The Good and Bad of Performance Management

Every job has its own nobility with it” said Marcus Buckingham during an energetic and insightful opening keynote at the 2015 HRTechnology Conference. He was giving an example of how to understand performance and task fulfilment within different sectors, in this case through hotel cleaners. They know when a room was cleaned well, and the tricks for checking. Each job, no matter what overall level we attach to it, has its own code of skills, tasks, checks and passions, which are probably outside the remit of most performance management related discussions in a conference such as this, but which make up the broad ecosystem of work.

Much of the debate around this topic in 2015 has been driven by Marcus’s organisation, who have showcased the growing chasm between what rater and ratee (61% of a review reflects the former not the latter), and the biases that impact the validity of a performance review. He threw an interesting question out to the packed conference hall – “are we rewarding the wrong person?“. If we can’t trust the robustness of the rating then maybe the employee getting the biggest raise and bonus isn’t the best performer after all? Are good performers leaving organisations because their performance isn’t being truly recognised. “Performance data is based on the premise that humans are reliable raters of each other and it’s just not true

This last question came to my mind again in a joint session between BJs restaurants and Cornerstone, in which they showed how talent management was improved, with greater engagement and loyalty, once the chain had implemented a new TMS. It was the identification of employees with high potential but who were currently low performers that interested me. How often do these people slip through the net through either poor management or just being in the wrong team? The opening session had shown the spread of performance from retail stores in one group. Identical selection criteria for staff was used across the whole company and yet once in teams there was a disparity between performance. There are many factors that impact this, but how often do we measure them or take them into account when reviewing?

Having teased us all year with the end of ratings and rankings, and the emergence of genuine, ongoing developmental conversations between employees and managers, Marcus put many back into their comfort zones by stressing that we still needed some sort of assessment. Ratings still matter…just better ones. More agile and informative, measuring the things that matter and not just the judgement of managers. Good data against bad data. “We build Systems of Record but performance, engagement and learning live in Sources of Truth“.

I think the opportunity here is to use technology that draws data from multiple sources. Individual, manager and peer assessments are clearly a starting point, but we have much more data now available about the way we do our jobs, how influential and effective we are at work, our well-being, and the competencies and behaviours we develop. With technology also now playing a bigger part in organisational culture and core values, the way we align and adapt to these are also important. Performance can be measured, assessed and interpreted in many ways – we need to use the tools we have to start seeing it as something that evolves and develops, not as a way to produce an end of year school report.

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