There is nothing like looking through the annals of days gone past to see if the organizational issues of yesteryear have become any better in today’s world. Although somewhat masochistic, I enjoy going back in time to see if some of the root problems of today’s workplace were the same problems from many moons ago. I amuse myself, wondering if an old dog (the organization) was able to learn any new tricks. Let’s investigate one of society’s favourite whipping subjects, performance management, to see how we’re doing and if it’s learned to roll over.
Take for instance a Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) research report conducted in 2000. Yes, right after the ill-fated and erroneous pleas from consultants everywhere of the pending Y2K cataclysm. The report was appropriately titled, ”The 2000 Performance Management Survey“ so we know we’re on the right path.
The Executive Summary is telling if not foreboding.
“Stronger executive support for performance management and increased employee participation in development activities is needed in order for performance management systems to truly become a tool to help attract and retain talent.”
Like a fine wine, it gets even better as you let the Executive Summary breathe a little.
“Executive support for performance management was lacking. HR professionals reported that many executives and senior managers did not endorse or even use their performance management system.”
Well. How about that. Fifteen years ago, performance management as an organizational discipline was rather negligent, scoffed at by leaders and used ineffectively to develop employees. I double-checked the report; indeed, it was published in 2000 and not 2015.
I needn’t bore you with every research study conducted between 2000 and 2011 on the effects of performance management, but how about a mere three years ago. In their 2012 Global Workforce Study entitled, “Engagement at Risk: Driving Strong Performance in a Volatile Global Environment“, Towers-Watson found that only 44 percent of organizations do an effective job of using technology to deliver the performance management process itself. One would think that after a decade of technology enhancements to the performance management process — through the introduction of online systems, 360-degree feedback mechanisms, and other ‘collaborative’ tools — employees; leaders and HR personnel might have improved their views on things. One might have thought the performance management process might have improved since 2000. Nope. It’s as elusive as Target re-entering Canada.
Research firm i4cp found similar yet arguably worse results. In their 2013 report, 2013 Keys to Performance Management, only 55 percent of respondents stated existing performance development processes had a positive impact on their organizations. What’s worse is only 28 percent believed their organizations were actually effective at performance management itself.
Not to be outdone, SHRM returned in 2014 with another research report – HR Professionals’ Perceptions About Performance Management Effectiveness – that “explored HR professionals’ opinions on their organizations’ performance management systems and their implementation.” Given things weren’t going well in performance management land in 2000, surely things would have improved some 14 years later in SHRM’s research, right? Surely the HR leaders who administer the performance management process itself, would have good things to say about performance management, right? Sadly, the answer is no. That wasn’t the the case last year either. “More than one-half (53 percent) gave their organizations a grade between C+ to B, another one-fifths (21 percent) chose a C, and only 2 percent gave an A in performance management to their organizations.”
Unsurprisingly, there is additional fuel to add to the brushfire that is performance management discontent in our organizations coming in the form of research that was released today.
In a research partnership between WorkplaceTrends.com and Saba, The Global Workforce Leadership Survey is a report that continues to depict performance management as though it’s as perplexingly backwards as a World Cup soccer tournament might be if it were to be held in the middle of a desert in the heart of summer. (Wait a minute …)
The researchers aimed to capture the gap between the expectations and priorities of employees around the world and the HR leaders who are leading those human capital practices, like, for example, performance management. It may have been 15 years since the first SHRM research report from above surfaced alarming data points to performance management, but you didn’t really think we’d be making any meaningful progress, did you?
Performance management is an oft maligned and derogatory term in the workplace. If you’re old enough to remember chalkboards in a school, kindly picture a set of long, sharp nails piercing it for a few seconds and you will begin to understand how deeply many loathe the term and the process itself. Maybe that’s why there hasn’t been any progress. Every time we hear the term performance management we liken it to the shrieking sounds of nails on a chalkboard. But I digress.
The research from WorkplaceTrends.com and Saba highlighted something that tugs at the root of the problem. Employees are not looking for their performance to be managed; rather, they yearn for truly personalized career development at all junctions in their workplace tenure. Employees don’t wish for there to be an annual performance review; they seek frequent, helpful conversations (in an open, mentoring and coaching atmosphere) that aids their development throughout their days and weeks at work. Education is part of the antidote but if it’s offered solely in a classroom or through an LMS, the cycle of hopelessness repeats itself.
Adding insult to performance management injury, the research surfaced the following key points about performance management specifically:
- Roughly only half (52 percent) of all companies conduct annual performance reviews
- 58 percent of organizations continue to use spreadsheets as their primary way to track performance metrics (I must admit, this one is a head scratcher)
- Less than a quarter of businesses worldwide are using advanced technology for insights into their people and effectiveness of their talent programs.
Not surprisingly, the Saba/WorkplaceTrends.com research also highlighted that only 55 percent of employees feel as though performance management appraisals are effective for employees to develop themselves and their abilities at work. (Of course, that is 55 percent of employees who have a performance management process in the first place)
The bottom line?
After 15 years of survey after survey, and research report after research report, we’re no further ahead with respect to improving the performance management process, program or behaviour model in our organizations. It’s as though we’re still watching television shows like Ally McBeal, Dharma and Greg and The Drew Carey Show in prime time, circa the year 2000. How weird does that feel?
Some concluding thoughts of mine:
Performance management isn’t a score. It’s a frequent, ongoing coaching conversation.
Performance management isn’t an annual meeting. It’s a development opportunity that occurs as necessary.
Performance management isn’t bound by technology. It’s a behavioural attribute that puts the employee at the center of his or her growth.
Performance management isn’t a hammer. It’s an opportunity to use all of the tools in the toolbox.
Performance management isn’t managing performance. It’s the leader’s responsibility to help build up and then release the enhanced performance of an employee.
Of course we’re going to need another 15 years of surveys and research to achieve this.
Dan Pontefract is the author of FLAT ARMY: Creating a Connected and Engaged Organization and is Chief Envisioner at TELUS Transformation Office. He’s finished writing his next book — DUAL PURPOSE: Redefining the Meaning of Work — which will publish in the Fall, 2015.
This article was written by Dan Pontefract from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.