Untangling The Functions Of Performance Management

by David Creelman | Posted | Performance Management

Untangling The Functions Of Performance Management

The tangles in performance management are harder to unwind then we typically admit. Fortunately, if leaders and managers have a clear understanding of these tangles, then we can avoid the dead ends and bring useful nuance to our approach.

Performance management has many different purposes — from rewards to development to career planning to documenting poor performance — so it’s easy to see why things can get muddled. The best-known tangle, though not the only one, is the combination of appraisal and development.

It’s long been known that when you start doing an appraisal, useful development conversations are crushed.

Given the antipathy between appraisal and development it’s natural to want to untangle these two elements by telling managers to have separate discussions, but this is not as easy as it sounds. These two elements have a lot of overlap.

It would be natural for discussions to flow something like this:

Appraisal Discussion


Development Discussion


The performance management process takes managers a lot of time and managers notice the overlap so combining the two conversations seems to make sense. But doing so can lead to embarrassing dead ends.

Replacing the once-a-year development discussion with ongoing informal coaching is one way to avoid this issue. While this is largely an excellent idea, it does leads us to another knot.

Someone is going to notice that we no longer have documented individual development plans, which could be a problem because these plans are duel-purpose. One is to provide input to the training department, the other is to ensure that at least one serious development discussion has occurred.

Here’s a mapped out visual of the situation.

Technique

Purpose

Ongoing coaching

Development
Problem solving
Relationship building
Motivation

Annual development conversation

Development
Due diligence
Provide input to training department

These tangles will be familiar to you, however until you start penning them out on paper, it’s hard to see just how messy they can be.

Appraisals and development is just one of the major tangles of performance management; it gets worse as we look at the many other purposes of performance management.

If it’s hard for an HR professional to keep this all straight, imagine how managers feel. You can see how they might misunderstand the issue and purposes and why they might make suggestions to chopping the process.

What should you do?

Whenever you are dealing with changing the performance management process, take pains to get clarity about the different purposes you are trying to achieve. Recognize that these purposes overlap, so there isn’t a painless way to tease them apart.

When you have this clarity, you’ll avoid back tracking. If you know that the appraisal conversation overlaps with the development conversation you can seek ways to differentiate the two; or at the least warn managers that there will be overlap but explain why it’s essential to separate the processes and guide them on how to make both conversations meaningful.

You may also find that some purposes can be achieved through other means. Perhaps training doesn’t need the data from the individual development plans and you can enforce ongoing coaching conversations when the need for one big development conversation dissipates.

It would be nice if we could just cut the tangles with a sharp sword (e.g. let’s abolish appraisals) however, it’s always more complicated than that. If you take the time to write out the complications, which is primarily the different purposes and how they overlap; then the terrible tangles of performance management can be more easily tamed.

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