HR Thought Leadership series

An Alternative Take on Performance Management

Empowering Employees to Take Strategic Control over their Personal Development

Photo by Road Trip with Raj on Unsplash

Peak performance is often associated with the amount of work a CPU gets through, F1 car analytics or a combination of stats behind a professional football team has played. It’s a million miles from your Development team releasing a new feature or HR completing monthly Payroll and Sickness reports. In short, it’s an exercise in attaining perfection yet we all work in a very imperfect environment. When was the last time you saw one of the pitstop crew called into a meeting with the CEO just as the car came into the pits?

Performance reviews are also very impersonal. They’re designed for the company, not the individual. They’re often one dimensional, not considering all variables or outside factors. They’re focused on the past. They’re too formal. They are often tied to salary discussions, skewing impartiality. They can be very subjective and rarely based on data. Annual performance reviews are about as useful as a snowball in a hot tent. Yes, you might cool your fingertips, but mainly you just have a lot of mush.

So, what if performance reviews became private?

Staff would not be publicly scored, there are no tables of top performers, or low performers. The only person who gets to assess performance data is the individual themselves. HR/People Ops facilitate by providing a framework, data and support as needed. Company data can still be produced, just anonymised for reporting.

Personalisation of Performance Management

The idea is to raise personal performance, and therefore corporate outcomes through consistent, holistic employee improvements driven by employee’s own motivation and endeavours. Not through any kind of pressure or unbalanced and unfair metrics.

Let’s turn the Employee LifeTime Value (ELTV) on its head. Instead of companies scoring what employees are worth, let the employees themselves see their real-time accomplishments and look at what option they have. Where could improvements be made and who is there to speak to about it.

Combine this with regular Line Manager interactions (weekly, informal) aimed at providing feedforward not feedback. These should be employee-led conversations focused on objective achievement with questions like:

Line Managers need to provide feedforward in a way that employees will be receptive, with a future focus. No more this wasn’t very good.

Adding a personal approach to these conversations is proven to work best. Try: When you do x it makes me feel y. Similarly, if someone is stubbornly not following team procedure explain that all of their great work may regrettably be ignored if the team lose an element of respect for them. It’s absolutely the Line Managers job to maintain this harmony.

Empower employees to take strategic control over their personal development

Employees that don’t want to engage are free to decide that. They still have objectives to achieve, and if they do achieve highly then Line Managers and companies should be very happy.

There would be little benefit in lying (to oneself) and average, anonymised data could help some employees gain a new level of clarity over their performance. The individual could pass a critical eye across their achievements without anyone else being involved. They could find new performance enhancing activities and reach more consistent levels. The question for employees would be: How do I measure up against average achievement in my department?

Every company has a few obstinate, immovable objects that think their invaluable. With a framework of self-evaluation, employees may realise that they are not actually at their perceived level. But rather then castigating them, they privately have multiple options with which they can improve. How great would that be?

This would benefit companies for obvious reasons, but also take part of the subjective burden of People Development from Line Managers. People Ops/HR would be responsible for managing the overall framework and support network, which is much more scalable then a cumbersome and expensive L&D programme.

The relevant activities to include are almost endless but here are the top 10:

  1. Objective achievement. This must always be the #1 priority, or work somewhere else, please.
  2. Webinars and Events attended. Bring the latest trends and thought leadership back to your teams.
  3. Courses and Certifications. Tangible and valuable, especially to the individuals’ future career.
  4. Training given (to groups). Honing of various personal skills, highly valuable to companies, and a cost saving.
  5. Lunch’n’learns given. Very much like training groups, but more relaxed and can stimulate peoples interests in lesser known topics.
  6. Public speaking. Valuable to companies and personal skills generation.
  7. Coaching. Great for helping others to find ad-hoc, short-term solutions.
  8. Mentoring. Utilises real experience to highlight possible longer-term solutions.
  9. Project leadership. Companies that don’t have dedicated project resources would benefit; individuals can learn. Win-win.
  10. Social ‘event’ organisation. Spreading responsibility for this makes things more scalable. Smaller, more regular activities create a longer lasting feel-good factor then one-off Parties. Think 5-a-side, Ping-Pong tournaments, online gaming, etc.

Each area holds value for employees in terms of skills that can be developed and for companies in terms of short-term cost savings but also long-term outcomes. All activities can be scored, graded and have multiple levels.

Employees should be able to raise their hands if they want an opportunity for public speaking or project leadership. Imagine your company having the ability to speak at every event or conference that approaches you, as you have a waiting list of speakers!

Give employees the chance to receive Peer to Peer (360 degree) reviews of the task they performed. How can they run their next project better? How can they improve delivery of a training course?

Just imagine, your company decides to look for its first dedicated Project Manager. Instead of expensive and longwinded external hiring, you get an internal application from an employee that has run 3 small projects internally, of increasing complexity. All documented, with feedback!

If Managers can’t see all the data, how can they reward or promote?

Managers need to focus on what is relevant to rewards and promotions. Objective achievements and attitude, that’s it. Managers play a major part of setting objectives; hence they would also need to see level of objective achievement. Their own objectives will largely be an accumulation of their team’s objectives.

This doesn’t mean that employees shouldn’t use their personal performance data with Managers should they wish. They should be able to use the data during formal reviews or even termination conversations if needed to create less subjective outcomes. Data = knowledge.

Want to apply for a raise, show your manager how far above the team average you are.

Moving On

Most employees at one time or another will move on. With this system, you can categorically say that you helped employees take control of their own learning and development. Helped employees enhance their career prospects and allowed them to control the direction. Employees could use their data to show potential future employers.

What happens if you want to sack someone?

This doesn’t change much in the termination process. Main reasons for a termination are:

  1. Attitude. Unless you feel a high-performing employee with a bad attitude is someone you want to keep!?!
  2. Consistent failure to deliver objectives. Objectives remain the key measure, just ensure objectives are correct and measured uniformly across an organisation.
  3. Gross misconduct. No amount of high performance will counterbalance this behaviour fail.
  4. Redundancy. If there becomes a choice of who stays and who goes, look at objective achievements, nothing else. To survive you will need people that achieve their objectives, not the smartest or the most highly regarded. Results only will determine your survival!


The idea is to raise performance through the hard work and endeavours of your employees using their own judgement, motivation and assessment on their skills and careers. Not through any kind of pressure or subjective assessments.

Think this sounds good? Think it doesn’t? Want to implement something similar in your company?

Please get in touch and let me know!

Written by Anthony Payne, Head of People & Talent. Combining technology with people to create amazing things. Build-Measure-Learn.

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Photo by Suzanne D. Williams on Unsplash