We must change the way we do performance management

We must change the way we do performance management
By Paul Clifford

Whenever I read an article on performance management, the analysis typically concludes that performance management as we typically know it is not working.  “It has to change, and that change has to be dramatic” is effectively the consensus view.  I agree, and the groundswell for change is growing.  Here’s where I think the changes must come.

Firstly, the systems and forms must be significantly downsized and simplified. 

We know from experience that any performance management system or form that is in any way complex is not used and yet we continue to design and implement new ones.  The irony is that organisations with great cultures don’t need them.  Why?  Because in these organisations trust has been built up between managers and employees to such a degree that the exchanges about goals, achievements, failures and development are almost completely conversational and don’t need to be backed up in writing.  In great cultures where trust exists managers know that employees have the desire and capability to direct their own behaviour in line with the organisational mission.  They don’t need written proof to hold the staff member accountable.   In these great cultures employees know that their managers will be fair in evaluating their performance.  They don’t need to write a task list as insurance against ‘unfair’ treatment.  And with the world of work changing so fast, goals are constantly being re-evaluated and tweaked.  If we always had to have a current set of goals written down that task would become our full time job.

Whilst your organisation may not be ready to get rid of systems and forms altogether, as a minimum your aim should be to simplify them as much as possible.  Three or four measurable goals with commentary from employee and manager on successes and areas for development at periodic intervals is all that is likely to be required.   The rest should be left to conversations that don’t require accompanying documentation.  Using tools that make things easier, faster and more flexible is what we should all be looking for.  Smart phones may be one option.  Goals will continue to be set and adjusted, and feedback provided, verbally in the first instance.  Smart phones will allow them to be confirmed in a written form in real time in a highly efficient manner. They will make the information highly accessible and can be linked to other cloud based organisational systems.

Secondly, ratings need to go. 

Ratings create two major problems.  The first is that they take attention away from feedback designed to motivate employees to better themselves and their results in future.  Ratings fixate people on the past.  Good managers create the conditions where employees understand the missteps they have taken but quickly facilitate their attention on the future.  Ratings to employees are like headlights to deers.  Employees don’t seem to see or hear anything else when they are around. 

The second major problem is that managers often overrate their employees.  Good employees are given ‘Outstanding’ or ‘Exceptional’ ratings and poor performers are given ‘satisfactory’ ratings.  This renders the process a farce and paralyses managers from taking appropriate action with regard to poor performers.             

Thirdly, managers must follow through on poor performance

Managers must take up the challenge posed by the very small minority of employees who hope to abdicate their responsibilities by using aggression or inappropriately using the term ‘bullying’ in the context of performance conversations.  When talking performance, some employees will challenge a manager who seeks an employee’s involvement in deciding what needs to be done.  “That’s your job” is some employees’ retort.  Well, not any longer.  Decision making about what needs to get done is a joint responsibility in the modern workplace.  Others will challenge a manager who rightfully provides developmental feedback and requests more of an employee to meet appropriate performance expectations.  “You’re micro-managing me” is a common response.  No they’re not.  It’s a manager’s job to provide constructive feedback and set appropriate expectations.  A minority will describe these essential and reasonable management tasks as bullying.      

Neither of these examples are bullying.  The use of that term or threats of complaint or legal action in these situations is often used as a form of intimidation by an employee.  Unfortunately it often works.  Managers back off and poor performance is allowed to continue.  In these situations managers must stand their ground and call the employee’s bluff.  Managers must continue to communicate expectations, they must continue to provide feedback, and if necessary proceed with warnings - despite the hostile response.  This of course takes tremendous courage and it also requires the support of senior management.  Organisations must show a united front to tackle those who seek to use these tactics to be left to continue their poor performance.   

The way we first envisaged performance management no longer works in 2015.  The workplace has changed too much.  The pace of change, the expectations for high performance and the demands of the majority of employees for development and intimate involvement in workplace decision making requires us to shift the model of performance management to keep up.  We expect governments to reform themselves to keep up with society’s changes.  So too must HR practices keep up with changes in the workplace.   In a highly competitive work landscape – both public and private – reform must happen to survive.


  • yalini Wednesday, 25 November 2015

    Nicz.I need some tips relate to your content..I am working in Erp Software Company In Dubai

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