Recently I attended a HR seminar where a HR director told us that he had torn up the appraisal handbook and forms in the executive meeting to the delight of all who were present.
If you want to be popular with managers then definitely tear up the Management Performance System.
Afterwards I was speaking to one of the organisers of the seminar and mentioned that we had gone full circle with performance management. A long time ago in the early eighties as a young Trainer Consultant with KPN Telecommunications in the Netherlands we were trying to get managers to talk to their staff which was difficult enough and training them to give constructive feedback. This was the start of performance management getting the managers to talk regularly to their staff members regarding work and their performance. A lot of managers didn’t want to do this in the eighties and even today a lot of managers still avoid talking to their staff regarding performance. As a HR consultant to the SME sector I encounter this frequently. Staff are not aware of what exactly is expected from them and of course this leads to issues and I am called in to help sort it out.
We started to talk to staff members regarding their work and then a performance management system was developed over the years whereby people had to tick boxes at certain times and sign forms. The system became more important than the actual conversations about work. The performance system became elaborate with forms, time tables, handbooks, checklists, competencies and forced distributions. However the system became more important than the communication and feedback, as some people love systems and checklists. A system gives you a great opportunity to hide the fact that you really don’t want to talk to your employees. Performance conversations still really didn’t happen but forms were filled out and signatures placed. On paper everything looked perfect.
I remember when I was working in one multinational organisation in the Netherlands as Personnel Officer that the distribution curve needed to be perfect. There could be no deviation at all. 5 percent is excellent, 20 percent is very good, 50 percent is good, 20 needs improvement and 5 percent is unsatisfactory. If a department had 21% very good on the forms then the Personnel official was sent out to bring it down to 20%, if that meant one person had to be put back in the good box even though he was already told he had very good well that had to happen. We had to be precise. It was a big chemical company and engineers are precise when it comes to figures.
The system was adhered to and the performance of employee and their development was subjected to the greater good of a correct system. As HR manager you were reviewed if the forms were in on time and if you kept to the forced distribution and had no deviations. The development and performance of employees went out the window.
Well I never like those exact performance management systems where the system became more important than the people. But I am also not in favour of tearing up appraisal systems and replacing them with nothing. Managers need to regularly talk to their staff members regarding their work and performance. Managers need to be able to give constructive feedback and explain what works and what doesn’t. A manager should be able to coach staff members so that they will improve at work.
An organisation needs to have an overview of staff members who are very good and who could be promoted and the organisation needs to know who isn’t doing their job and why that is, are they not capable or do they just don’t care. For the survival of the company you need to know who has to leave because they don’t fit in and are bringing the company down.
So don’t tear up your Performance Management system but make it simple, people focussed and about good communication. As managers you still need to talk to your staff members as you need to help them and give them all the support they need.