Drucker published ‘The Practice of Management’ in 1954. Soon, the concept of the annual performance plan and appraisal was born – so-called Performance Management. Many variations have been developed but that core process exists, unchanged in corporate beliefs.

But, did it deliver what was promised? No! There is little, if any, evidence of true cause and effect. One significant flaw was believing that managers are in control of individuals. In the 1950s and 60s employees largely expected to be told what to do, when to do it, and how to do it. It was the “I depend on you” era. But, that has changed.

In the 60s, we saw dramatic growth in communications – TV, pirate radio, music – and social disobedience. The era of ‘we depend on each other’ came. By the late 70s and into the 80s, participation, involvement, teamwork and empowerment characterised how we worked. Rather than change performance management, organisations supplemented it with Quality Circles, Focus Groups and other team-based activities. Only the most radical introduced Self-Appraisal or 360 Degree Feedback.

John Adair (of Action Centred Leadership fame) argued that to optimise performance, a manager/leader had to focus on three things; Task, Team and Individual. He identified eight functions needed for success with only two of those – defining the task (planning) and evaluating (appraisal) – existing in most Performance Management processes. During this era, we sought to work with our manager because we both felt we needed each other.

The arrival of the Internet in 1991 and the rapid growth in accessibility of information triggered the current “I can find it, learn it, do it myself – I am independent” era. The more exponential growth in mobile devices has further strengthened this social shift. Many question why there is a rapidly decreasing respect for authority, the elderly, the more educated etc. It’s not generational. The answer is simple; we don’t need them anymore.

We are now seeing world-wide social unrest, different to the group protests of the 60s and 70s. The Arab Spring has seen few leaders or organised groups emerge. Even the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street movements in the USA lack leaders or group organisation. All the contemporary activities are characterised by people feeling that they have individual power and the ability to change things. We have to look after ourselves when the chips are down!

And, technology is helping. We can now equip ourselves with mobile devices and Internet access. We can even establish connections and work together without true interpersonal skills – over three out of five people now even find partners through the Internet! Even our methods of training leaders and managers have evolved and we now use distance learning, micro-learning, e-learning and so on; all methods that lack the fundamental element of equipping individuals with the skills to interact emotionally and interpersonally with each other. We just share information continuously (it is common now to use mobile devices in the church, cinema, restaurant, even in the toilet and in bed!) and information is power.

Yet, despite the above, our PM processes still stay the same. But, not for long!

The combination of (a), a virtually limitless access to information, (b), the ability to connect with virtually anyone almost instantly and (c), the growing sense of individual power, will lead to change:

  • Leaders will be responsible for keeping all staff continuously up-to-date on goals, strategies and priorities through mobile, network, fixed multi-media and other devices.
  • Management will also be effected largely by technology. PM technology will be the tool that is used hour-by-hour by all staff to help get the right things done.
  • But, there will still be a few managers who specialise in taking actions ‘to investigate, plan, enable and/or make things happen’.
  • Putting aside the obvious highly repetitive jobs there will be pools of Agile Staff. They will be categorised by their skills (e.g., project management; financial analysis; technical skills), what they can do efficiently and effectively) and their beliefs and values (personal motivation for doing those types of tasks and their fit with the organisation’s culture) not by their roles.
  • Agile Staff (that includes leaders and managers) will be commissioned by managers who need them, when they need them. Many of them will be contingent workers, not employees.
  • Agile Staff will act largely independently and will discuss issues amongst themselves. Often-times, these discussions will lead to performance commitments or ‘objectives’ as we now know them. These will be recorded immediately by one or both of the participants and these mini-contracts will become integral components of their performance plans and form a spider’s web of inter-connected plans.
  • Each individual will have a continuously evolving performance plan comprising (a), what they have committed to achieve, (b), how they need to go about achieving it and (c), the growth they need to achieve.
  • Leaders and managers will have oversight of these ‘Spider Plans’ but will only intervene on a case-by-case basis when alignment & contribution or standards and progress need adjusting respectively.
  • Agile Staff will continuously maintain a record of (a), agreements – from and to themselves, (b), the identities of ‘interested others’ and their roles in the agreements, (c), evidence-based progress against each element in any plan and (d), feedback to and assessments of others – on achievements, behaviours, etc – for whom they are an ‘interested other’.
  • Leaders will be responsible ensuring individual optimal performance by identifying factors that inhibit personal motivation and taking steps to fix them.
  • Leaders and managers will be able to monitor performance plans and intervene on a case-by-case basis when necessary. Primarily, they will maintain the vision, alignment and commitment and ensure maintenance of plans, standards and progress respectively.
  • Assessments will be continuously added to, and updated, by any ‘interested party’ to any element of any performance plan. Significant changes will be triggered by, or will trigger, conversations about performance with the appropriate parties.

– Formal evaluations or appraisals will be snap-shots of the prevailing data. No longer will managers become historians for a week writing their own largely fictional version of what they thought happened.
– Technology will provide feedback and guidance to all users on how to optimise data quality, process compliance and individual performance and development. It will prompt leaders and managers to interact with others based on the content of the plans and assessments, changes to them and process compliance data.
Long live Performance Management.

The Author
Clinton Wingrove, EVP and Principal Consultant at Pilat HR Solutions