Performance Management is Dead; Long Live Performance Management

SisyphusDon’t you just love it when the business media derails all your good work? The current edition of HR Magazine article “Is the Annual Performance Review Dead?” only scratches the surface of this revolution that is taking place in organizations, as more and more highly visible companies retool performance management.

And the publicity is well beyond HR business media. It is hitting Harvard Business Review, Inc., Fast Company and all those other publications your operational leaders are reading.

Here’s the rub. The headlines are very misleading, and may cause your operational leaders to wave the journal in your face and say, “See, I told you this was a waste of time.”

Be prepared HR, for this is your BIG chance! Here’s what you need to do to prepare.

Read everything you can about this trend

Set an RSS feed to pull articles related to performance management, performance appraisal, performance evaluation and scan each to answer these questions:

  • What did they really change?
  • Who was the driver of the change?

You will most likely find that, like the HR Magazine article title, the change is in the “annual” part of the process. Indeed, companies like Deloitte and Accenture have actually increased the conversations about performance.

What does seem to be changing is the stagnant nature of the process, the ease of use and the relevance of the process to each individual.

By reading and analyzing the trends, you can be prepared when the operational leaders wave the articles at you, and you can respond by saying, “I think you might want to read that article a little more carefully, because it doesn’t say to do away with performance management, but instead to change it.” Now you’re playing offense instead of defense!

Have a game plan

Think about your current program in terms of relevance and ease of use. Candidly answer the question, “What does this program tell me?” Does it tell me how our organization is performing? Does it tell me how we are progressing? Does it give me a clue about the development needs of our workforce?

Engage some of your operational leaders that “get it,” and ask them these questions. Carefully consider their responses; this qualitative research forms the basis for your needs assessment.

Own the problem, and then give it back

Let your operational leaders know that you heard them, whatever their message is about your program. Give them an honest report on your needs assessment, and ask for confirmation.

In most of the articles about the current trend in “changing” performance management, the change started with operational leaders. They owned it.

Tell your operational leaders that, and let them know that you need them to tell you some basics about what your organization’s performance system should do….what is the outcome THEY want from the process?

Don’t let them push you to details here – you are not ready. You have to have their end game defined and validated before you even think about program design. They have to own the end game in order to be willing to do the work. Otherwise, you become the mythical Sisyphus, rolling the boulder up the hill, only to have it roll back down as soon as you release the pressure, so that you are condemned to repeat the process endlessly with no achieved outcome.

Answer basic questions, based on their desired outcome

Collectively, with all or an appointed representation of operational leaders, answer questions like:

• What is the basic purpose? Is it to improve performance? Is it to develop talent? Is it to measure improvement?

• Do we need to know whether or not performance is improving? Do we need empirical evidence or is an intuitive sense a trusted barometer?

• How will the employee participate in the process?

• How can leaders get a well-rounded sense of their employees’ accomplishments, challenges, and relationships?

• What role should HR play? [Hint: it’s can’t be policing compliance]

• How important is leadership effectiveness in the performance process? How do next level leaders know how well their subordinate leaders are managing performance?

• What is the executive leadership team’s role in the process? How important is it for them to know how the program is working?

Now you’re ready to design a framework – not the complete program, just the basic processes that you believe will achieve their desired outcome.

It has to start with expected outcomes, and operational leaders have to agree

Once you have these questions answered, program design is easy. Sketch out the who, what, where, when and most importantly, why of your new framework and share it with the operational leaders. Ask if they believe that this process will accomplish their expected outcomes.

If they do, ask if they can commit to the time and energy it will take for the process to be successful. This is probably the most critical question you will ask. If their intended outcome is to have Apple-level outcomes, but they are only willing to give lip service to the work required, put a mirror up and reset expectations.

Performance management, as we know it, IS outdated

What we do today is clunky, difficult and in too many cases, ineffective. This trend of scrapping the old program is not going away; your operational leaders are getting new ideas every day from the journals and articles they read.

Don’t you want to be in front of them, rather than trying to catch up?

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