Stakeholders - employees, managers and company leaders, alike - become wary of the frequent and ongoing tweaks HR makes to an organization's performance management system. This is especially true if HR never quite gets it right.
And, if you're an HR pro like me, you've likely heard complaints.
That approach to "fixing" performance management becomes a never-ending redesign of legacy processes. How do I know?
I was once a perpetual fixer: I spent the '90s - a time when no one was talking about continuous performance management - redesigning forms, implementing competency models, and reconfiguring ratings categories and definitions.
After hours of thoughtful design, I remember feeling confident that the latest framework would finally be "the one"; this new version would be different!
Stakeholder feedback reveals system gaps
But year after year, managers complained that the system was too cumbersome.
Senior leaders expressed concern that the process created a distraction from running the business. Most senior leaders appeared to feel "above" the process, so they didn't write and deliver annual reviews to their direct reports. I reported to the CEO, who actually had me write my own review (which was glowing, of course).
Yet no employee ever approached me to say, "Thanks for the new and improved system you set up. I just had the best conversation with my manager about my performance and potential."
It can be tempting to assume you know what your people need, especially when you aren't taking the time to probe deeper into what will help support them. Ongoing conversations between managers and employees create opportunities for two-way feedback on what keeps employees' goals and performance aligned to business priorities - and what doesn't.
Without this critical communication, you might end up in a similar situation to me, when a senior leader highlighted a serious HR blind spot.
HR reality check: The busywork blind spot
During a senior staff meeting, our director of engineering said our performance management system reminded him of a Dilbert cartoon.
Ouch. I wanted to crawl under the table. As an HR pro, I wanted to contribute to advancing our business, not embody Catbert, Dilbert's Evil HR Director. My well-intended performance review process was perceived as distracting busywork.
Clearly, we had some work to do. But first, we had to stop and ask five key questions:
- Does our current performance management system help or hurt the organization?
- What are the business' key priorities in the short-, mid- and long-term, and how can our approach to performance management support these goals?
- Does our system put our people in the driver's seat of their own experience?
- Do our people get ongoing coaching and feedback from their managers?
- How do we measure success?
You can't change a flawed performance management system without understanding how your goals align with business priorities and needs. Only then can you create a high-performance culture through ongoing coaching, feedback and development to empower employees to do their best work and achieve their goals.
Get in the weeds: Use the performance system you designed
When annual review season came around, I spent valuable time and energy haranguing managers to write and deliver their performance reviews. I didn't understand how managers could shirk the very important responsibility of providing feedback to their staff.
The futility of the system only sank in when I started managing my own direct reports. Guess who was late writing and delivering reviews? Yours truly.
Using the very system I created was so eye-opening, I stepped off the perpetual redesign treadmill and have been on a 15-year odyssey to evolve performance management ever since. And my fellow HR pros have been stellar travel companions on this journey.
Shifting the conversation to performance management evolution
Today, HR pros across the globe have a distinct advantage I was missing two decades ago. The conversation has shifted over the years; everyone is focusing on continuous performance management, which is so inspiring to see.
Ongoing performance conversations allow managers and leaders to engage their employees, aligning them to the bigger organizational picture.
So before you attempt your next system redesign, think about the needs of your stakeholders: your employees, managers and senior leaders. What would they want from a system and how will they benefit? What's in it for them?
Avoid performance management redesign: Start communicating!
We - the people of HR! - can and should design an employee-centric performance management system. It's time we all understand how our organization's performance management system is - or isn't - working for our people. The first step? Let's spark a conversation between managers and employees.
Join Saba's Senior Strategic Services Consultant Jodi Bartsch and me on September 12 for a webinar on Performance Conversations in Just 10 Minutes a Month. We'll help you get started with ongoing performance conversations in your organization.