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Mar 10 2021
What is Performance Management?

A recent blog post that was highlighted in the monthly digest from the International Society for Performance Improvement (ISPI) caught my attention, not so much because of what it said, but because of the question it asked.

The writer proposes an answer to the question, "What is performance management?"  While we can certainly point to numerous definitions, including the one proposed by Dr. Aubrey Daniels, the renowned international consultant who literally wrote the book on performance management, it seems that in most companies performance management is not what it's cracked up to be.

The blog post distinguishes between performance management and performance appraisal.  Sadly, in many organizations they are essentially the same. At infrequent meetings between managers and their direct reports, managers assess performance, provide some feedback, and write it up until next time – which could be months in the future. There is often little focus on specific capabilities or contributions that the employee makes or needs to make. And these discussions, which typically lack the frequency of a coaching process, do not serve as effective vehicles for talent development as suggested by the phrase agile talent development highlighted in the excellent Harvard Business Review article, HR Goes Agile, several years ago.

What's worse, typical performance management processes often depend on rating scales ("refined opinion") rather than objective measurement to assess employee performance on a number of competencies, often with the caveat that you can't "give too many 5s." Organizations may then use the rating scales to rank employees and decide on compensation.  In the worst form, they look like the infamous topgrading approach made popular by Jack Welch, former CEO of GE, who used the system to get rid of the bottom 10% of employees every year. In that form, the process becomes more of a culling exercise than a development engine.

At The Performance Thinking Network we think it makes sense to focus performance improvement, leadership, management, and coaching on the valuable accomplishments (i.e.,work outputs) that employees contribute to their organizations.  In our view, the job of leaders and managers is to accelerate business results through the performance of people. All of our programs teach a process that starts by identifying valuable work outputs, followed by a collaborative effort for improving employees' ability to produce those contributions more effectively and efficiently. At the same time, because we use the Six Boxes Model to drive performance management and coaching conversations, effective application of this approach leads to continuous improvements in both productivity and in employee engagement.

We want productive and engaged employees. And that is what we think performance management is about.

- Carl Binder, CEO




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