Maybe HR Has It Right After All

Performance management. Performance appraisal. Performance evaluation.

What do you think of when you hear these terms?

Do you think, “oh goody – that time of year again…how quickly can I get through this?”

daring2Or do you think, “what a great opportunity to talk with my team about what we’ve all been able to accomplish?”

Why do most of us groan, and think, “oh goody – that time of year again?” In today’s environment there are a multitude of reasons….

– There isn’t time to do the process justice. As organizations have flattened, managers have a broader scope of responsibility, more direct reports and less time to spend with each.
– We don’t like to sit in judgment of others.
– There usually is a link, even remotely, between performance and pay, and many processes require managers to talk about pay increases at the same time as the performance evaluation meeting.
– We don’t think that the process measures the job effectively which is difficult to explain to employees.
– We just don’t want to do it.

With all the talk about employee engagement, are we perhaps missing one of our best opportunities to engage our employees by creating a meaningful performance management dialogue?

I don’t think the correlation between employee engagement and organizational performance would be a surprise to anyone, but as a reminder, a 2007-8 study by Towers Perrin of 90,000 employees in 18 countries showed that “companies with the most engaged employees had a 19% increase in operating income during the previous year, while those with the lowest levels had a 32% decline.”

In a 2011 Harvard Business Review blog, Tony Schwartz, CEO of The Energy Project uses the Towers Perrin study to illustrate his point that “more than 100 studies have now demonstrated a strong relationship between employee engagement and organizational performance. Studies also show that only 20% of employees are fully engaged, 40% are capable but not committed, and 40% are disenchanted and disengaged.“

Workforce engagement is a major component of the Baldridge award, and on the Baldridge website, they suggest five key elements

– “A sense of meaningfulness. [Lonnie] Wilson poses a Baldrige-esque question: ‘Do [employees] understand the company mission and vision to represent a company that seeks to be competitive, thriving, growing, a company that not only makes money but gives back to the employees and it a good corporate citizen?’ And do they believe their jobs serve that mission and vision?
– A sense of control. Do employees have ways to control what and how they do things or do they check their brains at the door every day?
– A sense of accomplishment. Can employees codify and quantify their contribution? Can they answer the question: ‘How did I (we) do today?’
– A sense of growth. Do employees have ways to learn, grow, and contribute as individuals? Do they have hope for future opportunities?
– A sense of community. Do employees feel like part of the team? Are they proud to tell people where they work?”

Think about that a moment.

Meaningfulness…influence…accomplishment…growth…isn’t that what performance management really should be? An opportunity to clarify expectations, provide corrective and developmental feedback so that the employee can accomplish and grow?

And yet, I see many organizations adding on “events” to improve employee engagement – action planning meetings…. – and missing a tremendous opportunity to make the performance management process a key driver of engagement. And the managers’ workload just doubled.

Let’s take those reasons we don’t like “performance management” and see if we can figure out a way to make the performance management process add greater value and drive employee engagement.

This is tough, and this is real. Work volumes have grown exponentially. Managers are often “working” managers, which shrinks available time to really lead. But if managers don’t take the time to provide meaningful feedback on a regular basis, are they really leaders?

Perhaps getting employees actively involved in the process can alleviate some of the time burden. Have them help set goals – talk about the progress in regular meetings – let them conclude the success of achieving the goal. Are “competencies” part of your organization’s process? Let the employee assess their own effectiveness and development needs – talk about where their perception is different from yours.

Not sure how to do this and bemoaning that your organization doesn’t provide more “classes?” Shame on you. The resources available today provide anything and everything you need to learn and develop.  Look online, ask someone….

In Judgment
Make the dialogue two way – ask questions – create a dialogue. Nine times out of ten, an employee isn’t performing well because they’re missing something – a resource, feedback, knowledge. It isn’t a judgment, it’s a discovery.

Talking about Pay
This is a tough one, and I may have to ask HR to close their ears when I say, separate the conversation. It is just not possible for an employee to engage in dialogue about performance and development when their mind is on their pay.

The Process Isn’t Relevant
So make it relevant. Yes, follow the process that has been established, but if you are missing key elements, add them.

On a side note, if you really don’t think it is relevant talk with your HR team about how to make it more relevant. I can almost guarantee they would embrace your interest with excitement. If not, well that’s another story.

Perhaps the tools we need are already available. Let’s not reinvent, let’s use what we’ve got.






Carol Anderson
Carol Anderson
CAROL is the founder and Principal of Anderson Performance Partners, LLC, a business consultancy focused on bringing together organizational leaders to unite all aspects of the business – CEO, CFO, HR – to build, implement and evaluate a workforce alignment strategy. With over 35 years of executive leadership, she brings a unique lens and proven methodologies to help CEOs demand performance from HR and to develop the capability of HR to deliver business results by aligning the workforce to the strategy. She is the author of Leading an HR Transformation, published by the Society for Human Resource Management in 2018, which provides a practical RoadMap for human resource professionals to lead the process of aligning the workforce to the business strategy, and deliver results, and writes regularly for several business publications.

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