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Partnering for Performance
by Jenny Kerwin

"The difference between a boss and a leader: a boss says, 'Go!' -- a leader says, 'Let's go!'"
E. M. Kelly

• Are you a boss or a leader?

• Do your employees see you as part of the team or as looking over it?

• How would your team members define your management style?

I ask these questions as a challenge, and offer the opportunity to take a look at your manager/team member relationships.

Merriam-Webster states that a boss is someone who exercises control or supervision; someone who dictates policies. A leader is someone who guides or directs operations, activities, or performance; someone who goes at the head or goes first.

Now think about the bigger picture -- how your management style affects your direct reports and Call Center team. Which person are employees more likely to trust, go to with problems and concerns, or listen to?

I'm guessing that you, as well as your team members would be more likely to approach a leader. Although there are times when a manager must exercise authority, on a day-to-day basis a leadership approach will foster a team feeling and eliminate the "us versus them" perception often associated with the manager/subordinate relationship.

The relationships you develop with your direct reports can make or break the success of your team. Developing solid relationships with your employees creates an environment of teamwork, productivity and success. This environment encourages feedback for improvement. Performance issues and areas of opportunity and achievement are no longer an uphill battle, but rather an effort between partners. This is referred to as "Partnering for Performance."

What is Partnering for Performance?

A partner is someone who participates in a relationship in which each member has equal status. The partnership for performance focuses on the actions of manager and team member for successful achievement of workplace goals. These goals can be related to areas such as improved quality, efficiency, or even ongoing career development. As partners, both manager and employee work together to create the solutions.

Partnering for performance is centered on building relationships and allows managers to create a relationship with your subordinate that harvests success. Communication is one of the key elements to building relationships and tools for building relationships through communication may be easier than you might think. Communicate to Foster Relationships

• Ask questions and get to know your team members

• Show interest in their personal and professional success

• Verbally recognize performance and achievements (Be Specific)

• Listen to the employee

• Set expectations for your team members

• Ask your team members their expectations of you as their leader

• Discuss how you will support team members in their performance, and what you expect in return

• Conduct regular one-on-one meetings to discuss performance, successes and future direction

• Set goals together

• Agree upon what both partners will do to achieve those goals

What Partnering for Performance is NOT

Partnering for performance is not placing individuals on an action plan or performance improvement plan. Although these plans are components of management and necessary tools, without an established relationship you may meet resistance or be unsuccessful when enforcing them. Managers cannot create relationships with employees if the only conversations between them occur when there are problems or issues.

When partnering for performance, it is counter productive to deliver directives such as telling someone what they will do to solve the problem. Instead, a manager who is a partner would ask what he could do to help, what the employee’s thoughts are for solving the problem, or what they think the next steps should be.

Benefits of Partnering for Performance

The benefits are extensive. The partner relationship:

• Creates accountability for the team member as well as the manager.

• Defines responsibilities in the improvement or development processes.

• Establishes trust.

• Invites two-way dialog.

• Develops approachability for the manager.

• Involves the employee in their development path.

The message partnership sends is "I am on your side." "We are on the same team." and "We will work together to accomplish our goals."

When a Partnering Does Not Exist

Managers who do not create a partnership often encounter resistance to coaching. More often than not, there will be an attitude of "us & them" toward management. The environment will look like a disconnected group of individuals working together rather than a team. The manager who does not build the partnership with their team members also may be perceived as unapproachable, which creates a dangerous territory. Team members will not feel comfortable discussing career goals, bringing up work environment issues, or makings suggestions and that negatively affects the work experience. Finally, this manager will be revered only as a boss rather than a leader.

Reaping the Benefits

In Call Centers, managers often spend 90% of their time dealing with the most challenging employees. Mangers work to improve performance, attendance, and overall productivity, but the risk taken in focusing too much time on low performers is neglecting high performers or even steady performers. Like a snowball effect, the top performer may resent your neglect and cease to perform up to what has become expected. It is imperative for the manager to help low performers improve, encourage steady performers to become high performers, and inspire high performers to maintain their standards. One way of juggling all these tasks is to partner for performance. As a team leader, your job responsibilities include evaluating your team’s performance and taking action based on that performance. A performance partner identifies employees on three levels (high performers, steady performers, and low performers) and determines a course of action to raise the bar performance standards.

By partnering for performance you can sustain the high productivity of top performers and develop your steady performing team members into top performers.

Top performers

• Approach them about their success.

• Learn what they do well and share it with team members who are not as efficient.

• Discuss where they would like to go in their career.

• Ask their overall career goals and help them acquire the skills they need to move forward.

• Partner with them to make a plan for their ongoing development.

Steady performers

• Acknowledge them for their ability to meet goals.

• Learn what they do well too.

• Provide them with the necessary support to exceed performance goals.

• Ask about their career interests and determine what skills they will need to acquire.

• Partner with them and establish a plan for continued development.

Low performers

• Continue to work with them to improve their skills.

• Determine if the obstacles to their success are related to SKILL or WILL (Is there more knowledge they need to succeed or more motivation?)

• Establish if they need more knowledge or motivation to succeed.

• Partner with them to plan for their improvement in skills.

Partnering for Performance is a tool like any other in the manager's tool box. It is a philosophy for success. Building relationships, commitments and productivity are the tangible rewards of the partner relationship. Partnering for performance is a worthwhile challenge that enables you to become a team leader. Go out there, partner for performance, and say "let's go!" Watch and see how many people will follow.

Jenny Kerwin is a contributing writer for Interactive Quality Solutions. She has 9 years of experience in management development, training and recruiting. If you are interested in reading more of Jenny's articles visit: and For products developed by Jenny Kerwin visit

Jenny Kerwin may be contacted at

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