Performance anxiety

For most organisations, the performance management system is so much a part of the company it’s barely noticed anymore. It just ticks along in the background, providing a process for appraisals, leave forms and (allegedly) performance monitoring.

No-one really expects it to do much, except tick along, and, possibly, be cursed at occasionally. A 2010 survey called Study on the State of Performance Management* conducted by non-profit WorldatWork found that when asked to appraise their performance management systems, managers rated the systems C-grade or below.

Why the negative feedback? People and technology have changed, rapidly, recently, and most performance management systems don’t allow for the requirement that younger generations of employees have to access those systems anywhere, from any device, at any time. Performance management systems aren’t very people-friendly either, technological advances aside.

 “Today, more than 70% of all employees work in service or knowledge-related jobs,” says a Deloitte University Press piece titled Performance management is broken*. “Their performance is driven by their skills, attitude, customer empathy – and by their ability to innovate and drive change by working through teams,” note the authors Lisa Barry, Stacia Garr & Andy Liakopoulos. “These skills must be built over time, and successful performance management must be focused on constantly developing these capabilities rather than ranking them at a moment in time.”

Performance management is about more than just a mandatory annual review. It is intended to provide a means to give employees on feedback on what they are doing well, and where they need some work, and merely plugging in figures to calculate whether KPIs were met isn’t going to help.

Says EY South Africa HR director Jenny Greyling: “We take pride in providing the learning, experiences and coaching for all employees to enable them to develop into the next future leaders. Performance management is an integral part of ensuring that our employees have the right conversations and developmental tools in place to achieve their personal and professional goals. At EY, each and every employee is assigned a mentor to guide them through the process of setting goals, achieving those goals and getting the feedback they require to further develop their careers.

“Our technology system, which is used for performance management, is used globally across all EY countries, hence bringing a large degree of consistency and best practice sharing across the firm,” she states.

Greyling says the tool used by EY enables remote access for employees based on assignment in a different location. It allows for setting of goal plans, ongoing engagement feedback, mid-year reviews and year-end reviews. The tool allows for input of generic goals for certain roles as well as mandatory goals that might be considered relevant, she continues, noting that the individual’s performance rating is stored on the system and final comments are accessible. 

“Technology enables us to draw reports for review and calibration by review committees as well as compliance stats,” she adds.

One common criticism of technology systems used for any aspect of HR management is that they take the people out of the system and result in over-worked employees and managers ticking boxes in an effort to get the paperwork out of the way as fast as possible. And this can be an issue, acknowledges Greyling.

“We view technology as an important enabler and consistently emphasise the importance of authentic and crucial conversations between our employees and managers,” she says. “While we do run the risk of individuals and line managers completing goal plans and other parts of the performance management process to meet a deadline (instead of as part of a meaningful performance and development discussion), we also run extensive training for line managers on how to coach and counsel their employees.”

In other words, the technology is a useful tool, but real engagement and real conversation are what drive meaningful performance management.

And for all the potential pitfalls, technology provides many advantages.

“Employees benefit from consistent technology in that there is a record of their goal and development plans and ongoing performance feedback,” says Greyling. “Employees are able to drive the process and request feedback on a regular basis and can receive online from line managers if they’re based in a different location.

“If a line manager leaves or is transfered to another office and is no longer responsible for the performance management of an individual, the new line manager can review the performance history of their counselee.

“The most important element in the performance management and development process is the relationship with the individual’s line manager and the ongoing feedback and career conversations – we recognise that no technology system can substitute for the value of these meaningful coaching discussions,” Greyling emphasises.

EY has developed a framework to assist its employees to reach their goals and achieve their potential. “It’s called EYU (EY and You), and the performance management and development process is core to the way we implement this framework. The EY performance management and development process provides a structure for the conversations and helps to link personal performance and development goals to EY’s global strategic priorities,” Greyling says.

“The online system enables employees to understand what is expected of them and get ongoing feedback from projects and client assignments. There is also a joint commitment to a development plan to which focuses on the experiences, learning and coaching needed to meet the individual’s career aspirations. Goal setting and performance reviews strive to stretch the individual to achieve their potential and recognise their contribution to our organisation.”

“Leading organisations are scrapping the annual evaluation cycle and replacing it with ongoing feedback and coaching designed to promote continuous employee development,” say Deloitte’s Barry, Garr & Liakopoulos. 

“Today’s workers expect to be held accountable for results – but they also expect coaching, development, and regular feedback. Look carefully at the performance management process to see if it truly drives performance today or is merely an artifact of the past. In many cases, a shift from “evaluation” to “development and performance improvement” will drive appreciable results,” Barry, Garr & Liakopoulos suggest. 

* The full article is available at…

This article is part of a larger supplement which can be found here.

The supplement has been made possible by the Mail & Guardian’s advertisers and the content has been vetted by the Top Employers Institute.

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