Here we go again – the ritual of performance management and appraisal. It should all be so simple. Get together, agree what needs to be done and how it should be done and then keep an eye on progress. What’s complicated about this? Implement a nice new system to keep the records straight and we are all happy.

Ok, so why does running a performance management system so often decay into a ritual that costs a lot but delivers very little? I see three, big issues:

The first problem is about forgetting: forgetting that performance is as much about a relationship as a process. Delighted with all the features and sophistication that we have built into our new system, we overlook the single point of failure – the people involved. I’ll explore this in more detail in my next blog.

The next issue involves denial. If performance management is really about consistency, control, predictability and justification for differential pay awards, perhaps we should admit this. Possibly the worst thing we did in HR is link pay and appraisal together. The next worse thing is being downright disingenuous about what we are doing.

The third issue is about over simplification and magical thinking. No amount of polishing can turn a fundamental problem into a glowing example of excellence. Poor role design, lack of resources, lack of training and rotten selection decisions lie behind many performance problems. People can end up as the pawns in a broken system and facing up to systemic issues is a brave move.

Lastly, borrowing other people’s systems isn’t always a good idea. People are not components in a machine and quite rightly feel uncomfortable being processed in a mechanical fashion. Just because a gleaming performance system appears to work in one place, it doesn’t follow that it will work in another and worse still, because pay and promotion is often involved you won’t get candid feedback on the shortcomings of the system. It’s much more likely that you will experience passive aggression, half-hearted compliance or a weary shrug of the shoulders and what performance management system needs that as an outcome?

Next time – spanners in the works: the vexed question of people!





Chris leads Serco Consulting’s Organisational Psychology and Change service line and is a Chartered member of the CIPD, a member of the British Psychological Society (BPS) and the European Coaching and Mentoring Council (EMCC) and an experienced management consultant and coach.

He holds a BSc. (Hons) in Psychology, an MA in Law and Employment Relations (Dist.), post graduate qualifications in Business and Executive Coaching and has over 20 years of HRM experience.