Marie-Hélène Budworth

Associate Professor of Human Resource Management, specializing in learning, development & motivation.

Marie-Hélène Budworth

The performance appraisal debate continues

January 29th, 2018 · No Comments · Uncategorized

Over the past year, I have spent much of my time pondering the performance management function within organizations.  This is the topic that I am asked to speak on, consult about, or write about the most.  As you may recognize from earlier Blogs, my interest in performance mangament is indirect.  I have a longstaning interest in learning, development, and as an extention, developmental relationships.  Over 3 longitudinal studies, I have looked at ways to change the conversations managers have with their employees in order to support positive, productive communications that lead to motivation and high functioning individuals and teams.  That said, there are two truths that I have come to believe underlie all research and practice in this area.

  1. Good managers don’t need systems to manage performance.

As I sat on a panel with Ed Lawler at the Academy of Management last summer, he repeated this often overlooked fact.  After hours of talking about structured conversations, performance mangement tools, and measurement systems, Dr. Lawler noted with frustration something we all know – good managers are good at this stuff. Period.  An extention of this fact is that if we focus our efforts on transitioning people to managment roles, train managers effectively, and set up managerial roles to prioritize the act of people leadership, all of this fuss about performance management goes away.  But we all know that despite our best effors, having managers firing on all cylinders all of the time is simply not possible.  As such, we continue to need systems that ensure employees are guided, developed and essentially don’t fall through the cracks.  And that leads me to the second truth.

2. If you can develop a performance management system that people don’t hate, you have won.

There are few people who truly love receiving feedback about their performance all of the time.  Research has shown generally low satisfaction with performance managment systems in general.  What does matter is that employees feel supported by managers, and that they believe whatever system is in place to distribute resources is fair and just.  The perception of fairness has been shown to be more important that fairness itself.

So while it might seem discouraging, as you consider all of the interesting and compelling advance in this area (e.g., crowdsourced feedback, strength based feedback, using technology), keep two things in mind.  First, ensure your managers have employee development in mind, that they are trained, and they feel prepared to engage their staff.  Second, communicate your intentions, be clear on the process, and ensure that you develop solutions everyone can live with.



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