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Staff Behaviour Vs Staff Performance – A Case Study in Tightrope Walking

Staff Behaviour Vs Staff Performance – A Case Study in Tightrope Walking


This is Harry’s story. Harry was a bit odd. He had a highly individualistic way of managing his people. It would’ve been easy to let Harry’s behaviour overwhelm his performance.

Basic Definitions

Dr Tom Gilbert explains it up this way. “Behaviour is what you take with you: performance is what you leave behind”. We recognize Michael Jordan as one of basketball’s all time greats because of what he achieved on the court. None of us ever met William Shakespeare. He was one helluva playwright. Both men “left outstanding performance behind”.

Confusion At Work

We’re unlikely to find a Jordan or a Shakespeare in our workplaces. But we do find people who seem to be “difficult” or “outspoken” or “uncooperative” or just plain “different”. Sometimes these odd behaviours influence our view of their performance. This case study about Harry illustrates the point.

Reputation v. Results: The Case of Harry

Harry was a Section Head. Some 15 women worked for him. He called them his “girls”. He had a reputation as a hard taskmaster. He was also seen as “cranky”, “outspoken” and “difficult”. And he was all of those things. So much so, the CEO asked me to “counsel him” about his management style.

Reputation v. Results

I knew of Harry’s reputation. But when I checked his results I found that they were quite outstanding. Sometimes his “girls” complained about his people management methods. Strangely the same “girls” always responded well to his demands. His section regularly broke their own production records.

Other “Interesting” Behaviors

Harry fought relentlessly for his “girls”. If he perceived that any one of them was disadvantaged, Harry “went in to bat” for them with a vengeance. Then I discovered that Harry’s “girls” enjoyed some special privileges about punctuality, leave and general working conditions that weren’t covered in the corporate policy manual. His staff “covered” for each other where necessary. They worked without extra pay to meet production deadlines. They received “unauthorized” time off. And Harry never bothered to report any of these “digressions from policy and procedure”.

Harry’s Test

We decided to test the mettle of Harry and his girls. We set a production target that our quality experts claimed simply couldn’t be achieved. They told us “The equipment can’t handle that rate of production.” They were so certain that they “knew best” we offered a substantial incentive to Harry and his “girls” if they succeeded.

Silly Us!

Of course Harry and his girls beat the record… easily. They earned their bonus. Only then did we discover that Harry, acting on the advice of his staff, had already modified their equipment so that it achieved higher results than even the manufacturers claimed

What We Did

The Operations Director and I sat down and had a quiet chat with Harry. We introduced some formal rewards and incentives for outstanding performance for his people. That enabled Harry to discontinue his “special privileges”. And we provided Harry with some formal structures he could use to better represent his girls’ needs to management.

What To Do Now

Do you have a Harry in your workplace? Do you have clearly defined methods of measuring staff performance? Do you take too much notice of hearsay about perceived behaviours and allow such perceptions to override the realities of performance?


Harry was a “one-off”. But he was astonishingly effective. He always put the needs of his staff above his own. He built great cohesion in his team. And every member of his staff understood the importance of achieving results. What more could we ask for? Yet in many organizations Harry’s “unusual” behaviours would have overwhelmed his achievements. They’d have “let him go”.