Don’t Let HR Get a Hold of Performance Management

My adventures in performance management took me north of the border last week – the Scottish border, that is! The white paper I published last year – Priming for Performance – had caught the eye of Sport Scotland, and so they invited me to deliver the opening keynote at their internal thought leadership conference. They were looking for me to both inform and challenge them on transforming their approach to performance management. I’m glad to say that is exactly what they got.

The room was full of a cross-section of senior and middle management individuals from across their widely distributed organisation. Those in the room had responsibilities ranging from strategic leadership of the organisation and management of high-performance sport science programmes, through to those charged with driving community engagement and participation.

They all had one thing in common, though. Given one of their prime objectives is to enable elite performance in the athletes they support, they wanted to see what they could do to translate those very same elite performance principles into the way they executed their plans and managed their people.

You’ll likely know that I heartedly endorse an agile approach to the development and execution of strategy and this is what I introduced them to. I took them through the origins of the approach (the early-adopters of Silicon Valley), its development, and its key principles. I then challenged them to look at how they could either introduce or improve five of those key principles:

Progress – discussing it, reporting it, and keeping track of confidence of completion; mainly at team level

Feedback – making it timely, making it frequent, making it effective

Transparency – being clear on prioritisation, open about who is working on what, the progress they’re making and resources they need

Alignment – having a direct-line-of-sight from individual to team to business objectives, systemising its management so progress rolls up

Integration – building it into weekly habits at team level, building quarterly cycles

As everyone worked through these, the whole room came to a rather stark conclusion: performance management is much broader than just HR.  That to give it maximum impact, it should be driven by those responsible for the strategy i.e. the leadership team.

Historically, in many organisations, performance management has been owned and driven by HR as a means by which people are assessed and graded.  This data then drives decisions around pay, reward, progression etc.  The consequence of this is that performance management becomes more about the grade than the very outcomes it’s supposed to be delivering.  The tail really does end up wagging the dog!

Now I’m not suggesting that a person’s performance shouldn’t be accounted for in some element of the decision around pay etc. but, performance is multi-faceted and assessing against individual objectives only captures part of the picture – there’s no account for collaboration or co-support for a start, nor the way in which they achieved their results (i.e. “the how”).

So my conclusion from my day with Sport Scotland was this: if you’re serious about transforming the way you execute strategy and achieve performance then don’t let HR be the lead on it.  Sure, they need to be part of the working party, they are a stakeholder after all, but it’s so much bigger than just them.  Like a surgeon has his scalpel to make a precise incision, you have performance management to guide and drive the efforts of the business – so don’t let your blade become blunt.

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