ATD Blog

The Secret to Helping Managers With Performance Management

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Being a manager today is more complicated than ever before, especially when it comes to guiding, driving, and evaluating performance. With five generations now active participants in the workforce, managers are being asked to provide feedback more frequently and informally than they’re accustomed to. According to a recent study from SAP and Oxford Economics, the majority of non-Millennials surveyed (51 percent) say they prefer feedback in annual or quarterly doses, while two-thirds of Millennials (66 percent) say they want informal feedback monthly or weekly. So non-Millennial managers may think quarterly assessments are sufficient—but in reality, monthly check-ins would give their employees the direction they need to perform at their best. 

Why the Current Method Isn’t Effective 

When it comes to assessing prior contributions, most HR teams ask managers to check in with employees once, maybe twice a year. At that time, managers and employees fill out standardized forms and are forced to reflect on a large period of time. It has become increasingly clear that this is not the most effective way to improve performance and engagement. 

An issue with an employee may be left unresolved, and likely even forgotten, if left for a one-time check-in months later. Further, because managing happens on the fly, problems and opportunities arise at mostly unpredictable moments. Unless managers check in with their employees on an ongoing basis, they will have almost no influence on or insight into how satisfied they are, and whether they are on track to achieve their career goals. 

Problems With Eliminating Performance Reviews 

Some organizations have decided to remove standardization by eliminating performance reviews and rankings altogether, as shown by Accenture, highlighting how far HR teams are willing to go these days to fix the problem. But companies risk creating a gap in talent development when eliminating this process entirely, because the formal managerial accountability to motivate, train, and grow employees has been removed. Employee goals may lose alignment with business objectives, productivity can suffer, and frustrations may grow. 

It’s important to point out that no company completely gets rid of ratings and rankings. The act of rating involves placing employees in categories based on their value to the organization. Any time a company puts certain employees in a category that is perceived to be more beneficial than another, it has rated them. This also applies to giving out promotions, distributing merit increases based on a fixed budget, or offering a finite number of learning opportunities to the team. HR and management must work together to rate employees in a manner that is accurate, efficient, effective, and done in a way that increases employee productivity and engagement. 


How Can Talent Development Make a Manager’s Job Easier? 

Managers, HR, and talent development executives need to work together in order to recruit, develop, and retain talent. This relationship requires the full participation of all groups, augmented by newer processes and tools, with a focus on forward-looking performance management. 

No one can deny the importance of setting employee goals that are aligned to business objectives. However, rather than using performance management processes that focus solely on assessing past performance, managers can help employees accelerate performance by looking ahead at activities, achievements, and progress made toward future goals. Performance management doesn’t have to be only retrospective; it can also be proactive in driving employee development to meet specific business needs. 

The right balance between evaluation and development ensures continuous performance improvement. It is up to managers to ensure that employees stay on track by supporting regular goal alignment, providing ongoing coaching, and conducting frequent assessments. Similarly, it’s up to HR to support managers in making performance-focused conversations with their employees part of everyday work by providing tools that incorporate more mobile and collaborative capabilities. 


When a process is in place that is supported by HR, continuous feedback and more frequent conversations between managers and their employees can either augment or replace the formal performance review process. In the long run, this will save employees and managers the headache of remembering six months to a year of progress and save workers the frustration of not getting the quality, consistent performance feedback that they require. 

It’s important to note that every organization is different and there is no one-size-fits all solution—the combination of formal and informal processes and tools that makes sense for one company may not make sense for another. Some companies will find continued success with their once-a-year formal appraisal processes; others will discover that providing a framework for more frequent check-ins leads to more goals met and happier employees. It is all about looking at your organization and creating the right mix of performance management processes that work for you and that reflect your culture, values, and vision. 

Continuous Performance Management 

The expectations of the workforce are changing, and managers need to adapt to keep their best team members engaged and motivated. If not, the disconnect between how managers and employees view feedback will create frustration and lost productivity in the workplace. 

Because business is constantly changing, performance management should reflect this and adapt. By encouraging ongoing conversations rather than focusing only on once-a-year employee reviews, companies can better accommodate the future workforce. And by concentrating on upcoming projects, skills, and achievements rather than just looking at past performance, your managers will improve their teams’ future performance and your talent will continue to grow and succeed.

About the Author

Enric Gili Fort is Director, Solution Management at SAP SuccessFactors. He is currently responsible for the go-to-market strategy and execution of Performance Management solutions. Enric joined SAP in 2007 and he has held various roles in corporate strategy, product management, and product design.

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