WHAT IF WE TOOK HR OUT OF THE PERFORMANCE MANAGEMENT PROCESS?
I’m completely aware of how controversial the idea of taking performance management out of HR’s hands might sound, but bear with my potential blasphemy for a moment to explore this idea, which I think has real merit.
PERFORMANCE IS A LEADERSHIP PROBLEM.
Maintaining alignment between what’s being worked on or produced by employees and the strategic direction of the organization falls squarely on the shoulders of leaders in the organization. Good managers wake up in the morning and think about how they’re enabling the people on their team to be the best version of themselves and give them support to produce amazing results.
“If it’s their fundamental job to drive performance, why does the management of performance, the measurement, the policy, the communication, and all of the innovation (or lack thereof) come from HR?”
Of course it classically makes sense. People perform, HR owns people processes, HR should own the PM process for those people. It’s not surprising or contradictory in any means - but what if we put that aside for a second and looked at making Performance Management a process designed, implemented, and owned by leaders.
WHAT WOULD THAT LOOK LIKE IF HR DIDN'T OWN THE PERFORMANCE MANAGEMENT PROCESS?
In terms of designing a performance management process, your leaders are closer to the actual operation of the business and what drives success. Someone from HR or talent management has to learn or try to systemize fundamental understanding of the skills utilized and the measurement of meaningful output for every role in the organization. Just writing that out seems daunting - but in a decentralized model where HR facilitates this rather than owning it, the manager’s knowledge can be utilized in the design of a measurement process that better fits the role.
One strategy we’ve seen play out well is shifting away from large nebulous strategic goals as the main measure of an individual employee's success and rather coming up with a method that’s more focused on work product quality and timeliness of delivery. The difference is subtle, but quite meaningful.
When employees have crisp definitions of what they’re on the hook to deliver and when it’s due, we see in our data that they feel it’s a more fair process for evaluation. HR’s role in this is more focused on educating the leaders how to work within this framework and finding a way to meet their documentation requirements for compliance. This is where there’s an important flex for the modern HR organization - look to places where you can integrate pre-existing data. Modern platforms and technology should work for you - not create a separate form to fill out the same thing you’ve written down somewhere else.
THE DATA ABOUT THE WORK PRODUCT THAT EMPLOYEE IS RESPONSIBLE FOR - IS IT OUT THERE?
Can it be captured from the initial point of entry and moved over to the systems involved with your performance management process? A key point of modern performance management is automation - with the goal being to have leaders and individuals spending as little time on data collection as possible for the PM process and having the PM process more focused on creating a space to have a data driven conservation supporting the growth and success of employees.
Focusing on the role of HR more towards facilitation and flexibility also helps build more trust between HR and the leaders they’re working with.
If your job is seen as someone who is responsible for enabling a leader to build low-friction processes for creating accountability within their team, you’re perceived as much more of a true partner than someone who is demanding they follow a rigid process whether it creates more work for their team or not.
This means HR’s still involved - they set the scaffolding, train, and support - but the how, when, and what of performance measurement is now owned completely by the leader. The leader’s output then becomes an evaluation of the quality of that process, shared with HR (this isn’t much different than today) and they’re held accountable to being consistent in delivering that output, but that’s it.
SO NOW WHAT HAPPENS IF SOME EXTERNALITY ACTS ON THE BUSINESS?
A sudden market change or strategic move brings new priorities, tasks, etc. If now the role of the employees and what they produce changes and the PM process doesn’t feel like it fits the new business environment, the parts of the business that change would have to fight with HR to try and change the monolithic PM process to better suit the new realities of the business (such as more remote workers, or new operations processes). An argument we would be prepared to make is that in many cases the leaders of these units are the ones who are undergoing the changes and have to adjust their people at the individual level, so why not allow them to freely change the how, when, and what is measured as part of the performance management process?
This idea starts to scratch the surface of the concept of decoupling classic performance management from HR (or even the talent management or people operations organization, if that’s how your company labels them).
INTERESTED IN LEARNING MORE ABOUT THESE CONCEPTS?
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