What’s performance management got to do with the CEO?

While HR leaders know they need to engage the Senior Leadership Team with the importance of managing performance, the C-Suite often seems to think that performance management is a technical issue to be managed by HR.

If your CEO does not see the link between the time and resources invested in performance management, and the actual performance of the organisation, then you have a problem.  Performance Management is how, in the broadest sense, an organisation gets its strategy turned into action.  What could be more important to the C-suite than that?

Too often though, senior leaders think through the narrow lens of year-end reviews, interventions for failing employees, or allocation of bonuses.   Frankly, if your leader’s approach to ‘performance management’ is actually ‘agree bonus’, then suggest to them that they might abandon any formal performance management activity, stop wasting time filling in appraisal forms, and go straight to the pay negotiation.   Now OK, that’s a provocative approach, but I find it opens up a space in which to create a dialogue about the performance issues that matter to senior leaders, and how they can be addressed.

For example, a couple of years ago I was working with a client where an executive director made it clear that the main reason of ‘doing performance management’ was to tackle poor performance.  When I explored this topic more, what transpired was not a concern about the sort of poor performance that results in written warnings, but instead that the responsibility for work was not being pushed down the organisation – meaning senior managers were having to spend time reviewing and completing work that should have been effectively finished by more junior employees.

Armed with a deeper understanding of the performance issues that senior leaders want to deal with, it is possible to start designing fresh approaches that will make a change.  In the example above, the performance challenge was not really about individuals, but about the need to re-set the expectations of roles and responsibilities at every level.

Such conversations are of critical interest to CEOs.  Once they see that the broad lens performance management is the tool for tackling organisation performance as well as individual performance, then HR leaders will get the resources and attention they need to make a positive change.

For if ‘performance management’ does not improve performance, what on earth is it for?