Continuous MonitoringThe Core of Performance Management

Divya Singh

Fairy tale mostly ends with a good ending …. prince and princess lived happily ever after… This is what every HR professional could dream of a perfect story when it comes down to Performance Management as well. There is no doubt that Performance Management is a crucial function of HR that looks as perfect in theory as in fairy tales, yet there is a huge gap when it comes to practice. 

Let’s first have a quick understanding of what performance means. There are different schools of thought on what are we measuring when we say ‘Performance’? As per Brumbach “Performance means both result and behavior…………………”. Work-related objectives/targets are results, while job-related competencies are behavior. One common example of ‘result’ could be sales targets for sales professionals, and that of ‘behavior’ could be good interpersonal skills in the case of HR professionals. It is entirely up to an organization to define ‘Performance’. Some could prioritize the result, some could focus on behavior and some could agree with Brumbach on combining both result and behavior. So, when we say goal setting in the first step i.e., the planning phase in Performance Management, it could mean both result and/or behavior. 

Also, let’s quickly look at what does Performance Management process looks like. Referring to the model of Michael Armstrong, Performance Management has a cycle of Plan-Act-Monitor-Review.

All four steps are equally important for effective performance management. However, I want to highlight here the monitor step, which is continuous in nature and which seems to be mostly ignored.

Let’s look at one scenario-an employee has already set goals mutually with his/her supervisor at the year beginning in the planning phase. The employee may be struggling to deliver as per the set goals. In such a scenario, is it not the responsibility of the supervisor or line manager to quickly check or simply talk with his or her team member about how he/she is doing? An individual employee might hesitate to do a conversation with his/her supervisor for the fear of being judged as an underperformer. So, it is actually the responsibility and proactiveness of the supervisor or line manager to initiate such a conversation. For this, the supervisor does not require any instruction from HR or management.

No doubt, the HR department and upper-level management play an important role in creating a culture of regular performance-related conversations throughout the organization. However, the main onus of building such a culture of one-to-one dialogue lies with the immediate supervisor or line manager. Also, such ongoing conversations can be informal in nature. And, an individual employee will feel less threatening in such an informal setting compared to formal reviews. 

When there is such regular conversation, there will not be surprises at the year-end. There might be confusion on whether this third step of monitoring and the fourth step of review is the same or different. Let’s have a quick clarity on this. Managing performance throughout the year in the form of continuous monitoring, giving continuous feedback and deciding on action is a monitoring step, which has an intention of continuously improving employees’ performance. Whereas, the review is formal in nature, as there is a formal feedback session and formal documentation requirement as designed and instructed by HR. Also, the review step has an administrative purpose in terms of decision-making on the final assessment/rating and rewards such as salary increment and promotion. 

There are lots of benefits of having continuous monitoring in place; various issues of performance problems as listed below could be found.  

Unclear goals – Even though an individual employee set goals mutually with his/her supervisor, an individual might face confusion while working. When there is an ongoing conversation, the individual and supervisor can work out together on bringing clarity. The supervisor should be easily accessible for guidance. In some scenarios, there might be a need to modify goals as well. 

Changes in the external environment– External environmental forces can also be one of the reasons behind failure to achieve desired goals. The COVID-19 scenario can be a good example of this. In such a scenario also, goal modification could be required.

Lack of competencies– Another obvious reason for performance problems could be the lack of required competencies-knowledge and skills to deliver the set goals. Assigned goals could be a new project, which requires a different set of competencies. Appropriate training and development methods can be identified in conversation with HR to fill this gap. 

Lack of motivation– An individual might have all the competencies, yet might lack the willingness to deliver. This issue can be treated by talking with individuals and one-to-one counseling.

Personal issues -Also, some personal issues could be holding down an individual to perform. Such issues could be found only if there is an in-depth conversation and trust between employee and supervisor.

Proper regular monitoring could give the right inputs for the continuous development of employees. In the above examples, guidance by the supervisor, job-related knowledge and skill-based training, and counseling are some examples of developing employees.

Because of ongoing conversations in the monitoring step, employees and supervisors feel more comfortable during the formal review step as well. This is because giving and receiving feedback has become part of an organization’s culture because of ongoing conversations. Else, both employee and line manager could have perceived review or feedback session as stressful and overwhelming when it happens only annually or less frequently.

Not only continuous monitoring could treat performance problems timely, but it can also identify high performers. In order to motivate high performers, the organization can introduce reward and recognition mechanisms in practice. It could be simple initiatives such as certificate of appreciation, circular in employee portals, all staffs’ congratulation mail, thank you notes, etc. Appreciation in any form goes a long way in reinforcing good work and creating high-performance work culture.

Continuous monitoring has lots of benefits. However, many of us might have ignored it, as this requires the line manager to invest a significant amount of time. Also, startups or small organizations could be wondering whether such a continuous process of performance management is worth or not. In reality, such practice of regular conversations can be implemented more easily in a small team. And, it’s always thoughtful to introduce the good practice in a small team, as this will be part of the organization’s culture when it grows.

Many international companies have also given importance to regular monitoring. One such good example is that of Adobe, which has abolished formal reviews and introduced ‘Check in’, which is a regular dialogue between employee and supervisor. In the words of Adobe employees, they love transparent feedback and instant ongoing conversation; they do not want to go back to the earlier method. Because of regular feedback, employees know where they stand.

Having timely, honest and regular feedback helps in improving one’s performance. This can be accentuated more by the words of former CEO of GE, Jack Welch, “There’s nothing crueler than telling someone who is doing a mediocre job that he or she is doing well. Someone who might have had the chance to correct bad behavior or find appropriate vocation may instead spend years in a dead situation, only to have to leave when a more demanding boss comes along.”

We have heard that line managers are HR managers for their respective departments. But, in reality, HR professionals are made responsible for the ineffectiveness of Performance Management. The main role of HR in performance management is to devise proper processes, to make line managers capable of carrying out performance management and to seek feedback from various internal stakeholders in improving the process. Whereas, the line managers or immediate supervisors are the main actors in implementation. And, management plays the role of guardian in supporting HR as well as a role model in implementing the process for his/her team members. Hence, it should be a continuous and combined effort from HR, management and line manager in creating effective performance management.

In practice, the organization has some ways of incorporating the planning phase of performance management in the form of objectives/targets or some performance indicators/standards in the job description itself. Also, many organizations have formal review/feedback sessions, final assessment/rating and finally, reward mechanisms such as salary increment & promotion. However, the third step of continuous monitoring seems to be missed out, which could be one of the strongest reasons for the ineffectiveness of performance management. Isn’t it wonderful to realize that both underperformers and high performers can be taken care of when there is a continuous monitoring process in place? Then, why not initiate such a simple yet powerful step in taking care of your employees?

Divya Singh is a Visiting Faculty Member at King’s College and an HR professional.

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