Sunday 5 April 2009

Improving and innovating performance management


   Thinking about Leighanne Levensaler’s post has made me realise I’ve not written on performance management for some time.  But I have posted on it several times before.  I’ve even countered Bersin’s (and others’) recommendations to kill the performance appraisal:

“And then read Wally Bock's thoughts on abolishing performance reviews at Three Star Leadership.  Bock refers to a recent Wall Street Journal article which suggests performance reviews are 'ill-advised and bogus' and should be replaced by 'Two-side, Reciprocally Accountable, Performance previews'.  Bock is absolutely right in explaining that it's the ongoing conversation rather than the formal set-pieces which are important, but I think, although I don't agree with ditching performance reviews, that WSJ makes some good points too.  However, I'd ditch the rather ugly name, and unfortunate acronym ('TRAP'), and just call this coaching, which I think needs to be part of any performance management system worthy of this name.”


One of the best things I’ve read on performance management recently is a review in People & Strategy (volume 31, issue 3), including a write-up of a discussion with Ed Lawler, about his new book, Talent, held almost a year ago.  The discussion group concluded that performance management is the most critical process in managing talent, but is executed poorly, and “actually, the system/process often gets in the way of managing talent.”

Moving on into the Point / Counterpoint article, Marcus Buckingham suggested that:

“The performance system in most organizations is among the least productive and least popular of organizational rituals. It tends to be disappointing to the employees, frustrating to the managers, and nets little productive output for the organization. It is the equivalent, one might say, of a visit to a bad dentist: Before it happens, you don’t look forward to it; while it’s happening, you wish it were over; and when it’s done, you rarely get the outcomes you wanted.”


And Lynda Gratton recalled:

“When Gary Hamel and I asked a group of 20 CEOs at London Business School what was the process that was most broken in their companies, we expected them to talk about production or quality—or even perhaps some manufacturing process. They did not. Almost all said that the process that most irritated and annoyed them was performance management. The emotion in the room was running really high. It was not just that they believed it was broken—they absolutely hated it. They hated the bureaucracy, they hated the form filling, and they hated the ranking.”


Supporting my points about design and engagement in my previous post, the group noted that “the ‘ideal’ system and process still will have to be designed, and accepted”.  These are some of the suggestions for improving performance management made within the article:

  • Cascading goals vertically but probably horizontally as well
  • Not using a forced distribution
  • Being based on the organisation’s needs and, where possible, on each employees’ strengths
  • Being employee driven
  • Being fast and frequent
  • Involving the entire community
  • Being web based
  • Being unique – not copying another organisation’s process.



Much of this aligns with my own recommendations although these tend to go a little bit further than the above - tending to focus on creating a more innovative, higher value approach I’ve called performance leadership, being based upon dreams rather than objectives, and being MUSICal rather than SMART.

But of course, these are only examples and suggestions.  I think the most powerful point emerging from the articles is the need for best fit, and uniqueness, in the approach.  I’ve criticised some of Lynda Gratton’s signature processes previously, but I do think she’s right in suggesting that:

“Good practice can be a real spur to action—but great companies also invent their own ‘signature experience’ that sets them apart. By explicitly communicating what makes your firm unique, you can dramatically improve employee engagement and performance.”


This applies to your performance management process as well.



Photo credit: Baskyes



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