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Performance Management: No pain, no gain

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The latest views doing the rounds in enlightened HR circles is that we should scrap the annual performance appraisal. It’s not for me to say whether we should or shouldn’t, but I’m always very wary of sweeping statements like this, and how the headlines can be misleading. At the CIPD conference yesterday I was debating the issue with people more ‘HR’ than me, and we quickly agreed that performance management in any organisation has a lifecycle: Some organisations perhaps don't need a formal appraisal process...but some do.

Small organisations tend not to have anything formal in place at all. That’s fine.

Then as the business grows, it’s decided that for consistency, performance reviews should take place. Great! So, a simple process and structure is put in place. Some people embrace it, and some people ignore it.

At this point, someone high up tends to decide that the procedure needs to be more robust and enforced. So the process become more complex and completing a performance review/appraisal becomes mandatory. This is when performance review is at its most painful and adds the least value as people progress through what is essentially a paper exercise.

However, we agreed that this stage is pretty much necessary. People have to get into the habit of having these meetings. In our experience it takes 3-5 years of ‘forcing’ people to have conversations (even stilted ones) before they accept that performance review is a normal part of management.

When you get to THIS stage, you can start to dispense with the rigidity and formality. Now you can start to concentrate on giving managers the skills to have high quality coaching conversations, and the managers will be more receptive: if they have to have these discussions anyway, they might as well get value from them.

When the quality (and complexity) is in the conversation, the process can be simplified until eventually, there’s no ‘formal’ process in place at all, just a culture of having meaningful feedback and coaching conversations as part of everyday work.

That middle stage is difficult, frustrating and of limited value, but it is necessary in most organisations. It can be made a little easier if managers are trained in theskills of performance review rather than the process. Focussing on skills will also help to shorten the time it takes to get managers ready for the next stage.

And you’ll be pleased to know that we can help with this via our performance management training bundle: Bite-size sessions that you can download and run yourself covering all of the basic skills required.

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