to the required standard? Was it completed on time and to the agreed quality? The answers to questions like these will determine if the overall objective was met and to what standard. Importantly the answers will also provide specific actions to be taken forward to improve performance. Training and skills development may be required. Perhaps coaching or investment in best practice techniques should be considered to encourage progress.

If objectives have been successfully achieved, are there lessons learned and advice that could be passed on to others? Spreading best practice is possible when you understand specifically what has gone well.

When objectives haven’t been achieved, questions need to be asked to understand what the issue is. Attempt to find out specifically what went wrong and why? Target the root cause, by continually asking why, rather than just noting the symptoms. What lessons can be learned for the future and what will be done differently next time?

An effective people manager will use appropriate communication skills during the review (appraisal) process so the employee gets the most they can out of the experience. The yearly and maybe half-yearly meetings may be more formal, perhaps in a meeting room without distraction, stepping through the list of objectives. More frequent meetings may be less formal, perhaps highlighting particular issues. Meetings between a manager and an employee should be confidential.

The manager should consciously listen more and talk less. They should offer advice, guidance and suggestions for improvement. The meetings should provide an opportunity for constructive feedback, explanations and to ask questions. Praise and recognition should be offered when appropriate and staff should be encouraged and made to feel valued. Likewise this is also the forum for difficult conversations, inappropriate behaviour to be confronted and interpersonal problems to be resolved. 

Question – How do you deal with poor performance? It’s tricky one but unfortunately all too common. For small manufacturing businesses it is a real issue, as there is little or no capacity to carry any passengers, and as a result further drag down productivity. Well, the obvious thing is to discuss the issues with the individual and set out what you expect. To assist this, a simple four stage process can structure how you go about dealing with poor performance. The stages are:

  • Identify what the problem is – clearly establish the facts by talking to people
  • Review and understand the reason for the problem – find the root cause
  • Agree an action plan – The plan should be mutually agreed
  • Monitor the situation in the future – Routinely review developments

The section on ‘Conflict Management’ offers further useful advice.

Engineering Performance Management

Next... People Management Practical Tips: How to do it…

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