Escaping the performance management quagmire

Escaping the performance management quagmire

performance management issues

By Claudine Kapel –

Raise your hand if your employees and managers approach the annual performance management process with boundless joy and enthusiasm.

If you didn’t raise your hand, you’re probably in good company. Few things provoke as much concern, resistance – and even dread – as performance management and performance appraisals.

You may even hear rumblings from time to time that performance management is a quagmire of endless paperwork and questionable ratings and should be abolished completely.

The Conference Board of Canada notes in a recent report that organizations “make substantial investments – in both time and money – in their performance management systems, and yet less than half are confident their systems are effective.”

In its report, entitled Performance Management: Turning Individual Stress to Organizational Strategy, the Conference Board states organizations “continue to struggle most with subjectivity, consistency and fairness. In increasingly busy workplaces, it is a challenge to submit appraisals on time, let alone make time for meaningful conversation.”

While it’s unlikely organizations will reach a stage where all employees embrace performance management with eager anticipation, there are ways to make the process more effective and less burdensome.

Clarify the value and intent of the process. If you want managers and employees to value the performance management process, you need to help them understand all the component parts, including goal setting, coaching and feedback, year-end reviews, and where applicable, links to rewards. Sometimes managers and employees will take a very narrow view of what performance management is all about – collapsing the meaning so it represents only performance appraisals.

By encouraging a broader perspective, organizations can better leverage performance management as a means of aligning and connecting employees with the organization’s strategic intent, in a manner that addresses the needs of all concerned.

Make dialogue and feedback the key priority. A key objective of an effective performance management processes is to get people talking – about what’s important, what’s expected, what’s working well and what could be done better. Ideally, the major focus should be on the discussions and feedback that enhance how work is done and how people work together. Ratings and assessments should be an offshoot of those discussions, not the primary focus of performance management.

Review draft performance ratings to test for fairness and consistency. A formal calibration process – where proposed employee ratings are compared across units to ensure comparable ratings equate to comparable levels of performance – can be a big help in ensuring performance ratings are perceived as fair and consistent.

As the Conference Board notes: “An organization-level calibration exercise of proposed employee ratings is a highly effective way for management to ensure broader fairness across the organization, as it serves to balance out the tough-rating managers with those who are more lenient.”

Support the process with tools and technology.  If managers resist performance management because they feel they are drowning in paper work, a technology solution may help. The Conference Board found 40 per cent of organizations use only automated systems for performance appraisals, while 35 per cent use a paper-based system.

It suggests the benefits of an automated system include less administration, a better ability to track performance year-over-year and the possibility of being able to integrate the performance management system with other online systems such as those used for compensation or talent management.

Ultimately, the value of a performance management process is directly proportional to the quality of the resulting dialogue and decisions. Efforts to better support and facilitate such dialogue will help organizations more fully realize the value of the process.

Claudine Kapel is principal of Kapel and Associates Inc., a Toronto-based human resources and communications consulting firm specializing in the design and implementation of compensation and total rewards programs. For more information, visit

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