Performance Management, Performance Reviews and Appraisals

I was asked by a manager yesterday to help to clarify the difference between performance management and appraisal.  I don’t think I did a great job  so I thought I would try again!

Performance management is a system with four parts:

  1. Specify the desired level of performance for the thing you are trying to manage (people, programs, products or services)
  2. Measuring performance – collecting and recording reliable data, both quantitative and qualitative
  3. Using data to compare actual performance to what is desired – recognising gaps between what is desired and what highlighting –  variances
  4. Communicating performance information – to those that are most able to use it to make progress

Performance management can happen at a number of different levels:

  1. The performance of strategies and plans at the organisational level
  2. The performance of products, services and programs
  3. The performance of teams, department or units
  4. The performance of individual employees

A key task for a manager is to decide at which level an investment in performance management is most likely to pay off.  In my experience an investment in the performance management of individual employees drives improvements at the team, product/service and organisational levels.

Performance Reviews and Appraisals are a small but important part of good performance management at the level of the individual employee and the team or business unit.  When aggregated they can also provide powerful contributions to performance management at the organisational level.

However these ‘one-off’ annual interventions need to be supplemented by more frequent processes for measurement, monitoring and change to keep up with the dynamic context in which organisations operate.  These interventions would include:

  • 121s and quarterly reviews,
  • feedback,
  • coaching and
  • delegation.

Collectively these provide a manager with a powerful framework for the performance management of individuals and teams.  Few managers that I meet consistnelty use these intervnetions with rigour, conviction and compassion. As a consequence they are at best ‘mediocre’.  Without them the likelihood of real progress being made is small.  Putting these simple interventions into practice can transform mediocrity into excellence.

Measurement is central to performance management, but it is a double edged sword that has to handled skillfully.

“People revert to metrics out of fear, not out of vision.”

(Patrick Lencioni)

Measurement is often about the minimum requirements and rarely helps to articulate a grand design.  It tends to lead to reductionist thinking and may have little to do with the ‘high ground’ of excellence.

“Managers who don’t know how to measure what they want settle for wanting what they can measure.”

( Ackoff & Addison)

Most managers spend to little time considering what they expect from an excellent employee.

  • What would excellence look like?
  • How would I recognise it?
  • How would I ensure that excellence was contagious?

Even if managers do have a conception of excellence they rarely build in the time to collect the data and establish the working relationships necessary to achieve it.  Typically this means observing people at work, giving feedback, coaching and so on.  What Tom Peters referred to as ‘Managing By Wandering Around’.

Instead managers retreat to the easy, low ground of using what they can easily measure as a proxy for performance.  They become mole whackers.  Things that are difficult to measure are neglected, while things that are easy to measure become important.

Performance management is just a tool. It can be used to

  • move your agenda forward – what is your agenda? What does progress look like?
  • provide powerful messages about what matters – it doesn’t have to be precise, just influential – what are you trying to influence?

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