What if I told you that recent research shows nearly 4 out of 5 employees either agree, or strongly agree that their organizations’ performance appraisal processes were instrumental in supporting their professional development? That the data strongly suggests that employees are satisfied with the frequency of feedback, the honesty of feedback, and the timeliness of feedback? Would you believe me?
Chances are that you would think that I’m full of S**t (Soot that is). If you don’t think so, then thank you, and I am very interested in hearing what has worked well in your experience. Based on a number of recent interactions with other Trench HR professionals, it seems that performance management and the use of performance appraisals is a big challenge for many of our organizations.
Approaches to Performance Management
I will suggest that there are generally two philosophical approaches to the development of performance management systems, although many organizations have created a hybrid of these approaches:
Compliance approach. In this approach, performance management is a HR process specifically designed to document employee performance and behavior for use in supporting employment-related decisions. That is, appraisals and other performance documentation (e.g. corrective actions) are used to cover our backsides when it comes to compliance: Title VII, Affirmative Action, collective bargaining agreements, etc. In other words, compliance is largely about creating written documentation to fend off potential litigation, and to justify the decisions that we have already made.
Organization development approach. In this approach, performance management is a comprehensive leadership system designed to continuously develop the organization’s people.
The Illusion of Performance Management
Performance management is not a performance appraisal process, and a performance appraisal process is not performance management.
We have mistaken the process of completing prescribed performance documentation for it being a key driver for the development of our people. It is not. Developing people is rooted in the abilities of leaders to mentor their employees; this requires coaching, feedback and leadership, and not a form, software template or other standardized tool. A highly effective leader can coach and mentor without a tool or process, but even the best appraisal tool in the world will not turn an ineffective leader into a coach or mentor.
What Would Coach Do?
How many organizations do you know that actually train their leaders to be effective coaches and mentors, and provide them with their own coaching and mentoring about their leadership skills? The HR department teaching new supervisors how to complete performance appraisals so that they avoid rater biases is not the same thing as developing leaders to motivate and develop their people.
There are a number of leadership books by and about great coaches in the world of sports. The books describe how successful coaches motivate and develop athletes, and how they build great athletic programs. To my knowledge, none of those who are recognized as being great coaches did so by completing annual performance appraisals on their athletes, with little or no interaction in between. Great coaches are judged by their wins, and in college sports, their ability to recruit great athletes into their programs. Great coaches are great leaders, not unbiased raters and compliant managers.
Development Has a Future Orientation
The traditional HR approach to performance management is rooted in documenting the past performance and behavior of employees. That is what most HR practitioners train managers to do. I understand that performance needs to be documented to support employment-related decisions, however it has little to do with really developing our people. An annual, retrospective grading of what has already occurred (with varying perceptions about its basis in reality) will in itself do little to promote the future development of people.
Performance management needs to be based on how we coach, mentor and develop our people with a future orientation. Here is the theory: The foundation of an effective performance management system lies in an intentional leadership development process. In other words, if we expect our leaders to be effective coaches and mentors, then we must first invest in the development of those leaders. Without effective leaders, the performance appraisal process is doomed to being little more than a HR record-keeping process, and a poor illusion for a performance management system. One more thing: giving our leaders feedback and development about their leadership and coaching abilities should probably consist of more than an annual performance appraisal.
I’m interested in hearing what you think.