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A Common Pitfall of Performance Management

The Reward for Good Work is More Work but Do not Turn Your Horse into a Donkey

When I first started work in the Civil Service more than 2 decades ago, the Head of Department in the Human Resource Department asked all the young officers on the first day of work, "What is the reward for good work?"

We exclaimed enthusiastically, "satisfaction", "pay increase", "bonus" and I said, "promotion". But the Head of Department smiled almost mischievously and replied,

"No, the reward for good work is more work."

All of us burst out laughing. There is dark humour in her statement but also an element of truth. She explained that supervisors will recognise good performing staff and provide more opportunities to stretch our capabilities. We should see more work as a recognition of our abilities and a chance to develop ourselves further.

Using stretched goals and assignments is a good idea to develop and prepare staff for higher job responsibilities. Supervisors should use the opportunity of assigning stretched work goals to include a discussion on the different competencies needed to achieve the work goals.

Discussion on ‘what’ - the work goals and ‘how’ – the competencies needed should go hand in hand.

Work as a development opportunity needs to be accompanied by a development conversation to help the staff visualise how more challenge will develop their capability development. Staff will then embrace more work wholeheartedly.

However, in this process, do remember the old adage,

"Do not turn your horse into a donkey."

Case in point. Suppose you have two staff - Staff A is high performing while Staff B is an average performer. Staff A is positive, proactive, and willing to take on challenges while Staff B is cautious, risk-averse but able to perform most tasks competently. Imagine an exciting and challenging work assignment was passed down from your boss, who would you assign the assignment to?

Most people would assign it to Staff A as they know that Staff A will handle the work better and require lesser supervision.

Imagine that after a few weeks another work assignment came along and you assigned it to Staff B. However, being risk-averse, Staff B complained and implored you to get another staff to handle the work as he considered the assignment too challenging for him. You are concerned that Staff B could mess up and you would need to clear up the mess. So you assign the work to Staff A, knowing it can be completed well. Although the work is not too challenging to Staff A, it requires a lot of his time to complete it. This affects the work progress of his first challenging assignment. But Staff A accepted the additional assignment as he is positive.

In this scenario, the supervisor has inadvertently turned his horse (Staff A) into a donkey, a ‘beast of burden’ by loading him with additional non-challenging work. The additional work does not develop Staff A and will be seen by Staff A as bearing an unfair share of the department’s workload.

The above scenario is a true story and what happened later was during the performance review period, a directive was passed by the company headquarter that no staff should have their performance rated excellent due to performance budget constraints. Everyone was rated narrowly within the average to above average boundary. So not only did the supervisor turn his horse into a donkey, but he also eventually lost the horse as the high-performing staff resigned over the unfair workload and recognition of his performance.

This is a cautionary tale to people leaders to be aware of overburdening high-performing staff with additional work without providing developmental opportunities and fair recognition of their performance.

Do you have supervisors who are turning their horses into donkeys? Share this article with them to avoid losing high-performing staff.

Written by Lee Kang Yam

- Chief Learning Curator at Flame Centre | Future Skills Institute


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