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I am back on one of my favourite topics – performance management and how it often works in practice.

I came across a medium sized company in the private sector a while ago. To be honest, their performance management system had fallen by the wayside. There had been a re-launch a couple of years ago but, because of changes in management and lots of major things going on, the initiative had faded. All that was practically left was a yearly appraisal which everyone was supposed to do in December. In reality, this was a bit hit and miss, depending on the department you were in. Fortunately, pay rises and bonuses have been rare and those awarded had not depended on any real method.

Senior management then decided they needed a robust performance framework in place. This time they asked team leaders and staff to help drive the initiative and a focus group was set up. The focus group made good progress; designing reports that staff would receive on a monthly basis showing individual performance, introducing a one-to-one template to be completed at meetings between team leaders and staff and communicating the new scheme to all the relevant people.

Give credit where it’s due. By all accounts the focus group generated a lot of positive feedback about the aims of the new scheme and how it would work. The project was held up as best practice in the company.

What happened when the scheme went live? The individual performance reports were not produced on time by the management information team as other urgent priorities came up. When the reports were produced they contained inaccuracies, largely because some staff used the wrong log-ins to the telephone system. This meant that staff who were absent had figures recorded against their name. Also, due to overloaded work schedules, one-to-one meetings were cancelled, often at short notice. Some meetings did take place, but they were not carried out by the staff member’s line-manager as this ensured the exercise was completed in time.

Implementing performance management in practice is often hard. However, the stakes are high in terms of motivation and commitment at an individual level.

I suppose the book that captures my views most is ‘Abolishing Performance Appraisals’ by Tom Coens and Mary Jenkins. The book highlights some good questions and different approaches that can be taken. Next time we turn the debate around and look at some ways around the pitfalls.

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