As an HR executive, I’ve been frustrated when the organizational performance management process doesn’t answer the basic question: How are we doing? Performance management should also answer the question: How are we performing? Not only should it document performance at the individual level, but it should also facilitate rolling up the data to answer the question.
A few years ago, I faced a situation where the finance department brought in a performance management system that they saw at a conference. Having just spent money on a performance management system, I asked why they felt the need for something else. They said that the HR goals we set weren’t really what we needed to be tracking.
I took that as a challenge and asked them to work with me. They agreed. Here are some things we learned from the exercise:
Performance Management Systems are Not Configured to Provide Dashboards
The CEO and CFO really wanted a simple roll-up of all of the goals that cascaded from the organizational goals. The complexity of setting organizational goals, cascading them, and getting them approved took the organization six months. The system was configured to roll up individual goals, to the next level, and the next level, etc. until it hit the CEO. Oops, he hadn’t input his goals. Eight months later, we still had no roll-up.
The Dashboard Product Offered by the Vendor Was Wholly Dependent Upon the Quality of Available Measurement Data
As we struggled with the performance management system, we went back to the vendor, armed with better information about our organizational goals, and asked them to show us what they could do. I wasn’t crazy about this, because it created technological distance (think: databases communicating with each other), but wanted to see what they had.
We learned that “the product” was ready-to-use — as long as we had good measurement data. If we were not confident in our data, they were more than happy to come in and help us build a cascading goal system.
We had already learned that this was not an easy process and figured the cost of that “help” would be exorbitant. Eventually, we each returned to our silos and kept trying to simplify performance management goals, teach leaders to manage to goals, and concentrate on the quality of the review, while the finance folks created an Excel dashboard that the CEO liked.
Bureaucracy Takes an Organization’s Eye Off the Business
The question then becomes, how much value do all of these systems and processes add, in terms of keeping the data clean, teaching the workforce to use them, and spending time doing “administrative work” that isn’t driving the business? That experience soured me on the concept of spending more time tracking and documenting, than on doing.
Creating business plans at the unit level provides a means of collective planning for the work of the performance period, and a working document that can be used to check and dialogue about progress. Rather than spending time writing goals for every employee, putting them into a system, and updating and evaluating them, would it not be a better use of time to review the well-conceived business plan regularly with the whole team, and with the individual contributors? Would it not be a good dialogue to discuss how the employee’s perspective of their contribution matches the leaders? Could that dialogue be documented to fulfill the documentation purpose of performance management?