Performance Management

Posted: November 2, 2012 by Matthew Hanwell in Leadership, Organization

How many of us look forward to a performance management review, no matter what role we are in? I don’t think many of us are filled with joy when our manager utters the words “I’d like to give you some feedback on your performance”, or perhaps “I’d like to give you some feedback from your colleagues”. How many of us have a sense of relief when our performance review is over.

I do wonder how effective performance management is within an organization. How would you measure this? Does it really create alignment with the overall objectives of the enterprise, does it distribute work and tasks throughout the organization, like a super 3D jig-saw puzzle, so that all the pieces come together to form a coherent result. And then does it reward the right people and in proportion to their contribution?

In my experience and this is when it is used well performance management processes cascade objectives down through the organization following the traditional hierarchy structure. To me this is applying a kind of work breakdown approach as commonly used in project management, with each layer in the organization further refining the goals and objectives into more and more granular pieces. I can imagine that in a fairly stable environment this may work well.

The challenge is in large, complex or dynamic environments, where the work breakdown does not follow a hierarchy; it more resembles a social network of relationships. It also needs to remain agile, flexible, and able to respond to changes quickly, reconfiguring work and relationship as needed. More like a living organism. It is far more difficult to distribute objectives and then capture the results and reward contribution in this type of dynamic system.

Typically we are rewarded at work for achieving the goals and objectives that have been set from above. Manager sets the objective; manager reviews the accomplishment, all fairly straight forward. However in my opinion this increasingly does not reflect reality. I have seen entrepreneurial activities; skunk works, special initiatives, projects and programs, and communities all co-exist with the traditional hierarchy, or even matrix organization. Unfortunately the performance management process and systems don’t cover these different ways of working very well, so these different ways of working, and what was once called a ‘splendid blended’ of all of the tend to exist in spite of the performance management system, and I fear peoples contributions are not adequately reflected in the performance management system, but hope through good management they are rewarded for their contribution in whatever way they are working and contributing value.

Whenever I managed people, I hope that I was clear when talking about performance. My personal motto for a performance review was “no surprises” (positive or negative), I didn’t want to deliver any, and I hoped that I didn’t receive any. If there were performance issues or differences of expectations, or just simply that things had changed, I hoped that these would be discussed as and when they occurred, dealt with at the time, and certainly not left until a six monthly or annual review. I believed that the performance review was a time to reflect from a performance perspective, what had gone well, what could have been done better, to learn from the experience and to plan for the future, including the persons overall contribution, even when something hadn’t been documented.

The most important part of performance management for me, no matter what mode of work; was to have an open honest dialog, and to create a shared understanding as to purpose and why we were doing something. Get this right and the rest of performance management becomes much easier.

  1. micisays says:

    Amen to that! To ensure the timely discussion about any +/- topics (when things go surprisingly well or not so well), it is important to have regular one-on-ones scheduled, maybe just a 15-30 min biweekly phonecall, so that it is easy enough to take up these topics, which otherwise may accumulate and result in an unpleasent performance evaluation session.

  2. sleppane says:

    Good points Matthew… I guess we all know how horribly wrong can these discussions go and how little impact they have to overall company performance if individual objectives aren’t well aligned…

    I found an interesting article on the topic (Bernard Marr):

  3. Matthew Hanwell says:

    no one looks at their goals in their HR system unless (maybe) they have their appraisal coming up:

  4. sleppane says:

    I’ve always wondered why we associate the word “feedback” or more accurately “constructive feedback” with negative critizing feedback. Maybe there is a reason for it if our line managers or people who are asked to provide feedback only associate it with “I need to find something to improve or something to bitch about” instead of truly assessing the performance and giving more balanced feedback.
    In my experience one should be honest about the performance and acknowledge the facts but instead of repeatedly verbally punishing someone about past mistakes one should be more creative. Focus on topics how to move forward from the mutually recognized current state and support the actions to improve the performance rather than stating the bad performance.

    In other words making sure there is a mutually understood realistic view to current state but focusing more on the performance improvement and actions to enforce it rather that pinpointing the past poor performance. It is like driving a car while looking only to the rear mirror. Taking more development focus over assessing past performance accurately.

    In a balanced approach one should think also the positive feedback and mention that as well. I’m pretty sure that everyone deserves credit for something…

    So maybe the feedback process should be like…
    1. Start with something positive and truly constructive thing to say
    2. Dive into real performance issues and highlight the exact pain points to be crystal clear
    3. Start working on development themes to address how to turn poor performance to good

    Just highlighting the poor performance is not enough, it goes hand in hand with actions to address the issues and some tangible support to start doing something in a new way.

    Just my five cents…

  5. Matthew Hanwell says:

    37.4% of UK workers say appraisals are a waste of time ! What can you do differently ?

  6. Matthew Hanwell says:

    Are performance reviews worth it ?

    Thanks sleppane for sharing.

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