Tag Archives: performance management

Why Systematic Performance Management?

In a previous post it was noted that a well-defined performance management process is a pre-requisite to achieving a high-performing culture.

But what does it take to develop and maintain such a process? As it turns out, it may take more than many of us would like to think.

“Performance management systems, which typically include performance appraisal and employee development, are the Achilles’ heel of human resources management,” said Elaine Pulakos, Executive Vice President and Director of the Washington, D.C. office of Personnel Decisions Research Institute (PDRI) in a Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM) white paper.

Pulakos went on to cite a survey by Watson Wyatt, which showed that only 30% of workers agree that their company’s performance management system helps improve performance, and less than 40 percent of employees said their systems established clear performance goals, generated honest feedback or used technology to streamline the process.

So, how might we ensure that our approach will not succumb to these pitfalls?

There are many different approaches and ways to answer this question, but today we will focus on only one: systematize it.

Among the failures observed in the above-referenced survey and others like it, there is a common thread that can quickly bring-about the demise of a performance management effort, which is taking an ad-hoc approach. Instead, the first step is to create and document a process, which might include the following basic components as outlined in the SHRM white paper:

Performance Management – a Never-Ending Process

We’ll take a closer look at the advantages of this systematic approach in our next post.

Culture & Performance Management

Our previous post focused on building a high performing culture, and it noted that doing so is nearly impossible without significant contributions of time and energy from senior leaders. It was noted that a well-defined performance management process is a pre-requisite as well.

Performance Management is all about how leaders orient their organizations around working on the right things in the right way.

When we asked our Partners In Improvement to define Performance Management and to discuss how it impacts an organization’s culture, we heard a range of perspectives. Generally, everyone agreed that performance management a key driver of organizational culture because a well-defined and executed performance management process promotes effective prioritization, accountability, and engagement. However, definitions were more varied, and included:

  • the strategic orientation of the organization
  • process performance management
  • setting of goals and objectives
  • individual performance appraisals
  • daily direction and feedback to reinforce desired behaviors
  • providing tools and coaching to help people be successful
  • rewards and recognition

From the strategic perspective, performance management begins with the identification of what’s vital to the organization, the Partners said. If these priorities are not clear and it is not clear what role everyone plays in the priorities, the rest is unlikely to mean much.

Several of the Partners pointed out that performance management refers to both process management as well as people management. While there are clearly a wide range of views about how to manage the performance of both people and processes, several excellent best practices were generated during our discussions:

For example, everyone agreed that frequent observation and feedback is more helpful to people than formal annual reviews. Frequent communication about what an organization needs and wants greatly increases the odds that the organization will get what they need and want.

In addition, most reported that group rewards encourage teamwork, while individual rewards encourage an individual to optimize his or her own goals even if it may sub-optimize the organization as a whole.

Everyone agreed that tying money directly to performance appraisals can be a two-edged sword – raising stress and reducing the intrinsic rewards and personal satisfaction from doing a good job for the team.

Everyone also agreed it was important to avoid what was described as “managing through rear view mirror.” In other words, avoid “Monday morning quarterbacking.” Instead, leaders should be involved in a systematic performance management process that is ongoing and timely so that outcomes can be influenced rather than discussed after-the-fact.

Here is a simple infographic that depicts one approach:

Annual Performance Reviews?

Managing Through the Rear-View Mirror?

Annual or semi-annual performance appraisals continue to be a standard component of many performance management programs, despite the fact that they are deemed a source of angst and dread by both managers and team members.

Consider that an annual or six-month review is very much like managing through a rear-view mirror, as the practice involves looking back at a person’s performance with the intent of identifying deficiencies and, hopefully, areas of accomplishment. While this may be a standard approach, the practice does little to impact day-to-day activities that, if modified on a timelier basis, could have positively impacted outcomes.

Along similar lines, Dr. Deming was among the early detractors of the annual appraisal, saying, “Individual performance appraisals nourish short-term performance, annihilate long-term planning, build fear, demolish team-work, and nourish rivalry and politics. Everyone propels himself, or tries to, for his own good… and the organization is the loser.”

And all these years later, Deming’s comments ring true. For example, when a bank implemented formal performance appraisals that evaluated Loan Officers on the dollar value of loans approved, and measured the Credit Department on ‘the quality of the loan portfolio’ (i.e. no defaults), it reduced profits and created dysfunction and animosity. The Credit Department was careful to take no risks, while the Loan Officers focused on quantity, hoping that something, at least would be approved. The bank as a whole suffered.

In addition, many people report that reviews tend to be late and are often “put off,” thus sending a poor message to team members (i.e., “you’re not as important as other things…”). They are also considered among the more onerous of management responsibilities, as it can be difficult to access relevant performance-related data that dates back a full year.

One way to improve the effectiveness of performance reviews is to increase the frequency – possibly from annual to quarterly or bi-monthly. A number of managers and HR professionals we have spoken with said the shortened time-table tends to improve feedback discussions and results in more meaningful and less stressful exchanges. In addition, the enhanced time-line reduces the ‘rear-view mirror’ effect described above, and separates performance evaluations from pay raises.

Certainly studying work and work processes on a more frequent basis is more closely aligned with a Continuous Improvement philosophy.

Performance Management Best Practices

Bill Conway would say that there are two things that matter: working on the right things and working on them the right way. Performance Management is all about how we as leaders orient our organizations around those two things.

When we asked our Partners In Improvement to define Performance Management, we heard a range of perspectives:

  • the strategic orientation of the organization
  • process performance management
  • setting of goals and objectives
  • individual performance appraisals
  • daily direction and feedback to reinforce desired behaviors
  • providing tools and coaching to help people be successful
  • rewards and recognition

From the strategic perspective, performance management begins with the identification of what’s vital to the organization. If these priorities are not clear and it is not clear what role everyone plays in the priorities, the rest is unlikely to mean much.

Several of the Partners pointed out that performance management refers not just to people management, but to process management, and plant management (which one of the Partners called the “3 Ps – People, Plant, and Process”).

One of the Partners explained that she always starts by measuring the performance of the process. To improve the process, based on the root cause analysis she would work to improve the people performance, tools, materials, methods, the environment, or whatever factor was driving the performance of a process.

While there are clearly a wide range of views about how to manage performance, several excellent points or best practices generated quite a bit of support during our discussions:

  • Performance Management must be about much more than individual performance measurement. As Deming said, over 90% of problems are caused by the system not the person. To manage performance, we must manage the system by which people, plant, process interact to produce results.
  • Frequent observation and feedback is more helpful to people than formal annual reviews.
  • Frequent communication about what an organization needs and wants greatly increases the odds that the organization will get what they need and want.
  • Group rewards encourage teamwork, while individual rewards encourage an individual to optimize his or her own goals even if it may sub-optimize the organization as a whole.
  • Tying money directly to performance appraisal can be a two-edged sword – raising stress and reducing the intrinsic rewards and personal satisfaction from doing a good job for the team.
  • Avoid performance management in the rear view mirror – in other words, avoid “Monday morning quarterbacking.”
  • Make more of the goal setting process which produces targets against which we measure performance and take corrective action

 

Performance Management Contrasts

We’ve had some fascinating conversations about performance management over the years, and have found quite a range of formal and not-so-formal approaches, along with variations in defining the process.

But while different organizations may employ different methods, there are a few areas on which most everyone we’ve spoken with enthusiastically agrees:

  • Positive versus punitive performance management works best.
  • Recognition is an important element of managing the performance of individuals.
  • Management must manage the performance of both individuals and processes.
  • Regularly scheduled performance reviews or evaluations of individuals are key and should be conducted more frequently than once each year.
  • Performance evaluations need not be coupled with merit-based or time-based pay raises and, in most cases, are more effective if not coupled with pay raises.

How does your organization define and execute performance management?