How Performance Management is Killing Performance and What to Do About It - Book Brief

How Performance Management is Killing Performance - and What to Do About It by M. Tamra Chandler

I love M. Tamra Chandler's book How Performance Management is Killing Performance - and What to Do About It. She sets the context for why our current performance management system isn't working and lays out a strategy that you can use to redesign and reboot your process in logical, planful steps. I love her premise, supporting points and approach to rebooting the process.

I first came across her book during the research phase of a performance management reset at Southwest Airlines. Her guidance and recommendations in the book gave me plenty to consider as we tackled the shift to continuous performance management. I'll link several articles for you at the end of this one if you want to learn more about the approach we took at Southwest… because you have to finish this brief first… because I don't want you to miss out on a few tidbits from Chandler. Keep reading!

If you're new to Book Briefs, important note: Book Briefs offer talent-development specific application from business, leadership and sundry books. Not a review. Not a synopsis. Three to five bullets that you can apply to your daily Talent Development work.

I love a big, hairy, audacious, dream. You thought I was going to say "goal," right? Chandler opens up her book with the purpose behind modernizing performance management:

"…it's about creating high-performing organizations, promoting individual development, and building on the collective capabilities of a team of people" (p xiii)."

I hadn't even gotten out of the introduction and Chandler had my agreement and attention. She's exactly right. Performance management should be a tool leaders use to support the development, growth and sustained performance of their teams to such an end that it supports business objectives.

She begins her pitch with eight fatal flaws of traditional performance management systems, which drive the derision and dread that we feel during performance appraisal season. She then takes us into eight shifts we can make to modernize the system and make it a useful one. I'm highlighting two of the shifts for you to consider as you adjust the performance management system in your organization.


Fundamental shift #2: Give the Steering Wheel to your Employees

Shift from: Management-driven

Shift to: Employee-powered

Chandler challenges us to think beyond performance management in this shift. Yes, we should structure continuous performance management to be employee-driven, but she also encourages that of career development. First, she reinforces performance management: "Your best people don't want you to tell them how to do their jobs. Instead, they are looking for you to tell them where the organization is going and why. They need you to give them the tools, information, and knowledge to make the best choices and decisions on behalf of the organization" (p 33). Amen.


She then goes on to say that leaders, after setting an effective environment and providing needed resources, need to get out of the way and let employees do their thing. And if you've created a productive relationship, employees will ask when they want feedback or career development. You're an employee; I'm an employee. It's true, right? I want to know the strategy and overarching goal, then I want you to give me the tools to accomplish my work. Then let me go conquer the day. She provides further guidance to apply that mindset to career development. Provide transparency on jobs, what they are paid, and the competencies needed to be successful, and let employees drive their careers. There's no need for a complicated system. We shop Amazon just fine without tutorials and manager-support. We can figure out our career steps, given the right information.

Application: Even if you're stuck with a performance management process mandated by headquarters, how can you add in elements of employee-ownership? What about a job aid on how the process works and how to approach your leader for feedback? Or a portal where employees can access all job openings and the competencies or skills needed for each role? You may have to remind employees that they can drive their performance management experience, but they'll get the hang of it.




Fundamental Shift #7: Incent Collaboration

Shift from: Individual metrics

Shift to: Shared commitments

Not many of us work outside of a team these days. We work on projects together, each tackling a specific initiative within the bigger project or goal. Chandler encourages us to incentivize teamwork and team goals within the processes for goal setting and performance ratings. "Research shows that giving people team goals rather than just individual goals increases productivity and that it's even better if you make your individual and group goals compatible" (p 50). She also says to:

  • be clear about the results the team is focused on

  • ensure every team member can articulate those results

  • create a safe environment for teaming

  • ensure each team member knows what s/he is expected to contribute

  • ensure each team member has the capabilities to deliver on those expectations (p 51).

Remember the stages of team development: forming, storming, norming and performing? (It was developed by Bruce Tuckman, btw.) A leader's role is to help the team effectively work through the stages until they are humming, then let them do their thing.

Application: How can you coach leaders to 1) shift towards a team environment and 2) empower their teams to set group goals, then transfer them to individual goals? Can you use your existing system to capture those goals, if needed? Is there a pilot group you can work with to try a team goals approach?


The final tidbit that I'd like to highlight is a step in her redesign process.


The first Step in Rebooting Performance Management - Mobilize

She shares a five step process to reboot performance management. Let's focus on the first step: Mobilize. You'll have to pick up your own copy of the book for the other five steps - they are definitely worth it!

One step in mobilizing is getting buy-in and support from your senior leadership team. It should go without saying that they need to buy-in and care that you're proposing this shift. I think it's often not that they don't care - more that they need to be educated and have a working knowledge of why it's time to shift the process. Chandler agrees, sharing: "I think the main reason why executives frequently get left behind is that no one is willing to educate them, either because people feel that executives should already know this stuff due to the exalted role they play in the organization or because it's just too intimidating to sit down and talk openly about the drawbacks of the established ways of doing things" (p 72). She encourages us to get them thinking leveraging stories from their own career experiences, educate them on best practices and shift their focus to the future. Good stuff.

She mentions other needed steps within the mobilize phase, but let's stop here and apply.

Application: To which senior leader do you need to pitch your idea? Who's the person closest to you in that hierarchy? Keep the plan simple and start there. Garner his/her support and then work your way to the next key senior leader. Ensure you have your benchmarking and best practices ready to go. Back your ideas up with data, research and examples of success. I've found that sometimes it takes a while to plant the seed, water the seed, fertilize the seed, water it some more, etc. Oh, and build a tight PowerPoint deck. Most organizations speak in PowerPoint, so start with that and find a buddy who's good at it to help you pull it together.

In closing, let me reiterate how much I appreciate this book. It's a great read for those who want to embark upon the journey to update or implement a fresh performance management system. I highly recommend you make time to review it if that's on your docket.


Closing with Encouragement

I talk a lot about making a shift from traditional annual performance appraisals to a system better suited to today's businesses. I'd like to see you influencing those suggestions. But change is hard and takes time. It's ok to pick the best time and place within your organization to begin building your case. Find a leader who supports your approach and is willing to try out incremental changes. Apply lessons from this Book Brief and other articles to make a start. You need momentum behind you so that you are ready when you see an opportunity to pitch the case. And what if that opportunity seems a long way off? That's ok, too. You learn stuff along the way, improving your personal value as a talent development pro, while also supporting your organization.

When you're ready to learn more, check out these articles on continuous performance management and the approach engaged at Southwest:


Carry on, Friends.



Endnote: Chandler, M. Tamra. How Performance Management is Killing Performance - and What to Do About It. Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc. 2016.