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The Performance Management Scapegoat

Performance Management schemes have been the subject of a lot of discussion over the last decade

Performance Management schemes have been the subject of a lot of discussion over the last decade or so and they continue to receive a great deal of criticism for a wide range of reasons including the belief that they are bad for employees’ mental well-being and are an outdated relic from the twentieth Century.

However, Stuart Hyland believes that while some of this criticism may be true, the fault for this sits not with the Performance Management process but more often with the business deploying it.

Firstly, we need to realise that no system is perfect, and this is certainly true of Performance Management; there are some inherent flaws with any approach. However, knowing this means you can plan and work around them.

Performance Ratings

For example, over the last decade many organisations believed what they were reading about rating-less Performance Management solutions and removed their ratings schemes without really understanding the flaws of the approach and the implications/ suitability for their business. Many of these organisations learnt the hard way that there is no ‘one-size-fits-all golden-bullet’ Performance Management solution and have gradually, and very quietly, reintroduced a version of ratings as they discovered that their removal created a completely different set of challenges and issues.

These challenges are intensifying today with the new pay transparency regulations where performance (and performance ratings) play an important role in providing one of the core ‘material factor’ justifications for differences in pay for work rated as equal value. While this has always been the case, the regulations are reminding many employers of that basic role and the value it can bring to the business and employees. As a result, we are already seeing many more organisations begin to look at how they can reintroduce ratings to meet these requirements.

However, all the discussion around rating-led or ratings-less approaches is perhaps missing the point as are efforts to blame them for ineffective Performance Management. From my work in this space over the last 20 plus years, the fundamental mistake that many employers seem to make is that they still think of Performance Management as a process.

Performance Management as a mindset

Those who really make it work for them treat Performance Management as a mind-set and use  it as just one element to help drive their desired culture. In these organisations, it is a fully integrated and culturally aligned part of a toolkit and not a stand-alone process.

I recently came across a newly published article on Performance Management which spent some time highlighting how employees hate the performance conversation and find it disengaging, concluding that Performance Management is a failure as a result. I would not want to down-play the mental health issues attached to this topic at all. However, if you do have employees dreading the conversation to that extent then perhaps an employer needs to question the nature of the employee/ employer relationship they have established.

The role of training and culture

Alongside this, it is important to consider the role of the line manager. When organisations ‘train’ their managers on Performance Management the focus is often on the process rather than on helping them to develop all of the soft skills they need to communicate and engage their people more widely.

Having a performance conversation should not be the workplace equivalent of being called to the headmaster’s office because you have done something wrong. It should be an adult-to-adult conversation and an opportunity to explore personal development and growth based on experience over the past year. If a business and a line manager has developed a positive relationship with their employees, then there is clearly little reason for anyone to ‘fear’ a conversation regardless of how challenging any messages might be. It is true, however, that many employers still have managers and leaders who engender a climate of fear and blame which feeds into performance conversations, but you should not be blaming the Performance Management process for this.

If your employees are showing signs of anxiety around performance conversations, it may be uncomfortable, but perhaps the first step should be looking at how the business interacts with its people more widely and what can be done to remove the fear culture? This is likely to yield a much better return on investment than simply jumping straight to blaming the Performance Management process.

Would you like to know more?

If you have any questions about the above and how it applies to your business, please get in touch with your usual Blick Rothenberg contact or Stuart Hyland using the form below.

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Stuart Hyland
Stuart Hyland
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