Real-World Queries for Performance Management

During my work as an HR professional for over 17 years, I have experienced my apprehensions against performance management systems (PMS). There are questions that are frequently asked by companies, that are rooted in conventional practices. Most of the time, these practices shift the focus from people and performance to only business and bias. I firmly believe that leading by example is the best way to go. So here I am discussing some frequently asked questions with a few real-world incidents that I have tackled. These can offer some understanding of the importance of PMS.

Humans are inherently subjective beings. This means that employees might be prone to playing favourites, when it comes to the workplace as well. One company I was consulting to, had a similar problem. Despite having an established performance management system, the leadership team was at a loss to understand why they were not achieving desired results from their teams. They indicated that, from a few teams, the performance of some promoted employees was not satisfactory after they had been promoted. These promotions and appraisals were done on the behest of managers who had provided glowing reviews for these candidates.

After an in-depth analysis and discreet conversations with several employees, it was revealed that this was a case of favoritism. Some managers were providing exaggerated ratings for the favourite employees in their teams for various reasons. Either it was for friendship, to manipulate teams and gain more control or even in some cases for personal gains. This was taken very seriously by the leadership and necessary corrective action was taken.

The consequences of this “fixing” was that certain work environments were being viewed as unjust. This resulted in lower job satisfaction for team members and there was a gradual increase in attrition which was costing the company valuable resources.

The situation was thoroughly evaluated and concerned managers were warned against such behaviour in the future. It was also necessary to review the PMS to reduce the chances of bias. Sometimes PMS has a high degree of reliability on managers. This was handled by adding a final leadership review for all teams. A peer review was also added for cases where a bias might be suspected. Trainings were conducted to foster professionalism and enable managers to make a conscious effort to have an equitable work environment.

Conventionally, performance reviews are conducted once every 6 months or annually. In one situation while evaluating the performance management systems of a company, I received a peculiar input. The leadership teams had started their PMS with great hopes of bringing about an improvement in employee productivity. However, they were facing issues with slow or negligible improvement in employee performance, especially when it came to softer skills. These were important for overall progress of the organization, coordination and customer experience.

We identified that, though the PMS was in place and performance reviews were being conducted bi-annually, there was no employee touchpoint in between reviews. This meant that there was no system for having a one-on-one session with individual team members. The time between feedbacks was very long and the system had no scope for an employee to understand their shortcomings in real-time.

A monthly one-on-one was incorporated into the PMS system. This not only allowed managers to suggest improvements for team members, but it also served as a basis for the final bi-annual review. The performance management system became more efficient as the managers knew the competencies and weaknesses of their team members closely. A five-point system was introduced that enabled managers to track the month-on-month improvement was also tracked and referred to regularly.

I have heard this argument multiple times where managers are apprehensive about giving an appraisal to an employee who has been on sabbatical. This is especially true in the case of situations like maternity leave, where the employee is on leave for a few months. Placing these employees on the bell curve for performance can be an inaccurate way to judge their contribution. In one scenario, the debate was whether to stop the appraisal of an employee who had been on childcare leave.

For employees who have taken a legitimate sabbatical, it is essential for companies to conduct a fair assessment that takes into consideration special circumstances. Many organizations have realized the need for guidelines to be set in such cases where the performance of the person is given priority over the individual. This means that the contributions of the employee for their designated time at the workplace are valued and not judged against the authorized leaves that they have taken.

In companies where these fair performance review practices have been implemented, I have seen a positive impact in overall employee satisfaction. These approaches increase participation of women in the workforce along with making the company a more conducive work environment.

The aim of PMS mechanism is to align all employees to the overall objective of the organization. The task becomes easier when the 4Cs are incorporated as a part of the PMS. These are Collaboration, Connect, Clarity and Character.

Companies need to have a flexible and open approach to performance management while viewing it as an integral part of the company’s operations. There can be many questions related to this new approach, but the benefits far outweigh the apprehensions.

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