The Truth about Performance Management?

Over recent decades the performance management industry has grown like topsy. Re-engineering, Balanced Scorecard, Lean Thinking, Strategy Mapping – there has never been such a choice of techniques to improve the performance of your organisation. Yet more often than not they simply don’t work. They cost a lot in both time and money…but just don’t deliver the highly anticipated and much needed returns.

So what does work?

In my experience significant performance improvements can be made by investing in the quality of line management, and in particular, excellent people management. In the vast majority of the organisations that I see three simple processes, well trained and efficiently executed provide the springboard for continual improvement of performance. These are:

  1. weekly, half hour meetings between the manager and each of their direct reports – 121s;
  2. regular use of effective and professional feedback, both affirmative (letting people know when they did something that you want to see more of) or adjusting (letting them know when they have done something that you do not want to see repeated);
  3. coaching each and every team member – all of the time – to help them to improve their performance.

Of course there are many, many more things that help to improve performance – but unless managers are doing these three things routinely and consistently well – then investment in any other approach is likely to be severely undermined by poor management.

So why are these processes so often over-looked?

Well firstly they are not very sexy! These are every day, almost mundane, processes that build trust, improve communication, enhance skills and add value to the organisation. To many managers who spend every day fighting fires and averting disaster this is most definitely NOT what management is about.

Secondly they sound like they will take a lot of time. The first excuse that I am usually given by a manager for not doing 121s is that they don’t have time, ‘I have 10 direct reports – you really think I can spend 5 hours a week doing 121s?’. Well the truth is that the 5 hours of 121s probably saves 10 hours of time spent responding to ad hoc requests for the managers time, or dealing with problems that could have been easily avoided if communication was better and trust was stronger.

The third most common objection is that feedback will cause conflict. It risks lifting the lid on Pandora’s Box and letting out all sorts of opinions, beliefs and personal prejudices that can only damage relationships.

And the final objection is that ‘no-one does this stuff around here’. Well exactly – no wonder the organisation is looking for tools and techniques that will help performance improve.

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2 Responses

  1. Thanks for the post Bob. So in your experience most attempts to implement the balanced scorecard and/or strategy mapping are successful? My contention is not that these approaches do not work. It is that in the majority of organisations there are much simpler interventions that can improve the management process and provide a better return on investment. I guess it is about looking to do the ‘easy’ things well. I think that performance management frameworks often results in managers worrying more about percentages than about rewarding high performers and managing effectively those who are underperforming.

  2. I don’t agree about Strategy Mapping and Balanced Scorecards, but then most strategy mapping, especially in the social enterprise sector is woefully inadequate and the scorecards are worse, so you may be right for the wrong reasons. Strategy apart, I agree too that much of so called Performance Management is rubbish, but that goes from MBO onwards. To truly improve performance you need both an understood and shared strategy and entrepreneurial management to lead and innovate. Meetings and coaching and 121s arent a solution, but they are part of one.

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