Performance Counts

On this day before Father’s Day, I thought that I would share a story about my father and a lesson he taught to me regarding performance.

I was getting ready to start my first year of college. My parents had told me that they would pay one-half of my college expenses. They understood that I might not be able to pay my share immediately and they offered to loan me money until I had my finished my degree. As I planned my first semester of study, the costs of college were on my mind.

I had completed my enrollment, calculated my part of the bill and needed to get the payment from my parents. It was about 5:00 in the afternoon when I approached Poppa with my notes and my request for a check. He looked at me and explained that we needed to talk “after dinner.” “After dinner” meant that it would be an “official” conversation; we would be meeting and not just chatting. I wasn’t worried about meeting; I had my notes ready and was prepared for the discussion.

“After dinner” we sat down and I presented my request. On the paper I handed to Poppa were simple calculations: the total cost of tuition, fees and books less my academic scholarship, divided into two payments (his and mine). I was able to pay my half for this term (thanks to my high school job at Western Auto) and I needed a check from him for his half. What happened next surprised me.

Poppa looked at the sheet of paper, shook his head and said, “This isn’t right.” I quickly scanned the page and found no errors. I told him that I thought that I had given him an accurate accounting of the costs and of the payments due.

He then asked me about the requirements of my academic scholarship; he wanted to know what specific conditions had been set for me to retain the scholarship from term-to-term. I smiled, this was an easy question: I had to enroll in a minimum number of hours and maintain a set grade point average or higher. As I finished my explanation, he shook his head in understanding, turned over the sheet of paper I had given to him, and began to write.

He put the total cost of tuition, fees and books on the top of the page, then he divided it into two equal parts. Looking at me, he explained, “If you are going to pay your half with an academic scholarship, that’s fine with me. But, if you don’t make the grades to keep your scholarship, my costs are not going to increase.”

All of a sudden, it hit me. My personal cost to attend college had just been decreased to nothing.

More importantly, I learned that performance counts! What an important lesson.

When we work hard, when we do well, we will be rewarded. It is true that the reward may not be financial or immediate, but it will happen. If nothing else, good work brings about personal satisfaction and improved skills. Good work brings good results; shoddy works brings shoddy results.

As leaders, we need to teach that lesson with our every word and action. We should have come to our positions based on our hard and good work and we need to recognize daily the hard and good work of others. It is ridiculous to wait for the annual “bonus” time to provide recognition; our job demands that we lead in praising and thanking others for the good work that they do.

And, the nature of the work should not impact our assessment of hard and good work. For instance, which is more important to you: that your restaurant server delivers you hot food on a clean dish or that the newscaster delivers you news with a serious look and well practiced accent? The salary of the job has nothing to do with its significance. Look to praise all who serve you well.


– Say thank you often and with sincerity.

– Use a variety of communiqués to recognize accomplishments (emails, memos, comment cards, meetings, conferences, etc.)

– Ensure “official” reward systems are used to the fullest extent possible.

– Make sure that your tips reflect the service you have received.

– Take the time to pause and praise.

– A handshake or a pat on the shoulder adds emphasis to the words you are saying.

– Provide specific comments when you praise. (“That was the fastest response time ever!” “Thanks for your tips on using the new software; you made it so much easier for me.” “Your smile is contagious!”)

– When others take up your behavior of praise, praise them!


When we recognize and reward performance, people learn that performance counts. You will find that both individual and group performance improves. Try it; it works!


P.s. It also might be time to look at our own level of performance. Are we working hard and well?


“Now we ask you, brothers and sisters, to acknowledge those who work hard among you, who care for you in the Lord and who admonish you. Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work. And we urge you, brothers and sisters, warn those who are idle and disruptive, encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone. Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always strive to do what is good for each other and for everyone else.” (I Thessalonians 5:12-15)

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