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How Managers are the Biggest Barriers to Effective Performance Management Systems

Manager doing performance management

If you’re not seeing results from your performance management process, your managers just might be the cause.

An effective performance management system has a lot of moving parts, and the process requires effort from multiple people and departments to ensure its success. The HR department is typically responsible for designing the performance management processes, setting out timelines, providing training and monitoring success. Employees are required to work towards achieving their individual goals, which in turn helps the organisation reach its corporate objectives. They should also be taking responsibility for their own career development.

The manager plays a pivotal role in performance management and the outcome of any performance management system relies on managers doing their part effectively. They need to make time for their employees, deliver frequent feedback, encourage and recognise good performance and check in regularly on goal progress. If your managers are not making time for this, then you will inevitably be left with an ineffective system.

The knock-on effects of a flawed performance management system are clear. As Forbes puts it: “bad performance management costs a lot and delivers little.” Employees will be demotivated and uncertain as to their priorities, meaning productivity will suffer.

So to ensure that your organisation is getting the highest return possible on its investment in performance management, read on to learn about the most damaging managerial problems and how to avoid them.

Do managers regard people management as their responsibility?

It has been shown that employees with managers who excel at people development perform a remarkable 25% better than employees who don’t make people management a priority. The strongest performing companies are those that emphasise the importance of performance management, and yet some managers still fail to understand how people management is their responsibility.

To overcome this, you need to make it clear to managers ‘what’s in it for them’ through your ongoing communication and training. And there are number of clear benefits in taking people management seriously which are backed up by research, such as better results, increased employee engagement, reduced staff turnover and less mistakes.

Despite this, some managers may never see people management as their responsibility. So you should ensure that good people management is a key criteria when recruiting and promoting people into management positions.

Are managers reluctant to invest in your performance management system?

If a manager is evidently unenthusiastic about the performance management process and is unwilling to invest the appropriate amount of effort, the system won’t be effective. Many managers believe that certain performance management processes (such as annual appraisals) are a waste of time, and in some cases they may be right! A quarter of employees believe that managers regard performance reviews as a ‘box-ticking’ exercise.

To deal with this, it’s important to ensure that all the elements of your performance management actually deliver value and that you make that value clear to managers. Form filling should be minimised wherever possible. Many organisations are getting rid of their traditional annual appraisals in favour of having employees and managers check-in with each other more regularly. In our experience, managers are much more receptive to this approach as it’s a more natural process and feels less like an HR-driven bureaucratic exercise.

Are your managers putting aside the necessary time to discuss performance with their staff regularly?

Regular communication can seriously impact employee engagement, with one source claiming that managerial input accounts for an incredible 70% of variance. Yet even if managers have bought into benefits of a continuous performance management approach, regular performance discussions may still not happen because managers often forget or are too busy to schedule them.

This is where performance management software can help by reminding employees and their managers when it’s time to check-in and giving HR and senior management visibility of whether the meetings are actually taking place.

Additionally, organisations such as Deloitte have found that putting the responsibility for organising the meetings on the employee rather than the manager results in the meetings being much more likely to take place. Engagement surveys typically tell us that employees want more time and support from their manager, so it makes sense to give them the ownership for making that happen.

Do your managers have the necessary skills and confidence to deliver effective feedback?

Many managers lack the confidence and skill required to sit down with employees one-on-one and deliver meaningful, useful feedback. These performance management conversations give employees a realistic perspective on their current progress and where they can stand to improve. Employees lacking timely feedback often feel blindsided, frustrated and confused by critical comments or reactions down the line, which is the perfect recipe for disengagement.

For this reason, HR need to take time to educate and support managers in the key skills for effective performance management. In addition to this, performance review software such as Clear Review has built in guidance and videos on the core skills of setting SMART objectives, having effective one-to-ones and giving great feedback.

Summing up

No matter how perfect your performance management system design is, it will ultimately fail if your managers are not bought into it, don’t invest sufficient time, or lack the skills to carry it out effectively. HR has a pivotal role in making this happen. It’s not something that will be achieved overnight on the back of a single management training session, it will take a sustained effort over a period of time. But evidence shows that there are rich rewards for those organisations who make this effort – they achieve significantly improved staff performance, engagement and profitability. And this, after all, is what performance management should be about.