Performance Management in the workplace today

Performance Management (PM) has a different meaning to many, depending upon your profession or discipline. Essentially, though, it is about making sure that objectives that have been set – either in writing or verbally or indeed through ‘gut feel’ – are delivered. From an HRM perspective, we talk about ‘SMART targets’ and the annual appraisal. Theoretically and sometimes in practice too!

Whether you are in sales, marketing, engineering, retail or whatever business sector, or size of business: if you employee people to do ‘stuff’, you want to ensure that they do it. More often than not, this is achieved through informal discussion, chivvying, downright bullying or if the employee is lucky, encouragement and praise. And above all, there are still very few people who get out of bed in the morning, hell-bent on doing a poor job: they have pride (often mis-guided, granted) in their abilities and the way that they contribute to the organisation. They do not want the employer to have the excuse to discipline them or dismiss them, so they make sure that they do enough to keep at the right side of the line.

Such employees, whilst not being stars, never do anything spectacular either. The management team may think that they do little to contribute, but yet there is never enough to put them into a formal process or indeed to encourage them to leave the company. But boy, when they do leave, the management team breathe a sigh of relief.

In HRM, then, all the talk is about aiming for ‘high-performance working’ that ensures that your business is maximising its competitive advantage through people. And yet on a regular basis, most organisations fail to manage the performance of their staff – and by that, the sort of PM that highlights the stars as well as those who should not be working for the company. Look at the surveys: consistently, they show us that the appraisal is the still the most common method of managing performance and consistently, appraisals are delivered poorly and with no consequences – either positive or developmental.

What can be done to address this dilemma? And it is a dilemma because HR departments, and C.E.Os.’ the world over, typically in large corporates, continue to ‘bang on’ about PM and its link back to corporate goals – whilst the majority of managers and their employees are just happy to perform well enough to sustain personal pride. How do we get more from less staff – and enthuse the majority to love what they do and do it better?

Here, academia can help. First: Marchington and Wilkinson (2007) suggest a systems view of PM, by linking the core elements. They suggest PM starts with Induction (setting the standards at the outset); leads into robust review / appraisal systems that develop and challenge; then to continual reinforcement of the standards (ah, allowing managers to manage and training them to do it well); and finally, the duty of organisations to help employees take responsibility during their employment when the employer cannot help (e.g. access to counselling and other support). Compelling, yes?

Add to this Boxall and Purcell (2008) and their promotion of the AMO Model of HRM. It makes sense for employers to give their staff the Ability to do their jobs to their best; the Motivation to deliver through good management / incentives / etc.; and the Opportunity to be involved (in decisions that affect them for instance). 

From a manager’s view, this approach added to the ‘whole system’ view of PM, should provide clarity about their people management role. And thus make PM an active contributor to success.