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March 22, 2018

Why Does Performance Management Get a Bad Rap?

Sarah Harvey

©©Getty Images/Warchi

Performance management. Two words that can send shivers down the spines of employees, and generate headaches in even the most conscientious of managers!

So, why does something that's designed to help individuals and teams to support and enhance their organization's goals get such a bad rap?

Executive coach Sarah Harvey, founder of Savvy Conversations, believes that, for many people, performance management is synonymous with failure, underperformance, conflict and emotional pain. Here, she looks at how to repair its battered image:

First, let's look at what performance management actually is. The Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS), the U.K.'s impartial authority on employment relationships, defines it as:

A continuous process which involves making sure that the performance of employees contributes to the goals of their teams and the business.

It's quite simple really, isn't it? So how did performance management get such a negative reputation?

  • Is it because, when it's handled badly, it can damage relationships between managers and staff?
  • Is it because poor performance management disengages staff and fosters unproductive activities that waste time and effort for all involved?
  • Is it because poor performance management can misdirect rewards, leading to resentment?

The truth is poor performance management can do all of the above, and more!

"I Don't Do Performance Management"

ACAS may have a very clear definition of what performance management means, but it is interpreted differently by many organizations and their HR departments.

For example, I had a conversation with an HR director who was having problems with an underperforming member of staff. She described this person's behavior to me, saying the individual wasn't meeting deadlines and wasn't delivering work of the required standard. She then said something that I still find extraordinary, "I don't do performance management. I need to think of another way to deal with this."

I was speechless. Did she really say that?

When we explored this further, it was apparent that she did do performance management, just not in the way the organization had prescribed.

  • Did she monitor the performance of his staff? Yes.
  • Did she have regular one-on-one conversations with her staff? Yes.
  • Did she give feedback about what was going well, and what needed to improve? Yes.
  • Did she consider how her team performed as a whole, and where individuals' skills lay? Yes.
  • Did she support and train her people to do their jobs effectively? Yes.

She did all of this, and more. So ,why didn't she consider all of this to be performance management?

It turned out that this had been a revealing comment about the performance culture of that organization, and of the value placed on the processes it was using.

Performance management had become synonymous with failure, underperformance, serious capability issues, huge conflict and long, drawn out and often emotionally painful exits. Well, no wonder no one wanted to engage with it and avoided it at all costs, even the HR director!

As a manager, you will likely have seen some or all of the unintended consequences of poor performance management practices, processes and procedures. The reality is, you may also have contributed its negative reputation by not giving it the attention and focus it really deserves.

Successful performance management requires genuine buy-in from senior leaders, managers at all levels, HR teams, and staff.

Ask yourself:

  • Are you bought-in?
  • If not, why not?
  • What's stopping you being the best performance manager that you've ever known?

Approaches will differ, but the aim should always be to lead and manage in the most effective way to get the best out of your teams.

Four Key Elements of Performance Management

As a people manager myself, I've always found that it's how you apply the process, rather than the process itself, that makes the difference. Ultimately, performance management really is simple!

It's about:

  1. Discussing performance
  2. Holding people to account
  3. Providing developmental and motivational feedback
  4. Giving praise for a job well done.

I'm certain that if we can reframe perceptions of performance management to focus unrelentingly on these four key aspects, we would avoid getting bogged down with complex, bureaucratic processes.

So, let's strip out unpopular and unnecessary procedures, and focus on supporting and encouraging our people to do the best job they can.


Performance Management Sarah harveySarah Harvey is a business consultant and executive coach with more than 20 years leadership experience and is the founder of Savvy Conversations®.

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6 comments on “Why Does Performance Management Get a Bad Rap?”

  1. This is a very good explanation. Another factor I see that contributes to bad performance management is that the wrong people are in those leadership positions and can't deal with conflict. Another avenue to explore is how these people get in these positions.

    1. Thanks shlove. You raise an important point about people getting into positions in which they have yet to develop the skills.

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