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Why learning pros need to know about performance management

July 29, 2010

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We’ve all heard that everyone hates performance appraisals, haven’t we? Even the New York times has outed them as psychologically damaging (but they have a hate-on for PowerPoint, too, so perhaps there’s an anarchist somewhere in the ranks).  But, to hate the process is one thing, to ditch the whole thing, now that’s throwing the baby out with the bathwater.   And, it just might be wrong.  For those of you in the learning sciences (liked that one from Clark Quinn), why would you even care?

What if no one had performance feedback?  Would you get the best out of people?  Would removing the dreaded twice-yearly discussion mean performance would go through the roof?  Would people be able to discuss their skill gaps or express their interest in exploring a career path without performance feedback?

Too many organizations focus on the ratings – which is what people really hate – and I’ve also read some stuff recently that the rating scale that many organizations use are counterproductive.  Many organizations use the 5 point scale with the intent to provide a range of ratings.  But in practice, it creates a bell curve where the majority of people fall in the middle of the scale and they perceive it as a “C” grade.  Moving to a 4 point scale apparently puts less emphasis on the rating itself.  

There’s a difference between performance “management”, “review” and “feedback”.  If you are concerned about performance management, then you’ll have a more robust approach to the output (performance) than the process (the review).  If you are interested in the output, then you’ll put more emphasis on the content (feedback) than the process (the review).  The forms is what people hate. 

Some folks believe that killing the performance review will hamstring your more strategic HR work.  Performance management gives you information on succession management, deployment, and training needs.  How will you ever know that there is a need for training if there is no performance management?  True, you can figure it out, but used properly performance management can be an early warning system for the training department.  If you are smart, you’ll use the data in a performance management system to help the organization become more successful. If your managers are good at the whole thing, then you’ll have input to what the training needs of the organization are.  If not, then you have some managers to train!  If the gap between what managers and employees perceive is large, then voila, methinks you could do some communication training.

Web 2.0 tools can provide more real-time feedback opportunities.  You can use a product like Rypple,or sonar6 if you don’t use one of the big guns (Halogen, SuccessFactors, Taleo, etc).

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7 Comments leave one →
  1. July 29, 2010 12:46 pm

    Although there are portions of this I agree with Holly, I’d first start with an enterprise-wide skills assessment module as the baseline.

    By self assessing (and if need be by manager and/or group validation) we have the ability to fully understand who knows what, who is capable of what, and who does what well in the company.

    From there, we’re able to perform fit-gap analyses, be it on the individual, a team or even for future projects.

    You could, then, infuse a performance development system against the skills assessment application … but I’m not 100% on the side of the fence that it is absolutely necessary for the ‘learning’ org. Helpful yes – not 100% necessary.

    Skills, however, are 100% necessary … and for me, the starting point.

    As always, keep up the great writing and thoughts.

    • hollymacdonald permalink*
      July 29, 2010 1:11 pm

      “…infuse a performance development system against the skills assessment application…” – I like that.

      Sure, the perf mgmt system is not necessary for the learning org, but I think we need to be cognizant of the outcome ->is the goal skill development or improved performance?

      Thanks for your perspective – all good stuff .

  2. July 29, 2010 1:07 pm

    Performance reviews aren’t bad, it seems to me, *if* they’re focused on developing the individual to be better. I like self-assessing, but then comparison with perhaps a 360 (remember, 80% of people think they’re above average; and the better you really are, the lower you rate yourself).

    Self-awareness is good, and feedback is valuable. Set expectations, see if they’re being met, look at required skillsets, and see if performance can be improved. Don’t compare to degrade, or mark to reward. See Pink’s Drive to see why bonuses aren’t the answer. Help the performer see the goal, and assist them in being capable of achieving it.

    I think what we need to be assessing, going forward, is not what you know, but how you know how to learn. But that’s a separate discussion ;).

    • hollymacdonald permalink*
      July 29, 2010 1:16 pm

      Thanks for coming by Clark and taking the time to comment.

      Is your next blog post going to be assessing is not what you know, but how you know how to learn? If so, can’t wait to read it!

  3. July 29, 2010 1:57 pm

    If you look to Dr. W. Edwards Deming, you see that there is a tremendous theoretical and statistical foundation to support elimination of performannce appraisals. He said, “Evaluation of performance, merit rating, or annual review… The idea of a merit rating is alluring. the sound of the words captivates the imagination: pay for what you get; get what you pay for; motivate people to do their best, for their own good. The effect is exactly the opposite of what the words promise.” I don’t think it can be said more clearly.

    But, you also make a slight error. You asked about performance appraisals, and then you ask, “What if no one had performance feedback?” Performance feedback is not necessarily the same thing. Monitoring a system so that when the system is off it can be corrected is OK. Placing arbitrary numbers to appraise the people is almost a crime.

    The problem with performance appraisals is that the worker does not control the system in which they work. Let me give you a real life example. Imagine you are building widgets. To build those widgets, you need thingees. At the end of the year, you are measured on # of widgets made, and the quality score of your widgets. Quality score is # of good widgets / total # of widgets. Your COMPANY decides to source the “lowest cost” thingees to increase profit. However, about 2/3rds of the thingees are bad.

    So, if you decide to scrap the bad thingees as you build widgets, you only manage to build about 1/3rd the widgets of your “objective” target. If you build the widgets with the bad thingees, your quality score is 1/3rd the “objective” target. How motivated are you going to be? You are in a no-win situation. You didn’t do anything. BUT! You suffer. While this is a generic example, this could apply to any position … teachers (have no control of the quality of student coming in) … customer service reps (have no control of the quality of customer calls) … sales reps (have no control over the quality of leads).

    Hope that adds something to the conversation.

    Regards,
    Bill Sawyer

    • hollymacdonald permalink*
      July 30, 2010 10:43 am

      Yep, you are right, I did interchange the terms appraisal and feedback and probably negated my own argument.

      I am not a fan of appraisals and yet the option of ditching them completely feels wrongheaded to me. I don’t know the answer, but it is great to know that other folks in the learning/training field have strong opinions about it. Sometimes I worry that we pursue skill development in a vacuum, without thinking about the outcomes, which is performance (defined however it works).

      Really appreciate you adding to the conversation – that’s the beauty of the blogosphere!

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