Performance Management Process: Is It Fit for Purpose? 0

Performance Management Process - Is It Fit for Purpose
For years organizations have been carrying out performance reviews consistently, but largely they have been ineffective, deemed unfair, and are a giant waste of time - how can forced rankings and calibration exercises decide the value of employees’ whole year’s work? With suddenly so much noise on performance management and how it needs to change, organizations are now shifting their focus on Continuous Feedback with emphasis on developing and enabling employees. But does bringing about a change in the traditional ‘Performance Management’ approach is all it takes or is there a lot more to it than meets the eye? Keep reading to find out.

We have indeed come a long way from equating an employee’s worth merely based on productivity or from using the performance management process with a sole aim to filter out poor performers! The focus on development in performance management is not a new concept. We know that successful HR practices mean that its elements like talent acquisition, management, retention and even performance management must all be a function of what the business truly needs. The description of what is “talent” can change from company to company within the same industry, and therefore, calls for an alignment in the practices needed to hire, manage and retain that talent.

Many companies are shedding the popular Bell Curve and focusing on Continuous Feedback or Conversation check-ins with emphasis on developing and enabling employees. Many experts think that it’s probably time to put the traditional approaches of performance management in the gallery to let it remind us of our evolution and learning. These approaches seemed fit for purpose once but are not what organizations need today.

So, does bringing about a change in approach now mean “All is well”?

Well… not really! Imagine, you are replacing a component of machinery with an expectation that it will yield better results because it’s more progressive. The shape and size of the part look like it will fit perfectly with the rest of the systems. You switch on the machine with great anticipation only to realize the whole unit is down and this machine is responsible for it. Something like this happens when organizations make strategic decisions to change without really thinking through how to make it successful on the ground. Let’s not make this error in judgement that big companies don’t manage “change” like that … the fact is that even the best-laid plan fails … it happens!

We have heard that feedback is a gift; well it most definitely is when given and received on time. Feedback, for example, immediately after an important meeting will hold much value than after 6 months or a year giving the… Click To Tweet

While there are many possible reasons for that, let me bring forward some that truly make the case for change supporting the approach on employee development and enablement. Josh Bersin has called performance and engagement two sides of the same coin. The objective of performance management, therefore, is to help people perform and not evaluate it.

1. The biggest issue with annual appraisals in my view is that they are “backwards-looking” and not “forward-feeding”, something like the lagging indicators – the time to impact or influence is gone. The leading indicators are what managers should focus upon more as it predicts the outcome or results to take corrective actions. These leading indicators are not just about KPIs. We have heard that feedback is a gift; well it most definitely is when given and received on time. Feedback, for example, immediately after an important meeting will hold much value than after 6 months or a year giving the individual no opportunity to develop or improve. Such discussions are also very awkward and difficult, no wonder that many times managers will want to avoid it.

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Alternatively, they may just not know how to give constructive feedback and then blame it on the bell curve. What’s better than a villain with an invisible force that no one seems to have control over? Additionally, thinking of feedback as a one-way gift may cause the managers to lose on extremely crucial inputs that can potentially make them better people leaders. A focus on continuous check-ins as a process takes away this burden giving both employees and the manager a platform to build on. The in-year formal review then becomes a summary of all check-ins.

As HR professionals, we get attracted to what the systems can do for us but actually the messaging needs to be about what it can do for the employees and managers. Click To Tweet

2. Since we touched upon the aspect of change, let’s look at some important factors that can be detrimental to the efforts of continuous feedback and development conversations:

  • Goal setting and clarity on role and responsibilities. It’s also not a one-time activity but something that requires ongoing alignment as they are dynamic in nature.
  • Organizational culture (visible and invisible) supporting the momentum.
  • Beliefs of the managers and employees about the process.
  • The ability of the manager to be able to give feedback and coach. It’s also about how a manager uses the 70:20:10 learning model to enable development and therefore performance.
  • Need for empathy in the process especially when there are concerns about development opportunities. In situations like these which potentially could flow into performance improvement plans, organizations are better off taking a more holistic view instead of just letting the individual go, for example, reassignments based on skills assessments.
  • Inertia to move away from what we have been comfortable with or the attachment to those legacy systems we have built over the years, or still why change now when people anyway know what to expect! The systems we use for performance management, for example, how simple and user friendly is it? As HR professionals, we get attracted to what the systems can do for us but actually the messaging needs to be about what it can do for the employees and managers. A supporting system is required to build a culture of continuous feedback.
  • Losing the momentum somewhere in the journey. I cannot help citing this example – an HR head I know would deep dive into goals and development check-ins updated by employees randomly. No matter how much we ask for SMART Goals or structured check-ins, all of this is bound by the actual “doing” by the managers and the employees. He always said that the documentation to a large extent reflects the quality of discussion. He would then connect with Departmental Heads directly to support the process. This took time – the alignment, developing interest leading to desire and finally the action on the ground. It’s critical that we do not underestimate the impact of what can go wrong, making it an isolated narrative. The essence of the process will get lost in the chaos.

As Nelson Mandela said, “It always seems impossible until it’s done.”

3. Performance appraisals, forced rankings and calibration exercises are mostly viewed as unfair. How would anyone want a rating to decide the value of their whole year’s work? In a team of top performers, someone will still be rated at the bottom. So, how should anyone expect employees to instead think about innovating, being creative, problem solving, taking risks, not being afraid to take risks or collaborate? Why is more focus given by departmental heads on fighting back steep targets with the headquarters than putting all their energy into being disruptors in the market?

In a team of top performers, someone will still be rated at the bottom. So, how should anyone expect employees to instead think about innovating, being creative, problem solving, taking risks, not being afraid to take risks or collaborate?

4. Organizations spend thousands of hours and dollars on complying with mid-year and annual performance management processes. Many employees and managers who are actually a part of the process have doubts in their minds about both procedural and distributive justice. This is just a cost for the organization. People do derive their sense of identification from their achievements, so imagine the stress it causes employees and even the managers. The entire process, therefore, becomes counterproductive, impacting the morale of the employees and leading to losing talent.

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5. Organizations that allow their employees to stretch their team objectives and key results – knowing that it may be impossible to achieve and yet are not being afraid of it are the ones that will always stay ahead of the game. There are many touchpoints between managers and employees that the managers can use for giving feedback, providing guidance or direction, enabling when faced with challenges to develop them for the future. It’s about developing people into what will make your business more successful. In their success lies your success!

If you think of some of the top reasons to stay in an organization, they include the opportunity to earn, the opportunity to grow and the opportunity to learn. I personally don’t think anyone intentionally wants to be a low performer. People want to develop if it helps them perform, grow, or be future-ready. If they perform, they are engaged and if they are engaged, they will most likely stay. It’s really a simple equation with exponential results!

Disclaimer: The thoughts expressed in this article solely belong to the professional and do not reflect that of the organization she works for.

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Geetanjali Wheeler is a seasoned L&D professional passionate about building a culture that promotes learning agility at all levels in the organization. With an experience of about 16 years in varied verticals like Telecom, Airline & E-commerce, Geetanjali has spearheaded both global and national roles. Before moving on to her current role of leading L&D for a global financial services group in India, she worked for a large Telecom company. During her stint there, she headed Training & Development for the Enterprise vertical of the company and then progressed to lead many L&D initiatives within the CoE team. As the Enterprise L&D lead, Geetanjali was instrumental in winning a prestigious award from the Indian Society for Training & Development for innovative training practices. In the same year, Dun & Bradstreet also published a case study in its yearly compilation of HR best practices about an L&D intervention designed and led by her. 

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