What is Performance Management? Helping your team be smarter.

“Don’t die with the music in you.”  Wayne Bennett

As a shrewd and innovative Australian rugby league coach, Wayne Bennett had an impressive track record.  He achieved this by being both compassionate and challenging with his players and always encouraged them to train and play to the very best of their abilities.

He helped players reach their full potential.

At its best, Performance Management can help each member of your team reach their potential.  What is the music inside each of your team members? What do you do to release it?

Performance management underpins the development of your team.  This development drives the performance and results that you want as a manager.

Performance Management can be a wonderful, daily, human interaction and be the greatest gift that you can give to a colleague.  At their worst, performance reviews are bureaucratically driven activities that everyone dreads and they simply go through the motions.

If you provide the space and time for a colleague to develop self-awareness, understand their impact on others, and create a journey of learning and growth then you will be remembered.

Should performance management focus on evaluation or development?

Many organisations spend a huge amount of time on evaluation and very little on development although this tide does seem to be shifting.

Organisations such as Adobe have seen a 30% cut in their voluntary employee turnover by giving performance management a more developmental focus.

In 2012, Cargill Inc, a food producer and distributor was struggling to engage its worldwide workforce of 155,000 employees and introduced their “Everyday Performance Management”.

The new system was looking for everyday encouragement and feedback conversations to be part of the job.  Cargill reported significant improvements in employee engagement after managers focused on providing coaching and feedback that was developmental rather than just evaluating an individual’s performance.

The 3 elements of performance management

Performance management which builds trust and supports individuals in being the best version of themselves contains three elements:

  1. Goal Setting
  2. Day to day coaching and feedback
  3. Learning and review

Goal Setting

“If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.”

Excellent performance management starts with clear goals.  Nearly all issues in performance management come from poor goal setting which results in different expectations.

  • Do both parties have the same understanding of what has been agreed.
  • Has the SMART acronym been used?
  • Is the colleague able to playback and describe with confidence what is expected of them?


Day to Day coaching

So often performance management stops once the goals have been filled in on the annual appraisal form and popped away for the year.

Performance Management is a partnership where the manager helps the colleague daily through coaching and feedback to achieve their goal.  With practice, this becomes a daily conversation and doesn’t add to the manager’s workload.

Coaching in-the-moment can take place face to face on a production line as a colleague completes a task and you might ask the question:

  • “How else could you have approached this problem?”

It could be over email.  A colleague sends a long, rambling email with no clear purpose.  Before you jump in with an exasperated reply and make suggestions you might respond with:

  • “Before I share my thoughts on this, can you tell me the biggest challenge you are facing here?”

Or a team member approaches you with a problem, you might ask the following before jumping in with your own great advice and a solution:

  • “What other options could you consider here?”


Managing underperformance

Very few people come to work wanting to do a poor job.

If you have done your job well, by setting clear goals and offering appropriate care and challenge then it is about understanding what is stopping a colleague achieving.

One simple way to approach this would be to ask the question:

  • “What is happening either at home or work that is stopping you achieving x?”

It is amazing the power of this question and either highlights a genuine issue that you as the manager need to support or is a way to help increase levels of accountability.


If you have spent time building trust with your colleague, then you have earnt the right to speak candidly.  Good feedback is both caring and candid.

If your colleague knows that you care for them as a person then they will follow you as a leader and be open to the feedback that you have to offer.  When delivering feedback, if you show concern about the persons development both personally and professionally it will allow you to deliver something far more impactful and effective.

You are more likely to be listened to and heard.

Be clear about the gap, what you believe that person needs to do to close it and then support them in the achievement of their goal.

Review and Learning

For colleagues to become more competent and effective we need to help them learn.

People don’t learn when you tell them stuff and they only learn slightly better when they are doing stuff.

People truly learn when they have a chance to reflect on their experience.

It is about creating a learning opportunity where people have a chance to step back, make the connections and have an insight.

The job of the manager as part of performance management is to create opportunities where a colleague can step off the hamster wheel of busyness, create a deep learning and making the neural connections in their head.

Try using these questions to prompt the all-important self-reflection.

  • What did you learn?
  • What would you do differently next time?
  • How would you approach it next time?



Performance Management Process

The only person’s appraisal you are responsible for is your own.  You should only ever have to be completing one appraisal.  To create a culture of empowerment rather than a culture of dependency this is crucial.

Conversations should be a minimum of 90 days apart with goal setting, coaching and feedback, and reflective learning all part of the conversation.

Paper or computer – it doesn’t really matter.  The most important thing is the quality of the conversation and ensuring that any process supports the conversation and doesn’t drag it into a bureaucratic abyss.

Performance Management and Rankings

Performance Management and rankings is a huge topic and creates lots of useful debate.

Rankings are useful in providing transparency of how a colleague is perceived by the organisation.  If rankings are removed, then the regular check-in between manager and colleague must include a candid discussion of how a colleague is performing.  There are pros and cons for rankings to be discussed in another blog.

One element of rankings I would like to see removed is the normal distribution curve where managers are forced to allocate high and low scores to a percentage of their team.  If you don’t have anyone scoring low in your team then you are often perceived as a soft manager.  However, if you are doing an excellent job with Performance Management then nobody should be falling into this zone.

We never recruit people who are poor performing, therefore, why would we look to score them as such once they are in the organisation?

Performance Management or Performance Development

Performance Development is a far more appropriate term for what Performance Management can do.  Using the term Performance Development can be a useful way to reframe it within a business.

What is Performance Management?

It is a daily process of coaching and feedback conversations where line managers help team members achieve their goals and bring their best version of themselves to work.

When human beings have an opportunity to realise their potential they are far happier and fulfilled.

Common sense tells us that people who feel good about themselves will produce far better results.  Research from the University of Warwick backs this up.  If you are happy at work, then you are 12% more productive. If you are unhappy at work then you are 10% less productive.

For a business to realise and get the performance they need from their employees, focusing on development through excellent performance management that provides accountability, care, challenge, and rigor is essential.