Tag Archives: Performance Management

Should We Blame Employees, Managers or HR for Poor Performance?

3 Aug

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.




How Can We Avoid “Cart before the Horse” HR?

30 Nov

When I am asked about something I have done in HR this year that I am particularly proud of, I think first of all of my writing. It was very difficult to maintain at times with many unusual pressures, but on most subjects, I was very happy how the topics I had tackled over the past six years in my blogs and in online HR discussion, had evolved, in successive posts, into what I generally think of as reality HR. This year I was also very happy to put a number of the evolved holistic approaches into practice working with client organizations.

This year I worked with a number of smaller organizations, which was very interesting as it allowed a broader business perspective and crossover in addressing issues. I had to find ways to help them implement some key HR principles, but with very limited resources and, in most cases, with no fully dedicated HR function.   Although my blog posts are dominantly based on large organization experience, the principles are similar in any size organization. I focus on “Reality HR” but it could also be called “Prerequisites First HR” or avoiding “Putting the Cart before the Horse” HR. Two topics that most employers are very interested in and may not always approach in logical sequence are:

  • PERFORMANCE MANAGEMENT (efficient work practices come first)
  • EMPLOYEE ENGAGEMENT (management competence/commitment comes first)

Performance Management

It seems logical that it is more important to plan and review the way work may best be performed by employees than to place all the focus on reviewing, after the fact, the performance of employees who are just following whatever is in place. Focus of the manager is often on output rather than on input and may reflect work practices that the manager is not even aware of.

Effective work distribution and effective interactivity of functions is clearly more important than simply implementing a formal performance management program assuming (often incorrectly) that managers are competent and work is correctly assigned and appropriate training has been given to employees. HR people may be tempted to focus only on performance management as it is an “HR responsibility” and somewhat ignore the way work is performed as that is a departmental responsibility. Diligently tracking performance, the HR way, in an inefficient operation is paying attention after the fact rather than ensuring that effective processes are in place. In an efficient operation where time has been invested up front, performance tracking can be a very efficient ongoing conversation between the supervisor and employee. The “meeting of the minds” must revolve around the work itself and relevant expectations (mutual) and performance management will then be quite a routing tracking process.

Employee Engagement

Most employers like the concept of employee engagement and many see it as a reasonable expectation. Senior management may express dismay that employees seem so ungrateful and unresponsive, as though having a job should be enough. HR people may devise initiatives and programs to promote engagement, but, in my experience, the prerequisites to any hope of engagement are fairly clear. The prerequisites should apply across the organization, but in the right circumstances (with the right managers) outposts of engagement may still occur. Some examples of prerequisites to employee engagement are:

  • Corporate values that are taken seriously and are consistent with employee engagement
  • Competent management who are appropriately trained, committed to employee engagement and know how to achieve it
  • Supportive executive management including actions between them and employees and preferably between them and their direct reports

Another subject I have frequently addressed is HIRING FOR ATTITUDE RATHER THAN JOB REQUIREMENTS.   In that case the premise may be questionable, but the prerequisites are even more difficult to meet including recruiters capable of accurately assessing attitude, organizations with a culture that “good attitude” people would enjoy working for, confidence that the attitude detected at an interview would transfer intact into a less than perfect work environment. What do you think?

These are just some thoughts. Do you believe that there are many business prerequisites that we need to address before tackling traditional HR subjects? How thoroughly do we usually address such requirements or do we feel obliged to proceed nevertheless with the specific aspects that HR is traditionally empowered with?  Performance management programs and engagement initiatives have had a low record of success for many years. Could we (those who are not already) be more successful by taking a holistic HR/business approach?

Thank you for your interest. I look forward to any thoughts and comments you may have.



Realigning Performance Management with Business Reality!

13 Sep

The times they are a changing and our workforces also. New generations of employees are seeking better and more real time performance feedback from their supervisors. A program based on annual reviews is no longer appropriate. With the increasing use of freelancers (contract employees) and outsourcing, many workers will not be associated with a company for as long as a year, but their contribution to company results is critical. A new approach to performance management is essential to match the business dynamics of today and projecting into the future.

For years, we have been talking about managers taking more responsibility for Human Resources issues within their area.  Maybe this is the appropriate time. There has been ongoing discussion about the limitations of performance management in its current form, controlled centrally by HR. Some type of change seems inevitable and giving greater accountability to functional management/supervision may be the key.

The most logical change may be to focus performance management tracking on the criteria used within the functional areas (where the results have to be achieved) and to use the conventional HR system more in a training, assessing and coaching context.  HR would still be working directly with managers/supervisors, but on a continuing basis and in real time.  This change in focus would recognize that performance management accountability is within the function where the performance occurs and with flexibility to address changing needs.

Most HR systems focus on performance snapshots at specific points in time, while functional performance management and tracking is ongoing. The two distinct (HR and functional) ways of measuring performance have coexisted for considerable time and integrating the two programs will ensure common focus and that all resources are aligned, mutually supportive and focusing on today and tomorrow rather than yesterday. The CEO will (as always) track performance through the function, not HR, and that is where the emphasis must be.

Functional performance tracking systems and metrics may currently focus on a limited number of measures, but we count on their effectiveness to support and drive company results. They may focus primarily on costs, productivity, efficiency and quality, but that may, in real time, be appropriate.

The conventional HR performance management programs currently used are complex.  It may require significant investment to implement change, but if the current system is not working well, change is essential.  Some initial thoughts are as follows:

  • Functional performance management, addressing certain criteria e.g. productivity, quality etc., would continue to track performance as at present and be expanded as appropriate. Supervisors would review performance of individual employees on an ongoing basis and, when necessary, initiate action to deal with issues. Depending on the type of issue, HR may also be involved.
  • To meet legal and compliance requirements, HR would ensure that functional performance management practices and criteria are consistent (equitable) companywide, although varying based on functions. Key data would be online and HR would consolidate as appropriate to meet business and HR requirements e.g. salary planning and normal metrics.
  • Functional performance management would focus primarily on results. Competencies and other “soft” factors (HR specialities) would be used, when appropriate, to explore specific performance problems and for training purposes including career development. Progress review of such aspects (with the support of HR) would be separate from ongoing performance (output) tracking, but with some integration when appropriate.
  • A major HR role would be providing training and support to supervisors and managers (new or existing) and in providing assessment services for employees requiring special attention.  HR would work with supervisors, when appropriate, to identify individual employee performance issues and develop a plan of action.
  • Although the traditional HR Performance Management program would be deemphasized and significantly changed, the role of HR is likely to be greater and particularly from an ongoing learning and development, supervisor support and troubleshooting perspective.
  • The greater recognition of functional accountability should make HR a much stronger business partner and contributor to results. It is likely that some HR positions may need to be located directly within some operating divisions.

Functional (Departmental) Performance Management

Departmental performance tracking has become increasingly sophisticated over the years. In most cases, quantifiable production/output data is available, by employee, on a daily basis and the supervisor would receive system-generated alerts about specific issues needing attention. Local systems may also track other factors including training needs/progress and include input by both the supervisor and employee – both would have access to the system.

The supervisor (following direction from senior functional management) is committed to what he/she thinks is critical for managing performance within the specific area. The supervisor probably does not consider the HR factors and indicators as unimportant, but sees them more as belonging to HR. Supervisors who have followed their own style of performance management all year will not have to suddenly adopt a different (HR program) approach and fit employee performance into HR categories and using terms probably never referred to at any other time.

The new performance management approach would be more effective as it would directly interact with data already routinely collected, coupled with employee and supervisor online notes on specific issues and action committed to (employee and/or supervisor) or following a regular review meeting.

Human Resources Performance Management Support

Human Resources will be responsible for providing performance management support and specifically for working with supervisors to review/identify diagnostic and psychometric requirements, performance development planning and assistance with performance problem issues. Progress on action agreed for/with an employee would be tracked and reviewed by the supervisor and the employee on an ongoing basis. The new performance management direction will require HR to be a strong and equal team player – not controller.  HR will need to develop mutual trust with functional management, with HR working as an ally and partner.

Learning and development responsibility will remain with HR, reflecting our professional expertise and to consolidate and review needs for the total organization.  The HR role would require skilled HR analysts and planners to use total company information in the most effective manner. 

Why it will work

Executives, functional management and supervisors would be more committed to a company-wide performance management system tied more directly to business results. Employees, in general, will be better informed with ongoing communication and feedback from the supervisor and no year-end performance evaluation surprises.  Employees will know where they stand at any point and would still be able to go to HR with a problem. The Employee Relations role of HR would not be diminished.

Functional performance management would be expanded and higher profile because it would be “official”. The HR leadership and development role would be expanded because it would provide ongoing support to local supervisors and recommend action (e.g. employee related) that the supervisor would build into the applicable plan. The focus would be more on tackling needs and issues as they occur rather than looking back at what has already happened. Employees will benefit from improved communication and feedback and likely to be increasingly comfortable with the machine aspects of the online system including available help and online training modules.

Our traditional HR performance management systems are very thorough and were essential when little else existed. Based on technology advances and greater functional metrics based accountability, it is now time to move ahead. We have the capability to develop more appropriate and more flexible processes to meet the business challenges of today and tomorrow and working more collaboratively, rather than controlling through a central program. Does this make sense? What do you think?

Thank you for your interest.  I look forward to any thoughts and comments you may have.


%d bloggers like this: