Author: Kai Donesa


Performance management is the Achilles Heel of HR.  It remains a contentious process that many companies have now abandoned, or at least are thinking of abandoning. A tool initially intended to communicate management objectives and keep the work of staff aligned throughout the year has now evolved into a dreaded exercise that just further leads to a disengaged workforce. With its rigid design and lack of adaptability, the traditional performance management approach has left many questioning its effectiveness. But without it, organizations are deprived of the feedback system needed between management and staff.  Sure, you can abandon performance reviews, but before you do that, check with your lawyers to see if it’s a good idea.  They will probably suggest that it is not.

Clearly, performance management is broken.  Let’s explore why it’s broken and look at some ways to fix it.

The Failure of Cascading Objectives

In classic performance management, the broader company objectives provide the framework which is cascaded into the different departments and then finally delivered as individual objectives to staff. While this may certainly sound like a logical approach, many find the entire process confusing, subjective, and frustrating.

One of the biggest issues with the cascading objectives approach is that it is a one-sided conversation. Many employees, especially at the lower levels, find it difficult to understand the goals set out for them by management with respect to their actual roles. Since the approach does not allow the goals of the staff to be centered around their jobs, there is often a disconnect between what the employee is hired to do in the first place versus what they are asked to accomplish by the end of the year.

Another issue with the cascading objectives approach is that the process does not allow for much flexibility. Strategic goals established by management at the beginning of the year can easily change after some time. But classic performance management tools can be difficult to use, and executives are often reluctant to update their goals and go through the entire process again.

Finally, because managing cascading objectives is so time-consuming, running the exercise always requires extensive monitoring by HR. The problem with this top-down approach is t takes too much time.  By the time the process reaches lower-level staff, the allotted timeframe for the entire exercise has already passed.

With these challenges, it is easy to see why many organizations have chosen to give up on performance management entirely. But before you throw in the towel, shouldn’t you consider some alternatives? 

What if we tell you that there is a better approach? One that brings the entire performance management exercise back to what it was originally meant to measure – results.  Introducing Community™ Performance from Birches Group.

Why Do You Need Performance Management, Anyway?

Community™ Performance

In our article about pay for performance, we highlighted the key differences between recognizing employee growth in their job and rewarding employee achievement. The former is focused on measuring the accumulation of skills and knowledge in staff as they become more expert in their job roles.  This growth should be recognized through pay movement.  Employee achievements, on the other hand, should be measured and rewarded with one-time recognition through bonuses or other, similar tools.

Like the performance of the stock market, past achievement does not guarantee future achievement.  Therefore, performance should not be the basis for salary movement. Instead, achievements attained during the performance year should be celebrated and rewarded relative to that year.

Linking Performance to Purpose

One of the most glaring flaws of classic performance management is that it sets goals for staff that are often irrelevant to their jobs. Birches Group’s Community approach to performance management centers its expectations on performance to the actual definition of the job level. While specific initiatives set for each job may change year after year, the purpose of the job level remains the same.

Going back to Community’s approach that jobs at every grade level can be evaluated using only three factors – Purpose, Engagement, and Delivery – the same can be used to measure performance by simply asking three questions:

  • Purpose – Does the employee have good ideas?
  • Engagement – Did they listen and adapt to customer feedback?
  • Delivery – Did they deliver on time with high levels of quality?

Using an approach that measures achievement by linking it back to the job evaluation factors, this provides organizations a performance management system that is standardized, simplified, and can easily align with objectives across different grade levels and teams.

When the focus of measuring achievement becomes purpose-driven, employees will better understand how their objectives contribute to the overall mission of the organization, resulting to a more engaged and motivated workforce. Equally, this can allow employees the responsibility for setting their own initiatives in a way that contributes to the organization’s strategic priorities giving them ownership of their own performance.

Focusing on the Good

In traditional performance management, only the achievements of high performers are celebrated often causing the rest of the staff to feel demotivated and ignored. Because it uses a five-level rating system, many see the Achieve rating as inadequate. But the fact is most staff in an organization are reliable and satisfactory performers – those that deliver what is expected of them in a performance year. If most of the staff were able to carry out their jobs effectively by the end of the year, why only reward the achievements of an exceptional few?

Through Community Performance, we believe that achievement should be connected to reliable and satisfactory performance – celebrating the many good performers that are able to Achieve their primary purpose. Instead of a five-level rating system, we have developed a four-level rating system where there is only one level above Achieving the primary purpose of the job. This way, outstanding accomplishments achieved by an exceptionally few high performers during the year can be rated accordingly, but still allowing majority of staff to be rewarded.

360° Performance

Classic performance management applies a top-down approach where only the direct supervisor provides feedback on an employee’s performance. While it is the supervisor that would be familiar with the work of their staff, allowing for only one perspective can create room for partiality.

Additionally, the standards used in classic performance management has not always been clearly defined, making it possible to have differing interpretations among supervisors leading to inconsistent ratings despite similar levels of performance among some of the employees.

Our Community performance management approach allows for multi-rater perspectives. By applying our 360° feedback from the supervisor, peers, and external clients, this gives depth to the assessment and allows for a more holistic and objective outlook of one’s performance.

Traditional performance management has left many organizations confused and frustrated. But measuring performance remains essential to good workforce management. It provides an opportunity to link everyone’s contribution to the success of the organization. Rather than giving up on performance management, Birches Group is here to help your organization provide structure and clarity. Contact us to learn more.

Bianca manages our Marketing Team in Manila. She crafts messaging around Community™ concepts and develops promotional campaigns answering why Community™ should be each organization’s preferred solution, focusing on its simplicity and integrated approach. She has held various roles within Birches Group since 2009, starting as a Compensation Analyst and worked her way to Compensation Team Lead, and Training Program Services Manager. In addition to her current role in marketing and communications, she represents Birches Group in international HR conferences with private sector audiences.