however, and performance management continued to be a frus-trating
and consuming activity. Nevertheless, employees, in theory,
had a better grasp of what their bosses thought of them and ex-pected
As the system evolved, the performance management process be-gan
to focus on the development of behaviours or attributes, as
well as skills and knowledge. It was believed that productivity in-creased
when individuals were a better fit for their role.
People development became central and companies began to
train their managers with coaching skills, since research showed
that companies that coached for development generated twice the
revenue of those that did a poorer job.
At the same time that coaching was increasing in popularity, an-other
performance management perspective was evolving. Forced
ranking, or forced distribution, was made popular in the mid-
1980s by GE. Regardless of how well an individual performed,
they were ranked against their peers. The bottom was cut, and the
middle and top were nurtured.
This approach was adopted by many Fortune 500 companies,
and it put the emphasis on individual success just as organizations
were becoming more teamwork-oriented. Not surprisingly, inef-fective
behaviors – like putting self before team – were reinforced
as a result.
In the past few years, we’ve learned that forced ranking creates dis-array
and dissension, while pay-for-performance is demotivating.
Accordingly, organizations are looking to shift or eliminate their
performance management process.
If pay is not a motivator, what is? We turn to accountability
and the idea that when people are successful, the organization is
This idea, by its nature, takes a manager’s eyes off the rear view
mirror and turns the gaze forward. Improving the individual con-tributor’s
performance improves the team’s performance, which
improves the organization’s performance.
It’s necessary in such a system for the employee to have a clear
understanding of the company’s values, the behaviours that pro-duce
success in that culture and the goals that help that employee
advance the strategic business plan. This gives everyone a clean line
of sight from the present to the future of the business.
Performance management needs to become an ongoing dialogue
in which manager and report both have responsibility for help-ing
each other succeed. In such a system, formal reviews would be
eliminated but performance conversations would be frequent and
reports would feel as entitled to initiate them as the manager. “Big
data” could play a significant role in such conversations, provid-ing
insights and reinforcing strategic goals, but the focus would be
firmly on the needs of the future, not the past.
Starting in late 2011, Adobe has broken ground with a trans-formation
of their former performance management process to a
series of “check-in” dialogues. The process has three forward-fac-ing
1. The manager and employee come to a mutual understanding of
what is expected of them and why.
2. The manager meets with the employee at least every two
months for a check-in, providing feedback and gathering
information on how to help the person be successful in meeting
3. Manager and employee must talk about expectations
and frame the discussion as an opportunity for growth.
Adobe has introduced this approach in all its global locations.
By and large, they have found that, by severing compensation from
the performance dialogue, motivation has actually increased.
This is a positive development, and a healthy sign that per-formance
dialogue remains a critical tool for developing people
according to organizational values and strategic needs. It shows
that people respond to open, timely and future-focused conversa-tions
that help them improve and succeed.
During more than a century of performance management, our
goals remain the same. It is only our understanding of what moti-vates
people and leads to better results that has improved. ■
David S. Cohen is founder and senior consultant at Strategic Action
Looking to hire?
FREE services +
Next-Steps Employment Centres
Ask about the new incentives for hiring youth through YEF!
Monday to Friday
9 am - 5 pm
This Employment Ontario service is funded
@NextStepsEC in part by the Government of Canada
38 ❚ NOVEMBER/DECEMBER 2014 ❚ HR PROFESSIONAL