Is Performance Management Broken?
Posted by Michael D. Haberman
This seems to be the question of the hour, and it refers to the kind of performance evaluation that rates, grades, and then discards employees without making any effort to improve their performance. If that’s your idea of performance management, then the answer is yes.
It’s Not an Event
The idea of a once-a-year performance appraisal is anathema to many. Employees dread getting criticized, and managers hate making “public” and potentially upsetting assessments of their employees. HR departments hate them because it is a royal pain to get managers to do them, and often takes more time and effort than it is worth.
How can we fix this? Some have suggested getting rid of performance appraisals altogether. And they may have a point. If an appraisal is a one-time event, it’s not really performance management. It’s more akin to a report card that looks back at the events over the past year and gives each employee a grade, with no allowances for circumstances, nor any attempts at corrections. After all, how can you correct something that occurred in the past? You can’t.
I think employees want feedback on their performance. I know I do. Few employees that I’ve met are so sure of themselves that they don’t want some reassurance. In fact, they’d like it more often than once a year, but not in such a draconian setting. The question then becomes this: how can we get away from an event that everyone dislikes, but still provide feedback to employees?
Performance Management as a System
Performance management can be viewed as a system that interweaves ongoing coaching, counseling, and training with the goal of having all employees perform at a level they and their supervisors are happy with. Every encounter a manager has with an employee in which he or she coaches, corrects, praises, or otherwise alters the employee’s performance is part of performance management.
The actual number of times such contact is made will vary according to the employee’s needs. It’s hardly fair to hold people responsible for their work if they’re not getting the information they need to improve it. An active performance manager should become aware of problems that arise and offer solutions.
Making it Work
There are fours steps to creating a system of performance management that works.
- Free managers to truly manage.
Unfortunately, managers often have too many responsibilities in addition to their management responsibilities. I have frequently heard the excuse, “I don’t have time to do a performance appraisal because I have to get my work done.” The primary work of a manager should be to manage and develop staff members. If they cannot be relieved of additional work, they need to be trained in priorities.
- Train the managers.
Most managers are familiar with performance appraisals as an event, but they don’t know how to coach, counsel, or train their staff in an ongoing process. Many have never been taught how to sit down and have a performance discussion.
Good performance discussions focus on the opportunities, problems, and outcomes—and not on the personality or personal characteristics of the employee. Managers should know how to set goals and expectations with their employees in order to fully engage them, and how often to intervene with an employee.
No employee should be allowed to keep straying off course until the end of the year. This benefits neither the employee nor the company. Naturally appropriate metrics need to be established, and goals must be set in order to have something to monitor from week to week.
- Train the employees.
Employees also need to be trained so that they can accept performance feedback from their boss and learn from it. Too often in the “event” scenario employees get defensive and subsequently learn nothing.
They need to learn how to let their manager know about any changes that will have an impact on their performance, and to seek guidance to find appropriate solutions.
- Change the mindset.
One of the best ways to change a limited mindset about performance feedback is to disconnect it from compensation. This is easy to do when there are multiple discussions centered around performance, not just an annual review.
There can still be a year-end event that focuses more on the coming year, with a discussion of new goals and performance measures. Compensation decisions need to be made based on many factors, and not just performance.
Following these four steps will keep employees on track and provide the kind of feedback they both want and need. It hinges on training managers on how to set goals and deliver feedback on an ongoing basis, with a focus on the performance and not the individual.
Performance Management – Top 10 Best Practices
When it comes to performance reviews, even the most experienced managers can use some tips. Our ten best practices define the job description and career path for each member of your staff. Then, your review process becomes a part of your management strategy of holding each staff member accountable while motivating them to achieve more.DOWNLOAD
Michael D. Haberman is Vice-President and co-founder of Omega HR Solutions, Inc., a consulting and services company offering complete Human Resources solutions. As the former founder and President of MDH Consulting, a Human Resources consulting firm, Mike has more than 35 years of experience in Human Resources, and he uses his broad-based background to help companies solve employee problems and deal with governmental compliance.