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The HR Leader's Guide To Stopping The Performance Management Madness
Amy Leschke-Kahle, VP Performance Acceleration, The Marcus Buckingham Company, ADP
Employee performance is complicated. There are limitless factors that influence how individuals perform, from access to the right tools to conditions entirely outside of the workplace. And since performance is so complex, that means it requires complex systems and processes to manage it, right?
Actually, no. The truth is the exact opposite. Precisely because employee performance is so infinitely variable and complex, the job of any good performance management approach is to simplify things.
Let’s take a simple approach to simplifying. Performance management involves many things, but you can make great strides by bringing sharp focus to one of the most important components: measuring performance. There are three key ways current approaches tend to overcomplicate performance measurement.
Over Complication # 1: Attempting to Measure Everything
Work varies from job to job, person to person, day to day. And it’s nuanced, even for positions that we used to think of as simple. Manufacturing employees now need to be fluent technologists and quality experts. Retail associates have to interpret customer needs and provide outstanding service even under trying circumstances. Caregivers in a day care need to be certified in safety and first aid procedures along with achieving other certifications to ensure competence.
HR wants to be able to capture employee performance for every employee, yet individual jobs vary incredibly. To solve for this, many organizations create complex competency models against which they can rate employees. However, there is no one model of performance —even for specific jobs. Some organizations put a lot of time and effort into cascading and tracking goals, but “completion of goals” hasn’t shown any impact on performance.
Instead, Measure the Critical Few
Not everything can be measured — so organizations should just stop trying to measure the unmeasurable. There is no way to capture 100 percent of someone’s performance, and that’s okay. While you can’t capture it all, there are a few universal chunks of performance you can grab. You expect every employee to deliver quality results, on time. And you expect your employees to show up as reasonable human beings at work. Those two elements are universal, no matter what someone’s role.
Performance measurement can be a light-touch, value-added process that serves HR with good data and serves employees with a process they don’t hate
Over Complication# 2: Expecting Things to Change Because they are Measured
Many practitioners mistakenly believe that the conventional performance management process not only measures someone’s performance, but also helps that person perform better. This is wrong, on both counts. The old saying is that “what’s measured improves.” But the truth is that what’s measured gets measured. Just as the simple act of weighing yourself every morning doesn’t make you lose weight, so measuring employee performance doesn’t automatically make someone perform better. Of course, knowing how much you weigh can be helpful if you want to lose weight. It gives you context and helps you keep track of progress. Measuring employee performance is the same. It provides context and helps you to see trends in an employee’s performance. In and of itself, though, measuring doesn’t actually positively impact anyone’s performance.
Instead, Measure to Inform, not to Move
In HR, you need to have visibility into the performance of employees. You need data, good data, to inform downstream talent processes. You need good data to inform compensation decisions, to help identify employees who might need extra support or to be moved into a different role, and to help plan future talent moves. If you start capturing the two elements mentioned above, you can make all the downstream differential decisions you need— and have a confident sense of where things are.
Over Complication #3: Assuming that the Audience for Performance Measurement is Everyone
Think about your own performance. Do you have a good sense of how you’re performing? Most of us do. You know if you’re getting your work done, and you know if you’re delivering that work on time and at the expected quality level. You don’t need a once-a-year grade to know if you’re doing what you need to do at work. In fact, you don’t need a grade at all. So, this means that having a once-a-year download from your manager— which is mostly coerced to meet a predetermined curve and disguised as a “development conversation” —is frankly a farce. Finally admitting that managers and direct reports truly dread the current approach raises the question as to why they are even involved in the first place.
Instead, Measure for HR and the Business
HR and business leaders are the key consumers of performance data. Yes, performance data is generated by your team leaders about your team members, but the data itself is for you, the practitioner, to inform those actions. You don’t need to make it into more than what it is. That just leads to confusion, distress, and over-complication.
How do you simplify performance management? Start by asking whether your current approach is doing everything it’s supposed to do. And if it isn’t, it’s time to get real. Start with simplifying your approach to performance measurement so you can focus on how to help your organization excel.
Performance measurement can be a light-touch, value-added process that serves HR with good data and serves employees with a process they don’t hate. By measuring the critical few performance factors, realizing the measurement doesn’t create movement, and acknowledging that measurement is for HR and the business, you can take the first steps to stop performance management madness. When you simplify your approach to performance measurement you create clarity. And this clarity lets you begin moving the performance needle, which happens with completely different activities owned by managers and the team members they lead, not by HR.