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The field of performance management has been in turmoil lately. Employees are getting confused. Leaders are getting frustrated. Consultants are getting rich. Why the upheaval? A small number of high-profile companies (including Adobe, GE, and Accenture)1 have abandoned traditional performance management in favor of less formal and quantifiable approaches that prioritize ongoing conversation over annual ratings. Elsewhere, human resources (HR) executives have dashed to follow suit, assuming what is best for these industry leaders will be best for their organizations, too. The problem is that there is little evidence to support these new approaches. We are not specifically arguing in favor of traditional ratings, nor do we believe most legacy performance and feedback systems are built to address today’s talent management challenges. But we are arguing for a pause before jumping into a hasty performance management redesign.
Human performance is complex. Some may even call it messy. Yet there are rules, principles, and science behind performance management. While the ultimate goal of any HR initiative is to improve performance, numerous intermediary levers can affect the outcome. Feedback is one of them, but there are many others, including goal setting, context, deliberate practice, and rewards structure. The answer to complexity is not oversimplification; the right process is the one that leverages the known facts about what drives performance. Today, HR too often ignores these facts, instead chasing “bright, shiny objects,” what John Boudreau and Steven Rice have referred to as flavor-of-the-day HR novelties.2
HR practitioners are too quick to remove a process corporate leaders don’t like. They should be arguing for the tough improvements that would actually drive performance, beginning with the use of feedback.
Myths About Performance
What are some of the myths that have led HR to redesign processes, despite the science? And what are the implications for a quality performance management process?
Myth No. 1: It’s a problem that employees don’t like formal performance feedback. Yes, there is certainly evidence that people don’t like feedback. Employees dislike it to such an extent that many will dodge feedback opportunities if they can.3 But that is hardly a reason for managers not to provide it. What an employee “likes” and whether he or she is satisfied are different.
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