The recent hand-wringing about performance management is a result of the confused lumping together of what are actually two distinct processes universal to all managers of people. If we pick apart this jumble, we’ll find clarity to argue apples with apples, and to find solutions.
To begin with, managing performance — a manager ensuring her direct report is performing as effectively as expected — is made up of an iterative and ongoing series of specific accountabilities. These start with providing role clarity and pivot to clear task assignment, ongoing monitoring and effectiveness assessment, followed typically by feedback, coaching or task adjustment, or atypically by role redefinition, deselection or dismissal. What is implied is real-time engagement from a manager capable of candid and effective conversations.
Managing performance is being jumbled together with a personal effectiveness review — a manager determining the extent to which her direct report is performing relative to expectation over time, then plotting that relative performance within the band of complexity the role encompasses.
The intent here is for the manager to use her judgment in aggregating the tasks conducted by her direct reports over a specified time — typically a year — and coming to a subjective conclusion about each direct report’s effectiveness relative to expectations (and not to each other). The relative position within that band of complexity, where the direct report falls, provides the differentiation employees seek, along with the grounds for relative reward — so high performers are called out as such.
Why these two processes, despite having different intents, are being jumbled together is easy to answer: Employers do not value real-
time performance management and so do not reward for it. So managers do not do it. Employers have voted with their paycheques.
Interestingly, the annual personal effectiveness review — a quasi-legal and definitely financial event — is a process that can be less easily avoided. As a result, the two processes, looking similar but with different intents, are slammed together by HR-process fiat, with the predictable outcome that neither are done extensively or well.
The solution to managing performance is firstly for organizations to actually demonstrate they value the ongoing management of performance — rewarding managers for doing so, and doing so effectively, meaning they make the process an accountability, part of a manager’s paycheque.
Secondly, like all other management of performance, supervising managers must hold their direct-report managers to account for managing performance.
As described above, this accountability includes clear task assignment, ongoing monitoring and personal effectiveness assessment, followed typically by performance feedback, coaching or task adjustment.
Mercer’s approach, ably presented by consultant Illana Hechter, essentially comes to the same conclusion. “Focusing” looks much like role clarity. “Reallocation of time” is the shift to thoroughly articulating role clarity and the real-time management of performance. Accountability is the prerequisite for “rewarding strong leaders.”
Hechter’s illuminating insight “The system becomes the facilitator of the outcome, rather than the owner” encapsulates this approach. It prioritizes the intent that performance management is about a manager’s effort to manage effectiveness, and not about an HR-imposed tick box.
Michael Clark is director of business development at Forrest & Company Limited. Forrest is an organizational transformation firm with 30 years’ experience in developing organizational and leadership capability.