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Why Can't HR Solve the Performance Management Puzzle?

June 29, 2012

Why can't HR seem to solve the problem of performance management? After decades of best practices research, an endless search for the right forms/criteria/ratings scales, and enormous investments in technology, it seems the best solution we can put on the table is a call to throw in the towel.

Perhaps the answer boils down to this. The reality is that performance management is not an HR problem at all; it is a management problem. So says Howard Risher, in a terrific new article "Getting Performance Management on Track" (Compensation and Performance Review).

The "performance management system" is simply a place to store information and a form for managers to document their assessment of how their people perform. The problems arise in the way managers carry out their responsibility; continuing focus on the system design will not solve the problem.

Performance management is or should be a day-to-day responsibility of managers and supervisors. HR can provide the forms, send reminders and provide training and advice, but the HR community should not assume responsibility for what should be an important aspect of each manager's job.

Branding performance management as an HR function has relegated it to the realm of administrative tasks. Yet what could be more a more critical management charge, in the age of knowledge work, than helping employees realize - and the organization effectively "extract" - the true value of their knowledge and capabilities?

How do we, then, move away from the old HR-owned, command-and-control vision of performance management to a manager-centered process which rises to the challenge of drawing high performance from today's knowledge worker?

The article highlights the importance of preparingandholding supervisors accountable for the management of employee performance, and it also discusses a number of emerging strategies, including:

  • The improved use of analytics and multirater feedback (ala Google's "Quest to Build a Better Boss") to develop managers' performance management skills.
  • Putting managers, as the key "customers," at the center of the performance management system design process.

Check out the article for more ideas and potential strategies.

Ann Bares is the Managing Partner of Altura Consulting Group. She also writes the Compensation Force blog. Comment below or email

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