Fixing the Broken Promises of Performance Management

By Jason Averbook

We’ve all fallen into the trap of believing magical things will happen when we take manual processes and put them online. For two decades now, I’ve watched (and in some cases helped) companies succumb to the allure of this formula. So many promises, and so little ability to fulfill them. Remember when…

… our number one focus should be reducing our HR headcount by deploying self-service applications?

… we had link farms called “portals” that people would access once a year when they had to enroll in benefits?

… we knew that employees and managers would love performance management because it was happening online instead of on paper?

Ah, the good old days are always good for a chuckle. The only problem is that, when it comes to these kinds of empty promises, some of us are still living in those days, and they’re not so good.

One of my goals as CEO of The Marcus Buckingham Company is to help organizations, team leaders and HR leaders escape from this rut. To do that, they’re going to have to find a way to make technology add real value to their processes, by enabling meaningful, even addictive interactions between the organization and the people who work for it.

And there’s no better place to start than with the dreaded and reviled performance management system.

Our article with Deloitte on the cover of Harvard Business Review discusses why now is the time to, if I may quote myself, “reinvent both how we look at performance management as a function and how we think about employee engagement.” After all, there is absolutely no doubt left that engagement drives performance; this has been proven over and over again. Any sensible performance management system therefore has to generate and use data on engagement to provide intelligent insights into how to fuel performance.

It would be nice if technology solved everything magically, but we continue to have to relearn the lesson that it does not. We at TMBC have made it our mission to leverage technology not as a cure-all but as a tool that, handled correctly, can help to spur genuine understanding of engagement and performance. As we pursue this mission, we are guided by a few hard-won lessons about performance management.

  1. Performance doesn’t care about the org chart. Traditional HR/Finance org structures have their purpose, but performance happens in the team. This means that if your performance and engagement processes are focused anywhere but on the team leader, you are starting at a huge deficit. In short, if you want to drive performance,  it’s all about the team leader!
  2. Performance and engagement are not annual occurrences; why measure them that way? Performance and engagement don’t open and close. They don’t start and stop. They are fluid, perpetual and ongoing. To acknowledge this is a huge shift for most organizations, because it follows that the process of measuring engagement and performance, to be meaningful at all, cannot occur only annually or semi-annually, but must occur in an ongoing way.
  3. Analytics and measures must be tied to the now, not the past. I want to see how my workforce and teams are feeling right now, not six months ago. I want to understand how my team is performing now, not three months ago. I must take action based on how my team is feeling and performing now to actually have an impact. The true “prescriptive analytic” must be based on the now. I don’t get a prescription for a cold I had six months ago. We live in a now economy. If my engagement- and performance-improving “prescription” is not delivered in the now, I will never truly improve anything.
  4. We live today in the micro-moment. These micro-moments are glances at content, notifications, “likes” and up-votes — quick activities that keep me engaged and become addictive. If action must be taken in the now, and it must, then now must occur in the micro-moment, continuously. Education and content must “drip” to team leaders and team members continually to create an “always on” culture of improvement. Used properly, technology can deliver these micro-moments, these glances and drips, in a lightweight manner, saving our performance processes from becoming heavy and burdensome.
  5. Transactions are not action. I have lived my career in this space trying to create technology to solve problems, only to realize that the services are not there to support the technology. When I talk about services, I don’t mean simply implementation of the technology; I mean true services that leverage the data the technology provides to improve engagement and performance.Technology can facilitate transactions — of data, of content, of learning. But technological transactions, in and of themselves, are not action. Inspiring action requires a holistic approach — one that combines content, research, data and services with personalized, always-on technology that sustains the thinking that can engage teams and drive performance.

This leads me to where we are today. The question I have been asked the most since joining The Marcus Buckingham Company as CEO is simply, Why this company? The answer is simple. We have created a holistic approach to doing what performance management should do: fuel workforce engagement and accelerate performance. Employed on its own, technology simply shifts the method of doing the same old stuff that simply doesn’t work — the stuff that HR leaders and organizations love because it’s created for the organization and the HR leader, and that team leaders and team members hate for exactly the same reason.

Our approach (as shared by Marcus in his most recent blog post) focuses instead on where the action happens: on the team and team leader. It doesn’t start with the HR department; it starts with the team. And guess what? In focusing on the team and team leader, it does a much better job of giving HR the tools it needs to fulfill its yearly activities around compensation and other compliance-driven processes, anyway.

We are here. We have arrived. Whether your function is HR, OD, a line of business, a team leader or an individual, our time is now to change the way we think of workforce engagement and performance management, once and for all. What is this new thing called? Where does it fit? Let’s not get hung up on categories of the past that truly don’t make sense. Let’s focus on where we are. We have found the unicorn and those that ride this unicorn will quickly realize a competitive edge that is unlike anything we have seen before.

Let’s go! Another infusion of knowledge.

About the Author:

Jason Averbook is CEO of the Marcus Buckingham Company and recognized as one of the top thought leaders in the space of HR and workforce technology. Jason contributes to Inc., Businessweek, Fortune, The Wall Street Journal, Forbes, CIO Magazine, HR Executive Online, Talent Management Magazine, NPR, SHRM, IHRIM and other well-known publications. He also is author of the new book HR From Now To Next: Reimagining the Workplace of Tomorrow.


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