The Death of the Performance Appraisal – Redefining Performance Management

Should we kill the performance appraisal process? 

Over the last few years as we have studied the market for performance management systems, we have talked with dozens of HR executives and managers about their performance management process.  In our discussions we find that organizations struggle mightily with the right way to craft the precise process which will best reflect their organization’s goals, culture, and desired management style.  Performance management systems, which support this process, often constrain or rush these decisions, forcing organizations to design a process around the system features and capabilities.

I believe the rapid growth of these systems is creating quite a stress on this market, and in fact, we believe a major shift is taking place.  Performance management systems revolve around automating the seven core processes which companies use:  goal development, goal alignment, self-assessment, manager assessment, 360 assessment, competency development, and development planning.  But they don’t really help organizations decide how the process itself will work, which is ultimately the most important issue of all.

Consider what performance management is designed to do.  The principle of such a business process has three goals:

  1. Employee evaluation:  First, to create standardized and equitable ratings and rankings to facilitate compensation decisions, promotions, succession planning, and the ability to coach people out of the business.
  2. Alignment:  Second, to create consistent goals which align employees with managers and business units and align these goals with the organization’s overall priorities.  These goals also help employees themselves stay focused.
  3. Coaching and development:  Third, and perhaps most importantly (which our research supports), this process enables managers and other employees to provide coaching and development in a structured process which can be supported by the L&D organization, leadership development, and other processes in the organization.

Which of these is the most important and how do you design a process that works?  We all know that most performance appraisals do not work – our research shows that onlye 35% of organizations have such an enteprise-wide process and among these fewer than 40% of employees find the process valuable and fewer than 45% of HR managers find the process valuable.  I cannot remember more than one performance appraisal in my entire career (30+ years) which was valuable.

Well one important fact to consider:  our High Impact Talent Management research found that in fact the business process with the highest overall business impact is coaching.  Consider the following findings from this research (more than 800 large organizations participated):

  1. By far the highest-impact process in organizations is coaching.  Coaching generated a 150% greater return than performance assessment, for example, and almost a 200% greater return than “pay-for-performance” processes.  We will explain what this means below.
  2. Developing high-value, unique, and job-aligned competencies which are maintained regularly was the second-ranked high-impact process in performance management.  This process of identifying critical competencies and using these competencies to assess and improve performance clearly has very high value.
  3. Goal development and goal alignment formed the third-highest impact process, supporting the need to gain agreement on work plans and align employees with organizational goals.
  4. The fourth highest-impact process in performance management was development planning – creating clear and consistent development plans (this was almost tied with goal development in fact).
  5. Performance assessment and linking compensation to performance ratings showed returns as well, but far below the other four above.

Unfortunately, most companies focus on the bottom of these – assessment and linkage to compensation.  Why?  Because this is a compliance-related issue and it is the “common wisdom.”  Well our research (and my opinion) shows that in fact the other four are far more important if you want the process to drive business impact.

Consider the following:  performance management is management.  It is not an annual process, it sets the stage for every management interaction which takes place in your organization.  Whatever process you design will reflect itself in the behaviors and activities of leaders, managers, and employees.

GE, for example, which popularized the concept of the 20/70/10 model, establishes strict rules to “fire the bottom 10%” in every workgroup.  This seems to work for GE, which is an enormous, highly decentralized conglomerate, but does it work for your company in your industry?  I would venture to say no.  What works for GE is likely not to work in your company, unless you are in a very similar business size, structure, and industry as GE.

Rather, our research clearly shows that there is new approach needed – rather than use the “competitive evaluation” model of performance management (where managers and employees are forced to rank and rate people), we find organizations are shifting to what we call the “coaching and development” model of performance management (where leaders and managers are trained to assess people against competencies, identify strengths and weaknesses, and take actions to improve performance).  We have written extensively about the concept of “manager as coach” – and I firmly believe this is by far the best model in nearly every organization I speak with.

How do you do this?  What does it mean?  Well we are developing an in-depth bulletin on this topic, but the main message now is that organizations should design a process which makes evaluation the “last” thing you do, not the “first.”

To look at some of the implementation strategies, consider the following.


Competitive Evaluation Model

Coaching and Development Model

Primary Focus Evaluation, ranking, and rating of individuals Alignment and improvement of individual performance
Assessment Focus Evaluation, Rating, and Ranking among Peers, using grids and numeric ratings Identification of Strengths and Weaknesses as an individual in a job, against known strategic competencies
Competencies Rarely used or used as a standard list for assessment of potential Used to assess strengths and weaknesses, assess potential, and create developmental activities, and built around unique organizational competencies
Goal of Performance Management To develop equitable ratings, reduce compensation expense, and differentiate high performers To improve overall workforce performance, increase effectiveness of individuals, improve organizational alignment, and increase engagement and retention
Benefits of this model Clear distinction between employees, ability to “weed out” low performers, ability to reduce compensation expense and focus dollars on high perfomers, ability to create a high performing culture and a meritocracy Improved overall performance and leadership, increased alignment and teamwork, more flexibility in the workforce, and likely improved employee engagement and retention
Potential downside of this approach May create unease and competition among employees, demands that managers be highly trained in assessment May leave out business driven goals and focus on business outcomes
Organizations that prefer this approach Heavy focus on bottom-line results, high-growth organizations with rapid expansion, turnaround situations where entitlement has created low levels of engagement Organizations going through transformation and change, organizations in highly competitive environments and tight labor markets, organizations which have suffered through multiple business cycles

 A final point on this topic. 

Do not let the performance management system (whether it be Authoria, SuccessFactors, Halogen, or any other tool) drive your decisions about how you want managers to manage.  These systems are still in their early stages, and most of them were built to automate the forms and data entry part of performance management.  Only some of the newest systems (Taleo’s and Halogen’s show great promise in this regard) are able to facilitate and assist in the coaching and development process.

We look forward to hearing from you .. we have many case studies to support this research and we would love to hear about your experiences with performance management as an HR manager, a line manager, or an employee… please contact us.

5 Responses

  1. Tom Strawn says:

    Re: Shifting Performance Management Model focus. It is my experience and observation that in best practice organizations the Performance Evaluation is both the last and first action of continuous PM. It is the “last” action as it is an evaluation of performance and results of coaching and development efforts during the evaluation cycle. At the same time, it is the “first” action taken to determine coaching focus and the individual’s IDP going forward.

    I like the “concept” of less competitiveness. However, while at HP some time ago, we extensively ranked and HP may still do so. We used assessment of “relative contribution” as the foundation of performance ranking decisions. To be sure, PM factors (competencies) were the framework for ranking discussions. However, an individual’s relative contribution re: results (specific examples) vs. others in comparable positions determined performance ranking. Of course, it is usually difficult to achieve great results without having strengths in applicable competencies? If an organization relies too much on competencies it may be conceding that managers really don’t know what an individual’s relative contribution is – which is really the core issue.

  2. Rodney Brim says:

    Excellent review and positioning. I would suggest one change, which would make your positioning stronger for this blog. Here it is. You start the 3rd paragraph with the definitional statement of, “Consider what performance management is designed to do…” and then answer it with the first point being to evaluate employees.

    Performance management is not about evaluating employees its about improving the business… otherwise ultimately there’s no reason for doing anything in the area. If you take that posture, then it’s even easier to make a case for the benefit of coaching versus rating.

    Rodney Brim

  3. Grandma says:

    For some reason I missed this post but I’m glad to see its popularity drove it to your home page. I absolutely agree with you about the performance appraisal process. I’ve written a few posts on the issues with the annual employee review. Software companies that automate this process miss the boat on what really drives businesses. Many vendors cannot import data from business systems that measure employee performance on a daily basis. Most vendors now have functionality to let employees set development goals so at least they are addressing your concerns here.

    Here are 2 posts that look at the issue of performance appraisals:

    Transactional Performance is True Performance:

    10 things wrong with Focal/Anniversary Performance Reviews: Part 1 and Part 2

    Having said that, there are definitive benefits to goal-setting. Goal-setting, if done properly, has motivational effects whether or not the goals or aligned with corporate/department strategy. Goal management is the setting event for the behavior to occur. The trick of course, is to set the proper goals to promote effective behavior.

  4. Adele Eberle says:

    Great tips Josh, i really want to study in deep Coaching & Development Model? How to implement this?

  5. sayed4061 says:

    it’s important for companies making review for the employees to develop their levels