The Problem with Performance Management: Is Management Attitude Blocking Your PMS?

The Problem with Performance Management: Is Management Attitude Blocking Your PMS?


I spend quite a bit of my time working with Managers, supervisors and team leaders who happen to be studying a Diploma with the College usually a Diploma in Management, Human Resources Management or Project Management.   As part of their reflective practice, I always ask all my students to rate and provide feedback on their own experience with the performance review process and, the feedback I consistently receive is overwhelmingly negative. It is so bad in fact that I can’t think of the last time I received any positive feedback – that is, most students have a bad experience of their personal performance review.

Now, this is a serious predicament as, most of the managers giving these students feedback are senior managers or at least a step up from the front-line and middle managers they oversee. This means that these managers are at that aspirational and/or inspirational level of management to which these students aspire and, presumably, model their behaviour on. If they’re getting nothing positive out of their own performance review well, who knows what they do for their staff – more of the same or, do they aspire for better?

That question makes me quite nervous – especially for the hundreds of other managers that are not doing any further study and so not learning a more positive, best practice model!

The feedback I receive revolves predominantly around 3 negative actions or behaviours where the manager:

  1. ‘Talks’ at the staff member and tells them how they’ve performed – with no input or opportunity for the staff member to say anything – the feedback is all one-way.
  2. Appears to make a ‘subjective’ rating of performance that is not supported by documented practice,  facts or figures. In most cases there is no written documentation at all.
  3. Sets the performance goals and the employee is told what to do or, there are no clear performance goals set at all and the employee is directed instead to ‘keep up the good work’ or (worse still to) ‘keep on improving’!

Now, all these actions or behaviours seem pretty basic and you would expect a more senior manager to have no trouble with any of them – that is you would expect a more senior manager would be well aware of the need to have a two-way conversation, set achievable and realistic goals agreed on by both parties and rate performance objectively. However, at least with the people I work with (and they come from workplaces all over Australia), this is not the case and it has got me wondering why.

Is it a lack of knowledge, a lack of skill or perhaps an attitude that sees little or no value in performance management or, is it a simple lack of time that presents with these negative behaviours/actions?

I often share with my students the analogy of the luxury car when trying to explain the importance of performance management. If you spent $100K or more on a top of the range Mercedes or Land Rover or even more on a Maserati or Ferrari, you would look after it and care for it wouldn’t you? After all that could be an entire year’s salary or more spent on a car. So you would make sure it was regularly serviced & cleaned and you’d garage it undercover and spend a little more, using premium petrol. After all, you need to look after your investment.

But, what about the people we employ with a much more expensive outlay than a car? Do managers go out of their way to look after these assets, care for them and spend money on them to keep them current, further build their value and so on?

Well the short answer is no. We don’t care for our people as we do our cars and yet the cost of investing in people or ‘talent’ is well above the cost of investing in the car.

There are a number of reasons why we don’t look after our people assets in the same way we look after our personal assets like our cars but, it seems to me that a key reason goes back to the vision and strategy of the organisation and the buy-in of staff.

All staff, managers and employees alike need to understand what their organisation’s vision, mission and values are and they need to be onside and engage with it – no, more that this – they need to champion the vision and embrace the strategy and, in doing so,  take an active part in working to achieve it.

I firmly believe that, if managers embraced the vision and strategy and understood their role in it then they would be pro-actively engaging with their staff and enthusiastically ensuring their buy-in to achieve it.

If you understand and truly believe in the organisation’s vision and strategy and your role in helping to achieve it then, it is a surely a simple enough task to pass this on to your staff and to develop overall department or team objectives that support the organisational goal/s and then, from these, individual KPI’s that show how each person in your team will support it.

Alongside this, if you truly by-in to in the organisational vision and goals and you want to be part of its success then, you understand the value of your staff in achieving these goals and so you will do all you can to help them succeed.

Now, this is the key to the puzzle, the centre of certainty,  as this is where you finally realise that the more time you put into your people – working with them, providing feedback, support and encouragement – the more likely your organisation will be to achieve its goals.

It’s only when managers have a picture like this is their head that sees their staff as the key to success, that they can also see that time spent working with their people is important, critical time and so, should be the focus and place where all the real work gets done.

Managers need to be spending many more hours working with their staff, encouraging, motivating and challenging them to bigger, brighter and better performance – it is only when this occurs and the penny drops for managers and, they see their staff as the highly valuable asset they are,  that we will see a change in attitude toward performance review and management and a drive to get it right.

Only then will we increase productivity and profitability.

So, yes, I think that attitude plays a big part in management’s buy-in and engagement with the performance management processes of an organisation and, until management truly sees their employees as significant – in fact the most significant (human capital) investment an organisation has then nothing will change and managers will continue to disregard and/or pay lip service to performance management.

It sounds simple doesn’t it?

The College has a range of on-line programs, workshops and short courses that can help you with performance management processes for your organisation. Our team are also available to visit you onsite or on-line for more intensive support and consultancy services.

Helen Sabell

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