Performance Management Best Practice

A green tick hovers over a mans hand

What is the best way to improve staff performance?

There is an awful lot of performance management “best practice” out there.  Lots of books, seminars, HR gurus and management consultants who tell you what to do and sell you a model.

But, which practice is the best practice?

In 2002, the corporate leadership council (CLC) decided to find out.  It isn’t a hugely original question.  Lots of people are interested in productivity.  But the corporate leadership council applied a little more rigour than most.

First they defined “performance”

As anybody who has ever had (or conducted) a performance appraisal knows, measuring performance is fraught with challenges.  The CLC defined performance as an individual’s annual performance management rating and used that as their ruler.

When I read that I was tempted to take the results with a big pinch of salt.  Have you ever met anybody who agrees with their boss’s view of their performance?

However, the CLC surveyed 19,000 managers and employees in 34 organisations.  Quantity has a quality all of its own and there is a lot of truth in the adage that perception is reality, so I think this method made a reasonable yard stick.

Next they found out what improved it

They collated a list of all the theories and approaches they could think of; listing everything they could find in the management literature and asking the opinion of a plethora of senior HR executives.  They collected 106 different factors that were claimed to improve performance.

Then they sent out a questionnaire to all 19,000, people asking many and varied questions:

  • How is feedback delivered, face to face or in writing?
  • Did you work with a mentor?
  • Does your boss hold you accountable?
  • How many formal reviews do you have a year?

The questionnaire went on a bit, there were 200 questions in total.

Finally, they compiled the results

They grouped the 106 factors into 7 different categories:

  1. Performance management system
  2. Culture
  3. Manager–employee interaction
  4. Formal performance review
  5. Informal feedback
  6. Day-to-day work
  7. Job opportunities

Then they ran a bunch of statistics and produced a report that showed what worked and what didn’t.

What did they find out?

A whole host of interesting things, but one particular question caught my eye:

When conducting a performance appraisal, where should the emphasis of the discussion be?

According to 19,000 people, managers who focus on employees’ “opportunities for development” make things worse.

All they do is convince the employee that they are in the wrong job and demotivate them.  Consequently they put in less effort and their performance goes down.

If however the conversation is about what went well, the employee will walk away far happier and will put a lot more effort into the job in hand.

I liked this report

Despite my reservations about the way they measured performance…

But there is a big danger that I only liked it because I agreed with it.  If I hadn’t I might well have ignored it.  I am as guilty of a little confirmation bias as the next man.

Whether you agree with the report or not, it does make one point beautifully.

There is plenty of “performance management best practice” out there, and remarkably little evidence to support it.

This blog post has been re-published by kind permission of James Lawther 

Published On: 27th Feb 2017 - Last modified: 5th Mar 2019
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