It really is confusing. In recent discussions, there has been considerable emphasis placed on managers not being effective in reviewing the performance of their employees. They are not diligent in following the steps of HR performance management programs and particularly ongoing communication with employees between formal reviews.
HR is often distrustful of managers, but once the managers complete their employee evaluations, we become their best supporters. If an employee complains about an evaluation, most of the time we support the manager, unless the unfairness is too blatant.
It is logical that we should focus on managers and supervisors, as their effectiveness directly affects large numbers of employees reporting to them. In some respects, however, they can only be as effective as the tools we (HR) provide them with. If our HR performance management program is so excellent, we should take every action to ensure it is followed, but generally, we don’t. Very often, we focus on employees as though they are the ones at fault and inherently lazy unless prodded. We constantly devise new initiatives to stimulate employees to do their best and become “engaged” but do managers/supervisors (and HR) really support employee success by setting the best example? Is our performance theory too often based on what we say rather than what we do?
Does the manager’s boss care whether the manager follows the HR performance management program diligently? It is unlikely, as “big” bosses are not likely to be any better or any more committed to HR programs and principles. They are unlikely, in assessing performance of their first line managers/supervisors, to place much emphasis on how well they are following HR programs. Is that the problem – or a major part of it?
We have developed a compelling argument that managers, by not following HR, are responsible for poor performance in their areas. However, as we know, managers are always accountable for performance in their department, so what is the role of HR? Is it possible that HR is indirectly responsible for some of the poor performance?
Unfortunately, HR is in a very vulnerable position. If the same HR programs, particularly performance management, have been in place for 30 years or more and they are still not being seriously followed, there must be a problem. Most HR programs have become increasingly sophisticated and are aligned to current theory and technical expertise, but that does not seem, in the case of performance management, to have helped. Could it be that although the set-up and adaption of the program is technologically impressive, the program content and style remains seriously outdated and geared to another point in time?
Perhaps managers are better at managing performance than we think. It seems that at the same time we have been developing and building on our conventional HR program, functional managers/supervisors have become increasingly sophisticated in tracking performance within their own areas. They have their own metrics and tracking systems and are generally able to view current performance at any critical point. The manager can see employee results/effectiveness in real time, and his/her boss and executives can similarly be tracking the manager performance. They are all obsessed by aspects that feed directly into objectives set by the organizations rather than historical HR criteria. The manager’s boss cares about these numbers, the manager must also and HR must provide them with the best support in achieving what they need to achieve rather than what HR thinks they should be focusing on. If our HR performance management program has become redundant, maybe it is time for us to get together with the managers and develop something more appropriate for today and looking into the future.
For the company to be successful, the managers must be tracking relevant performance consistently and very effectively. Probably better than trying to integrate their functional goals into our HR program (and retain control) it would be better to use some aspects of our HR program to train and expand the manager’s effectiveness in building their own performance management program. Not forcing managers to follow a prescribed program, but to help the managers to customize their programs in the most effective way – programs that will be theirs and they will be fully accountable for.
Consistent with supporting the development of functional performance management programs, HR would take a proactive stand. HR would support managers by providing coaching and training and collaborating as trouble-shooters should there be specific problems. If, for example, there is a need for specific employee training, HR could develop a program and if it is available on line, all employees can benefit. In reality, I would see the HR role becoming more important rather than less important, particularly in addressing skills development needs as they occur rather than belatedly based on questionable historical analysis of employee performance after the fact.
I believe the change in focus, referred to above, would ensure that managers are fully committed to and embrace their own formally recognized program. HR would be accepted and valued more as partners dealing with issues in real time and helping prevent poor performance during the current business cycle – rather than looking back in anger at the end of a business cycle and telling people what went wrong – when it is too late! The technology is available to have an individual program for every employee (if desired) and we must embrace the potential application of available technology.
What do you think? I look forward to any thoughts and comments you may have.