Why WD-40 Works Better Than Performance Management


I admit it. I might have you scratching your head at the title of this article but stay with me. It’ll be worth it. Just to be clear – I’m not suggesting the path to high performance is to spray people with oil…if only!

It just so happens that the WD-40 company, led by CEO Garry Ridge – one of the most progressive performance leaders on the planet today – is one company that understands that great performance is about helping people win. They call it helping people get an ‘A’.

After all, are we aiming to have our people succeed at work, or are we just trying to test them? If you’re a performance leader – and I suggest all leaders should be – the answer is obvious.

At WD-40, if a manager wants to fire a ‘poor performer’, the manager is asked what they’ve done to help the employee get an ‘A’. If the manager hasn’t done their job, the manager gets fired! Bravo! I’ve had some of those managers myself in the past. When a pro-sports team doesn’t perform they fire the coach – why not do the same thing in business?

Performance Leadership not Performance Management
Notice earlier I described Garry as a performance leader. That’s because Garry understands that people’s performance is a leadership matter.

Leadership is the central
ingredient to human performance.

Leadership in this context includes things like Vision, Mission and Values – all important drivers of clarity of purpose, meaningful work, and discretionary effort. Only true leadership can influence ‘inspired’ performances.

Hard driving managers who are ‘task masters’ may get good numbers on paper, but I can guarantee that they won’t get good people ratings. That’s because instead of firing up people’s hearts and minds with inspiration, they burn them out with pressure, demands and /or threats.

Good performance is the result
of a number of key situational
and people factors being in place.

If You Build It They Will Perform
There are many factors and they all matter to varying degrees. The more they’re in place and the more they’re fit for purpose, the greater the likelihood of high performance.

Only when you consider this from a leadership perspective can you create an environment where high performance is the easiest path. Only then can we put it on the employee to perform consistently.

It’s a fair system. If the company doesn’t provide the tools fit for the task, how can they rightfully expect employees to perform the task well and consistently? This is where most performance challenges begin – not with the employees…

Think for a moment about what
would be the ideal environment for you,
to be able to consistently deliver
top performance at work, without
requiring extraordinary effort…

You may list things like equipment or tools, systems and training, but what about the leadership from your immediate manager? Do you get clear direction, encouragement when you need it, opportunities for learning and development and deserved recognition? Are you treated as an equal or are you spoken to in a top-down, one-way manner?

Four Human Needs
As Stephen R. Covey taught us, we have four human needs (physical, mental, social, and spiritual) which affect our behaviour, our attitude, our decisions and our focus. Meeting these four human needs sets us up to perform to the best of our ability – what Covey called ‘The Fire Within’.

This is the Holy Grail for a performance leader. Find out how to meet these needs in your people and you are well set.

Two Places To Start – For Building A High Performing Culture
First, dump any notion of Performance Management. It’s a failed idea. The statistics are overwhelming that people hate performance management and it doesn’t deliver better performance – it delivers worse!

In fact, in many organisations, ‘Performance Management’ is just a sanitised way of saying you’re going to get rid of somebody. I admit that sometimes this is the right thing to do, for any number of valid reasons which I won’t go into here.

Second, remember that your people are human. That may seem like an obvious statement, but sadly it appears to have been forgotten in many organisations!

Humans generally like involvement in things that will affect them, and yet that doesn’t happen often enough. Human’s love encouragement, and yet how much genuine encouragement have you gotten in the last week? How about any week? Humans need development and growth, and yet many organisations either have nothing in place or what they do have is uninspiring.

Get in touch with your people.
Have conversations with them
about what gets them going.

Find out from your people: What do they value? How do they see they can help? What could the organisation do which would boost their performance? What obstacles could be moved out of the way of better performance and what could be done to help it move forward? These conversations occur too infrequently.

Organisations are often ‘too busy’ to listen to their own people. That’s always an opportunity lost. The reason is that efficiency is a highly regarded value in today’s business world and really listening to someone is highly inefficient.

Efficiency has no place with people
– Stephen R. Covey

A True Story
I was consulting to an organisation once that wanted to improve employee engagement. The Senior Management Team was pondering this idea in their management meetings and was guessing what the employees would really want.

We were sitting in a boardroom just mere metres away from the entire workforce, so I asked innocently, “Isn’t that them out there? Why don’t we just ask them?” They looked at me blankly for a few seconds and then it dawned on them how obvious a suggestion that solution was. They did it by the way, and the people loved it. They had never been asked this before by any previous management team. This situation is more common than you may think.

So take a leaf out of Garry Ridge’s book.

Here’s what he calls his ‘Top 10 +1 Tips For A Successful Business’:
1. Do we have a clear, meaningful and easily understood vision / mission?
2. Are our values driving the behaviour we want in the organisation?
3. Do we have the right people in the right seats on the bus?
4. Are we creating a culture that increases employee engagement?
5. Do our ‘tribe members’ know what an ‘A’ looks like and are we supporting them to get that ‘A’?
6. Do we have a meaningful BHAG – (big hairy audacious goal) and have we communicated it to the ‘tribe’?
7. What are we doing to maximise the spirit of internal and external learning?
8. Are our products/services creating lasting positive memories for our customers?
9. Do we have the best, timely, data & information to help us make good business decisions?
10. Are our key performance indicators the right ones and are we measuring what matters?
+1 How do we celebrate success?

All common sense of course – and as cliché as it is – not common practice – but for no good reason!

You don’t have to be the CEO to be a performance leader. Any manager who has people reporting to them can and should be a performance leader.

If you are one already, good on you. If you’re not, if not now, when…?

Helping People Win at Work: A Business Philosophy Called “Don’t Mark My Paper, Help Me Get an A”

Craig D’Souza is the founder and CEO of Perth based consultancy Business Velocity, which assists organisations, teams, and individuals to achieve peak performance at work and in their lives.