Sunday, 24 October 2010

Performance Management: It's as simple as ABC. Isn't it?

Let me take you on a trip down memory lane.

Long before your faithful editor of HR Case Studies became a world-famous blogger, weaver of HR strategy and generally all-round good egg, he was a teacher of Religious Studies in a couple of secondary schools in the North of England (including the one which was dubbed The School From Hell by the sensation seeking media). Those of you that reside in the UK will be aware that Religious Studies tends to be dispensed in single lessons to the unconvinced and largely unenthusiastic pupils. That means a lot of teaching. And a lot of pupils.

A merger between two local schools meant that I (for 'tis me of whom we are speaking) had the pleasure of teaching 515 different pupils per week. I also had the very dubious pleasure of writing end-of-term reports on each of the (frequently anonymous) 515 pupils who had graced my classes during the year.

We're talking of the days before the bland computer generated reports that are the saviour of many a 21st century teacher. We're talking biro, carbon paper, liquid paper and copious amounts of midnight oil and strong coffee to meet the report distribution deadline.

We're talking of resisting the temptation to be witty and sarcastic to write comments such as "Jason attended all the lessons and made occasional movements to prove that he was still conscious."

But 515 reports is a lot to complete, especially if you're trying to be meaningful.

Confession time: I longed to put into practice the philosophy of one of my colleagues who was firmly of the opinion that "when all is said and done, everything you write about a pupil basically boils down to one of three things: they are either Good, Average or Bad. All the rest is padding."

And doesn't the same apply to Performance Management?

Strip away the: "David has achieved all this year's objectives and demonstrated that he is developing all the corporate competencies" and you've got: David is Good. Remove the padding from "Christine has struggled to complete some of the key priorities for the year, and needs to focus on growing in some of the crucial behavioural areas" and you have: Christine is Bad.

Here's a question: aren't we over-complicating things by developing sophisticated and often confusing performance management systems which are time-consuming to complete, calibrate and report on?

What would we actually lose if we simply rated each employee on a scale of A=Good, B=Average, C=Bad ?


  1. Sounds great but let’s think about this for a moment.

    You rate me as a B, and on reflection I’m happy with that. Well I was until I find out you’ve rated my colleague an A, the very same colleague I’d rate as B- at best. So I ask you why and, low and behold, out comes the padding.

    Padding cushions us from the sharp edges of the truth and, try as we might, I don’t think we’ll ever be able to take life without it.


  2. EBTG: But if my boss thinks I'm a C, and I think I'm a B (or even an A!) wouldn't it be a good idea if we talked?

  3. Can't the "padding" be used for good?

    1) Spark that discussion. "You're a C and here's why I think that" rather than "C." (with the implied - Deal with it!).

    2) Used to start an improvement journey. "You're a C, here's what I'm looking for to get a B or even an A".

    I can see it working in the school environment. You're 14 years old, your RE teacher tells you that you are a "C" in RE. Bothered? Fast forward to adult life, your boss tells you you're a C. The implications sink in - you get no pay rise, no bonus and lose your eligibility for promotion. You want all that because you have a mortgage to pay and kids to feed. All of a sudden you're enraged, you demand to know why and that's why you need the padding.

    Rob Wheatley
    Cogendo - makers of PerformanceHub.