strategy resources

Performance management is dead

Performance management doesn’t work.

Imagine having a quarterly review with your child instead of an in-the-moment conversation about their behaviour. It wouldn’t work. In fact, it would actually cause more damage because all you would do is look at their past, go over what they did wrong and what they should fix, then give them a rating out of 5. There is no learning or motivation in that, so why do we do it for adults?

People need to be held accountable for delivering results and there needs to be consequences for not delivering. That’s a fact. Why do you think car rental companies charge such high fees when people don’t fill up their cars before returning them? Because they’re not in the business of filling up cars with fuel. They need to hold people accountable or it won’t be done.

People also need to be recognised for the right behaviours and rewarded as such. Why do you think friends compliment each other when they put in the effort to eat healthily and exercise regularly? Because those are the behaviours that will lead to results and they need to be reinforced. We need to be acknowledged when we do the right things in order to do more of them.

Forget performance management. Performance accountability is what works. Hold people accountable to results and focus on improving performance in the future by reinforcing the right behaviours now. That works.

Here’s a simple tool I learned from Dave Ulrich. Imagine a 2×2 matrix of Outcomes (what is accomplished) vs. Behaviours (how work is done).

⭐️ Top-Right. Good Outcome, Right Behaviour = Success

– Generously reward people for accomplishing the right thing in the right way.

???? Top-Left. Bad Outcome, Right Behaviour = Take-A-Risk

– They may not have achieved the desired outcome, but they got there in the right way. Tolerate the failure and take this as an opportunity to reflect and learn in order to grow.

???? Bottom-Right. Good Outcome, Wrong Behaviour = Unsustainable

– These are isolated incidents that got the result but not in the right way (imagine a salesperson making exaggerated promises to get the deal). These might lead to short-term wins but will damage the culture or reputation over time.

❌ Bottom-Left. Bad Outcome, Wrong Behaviour = Change or Leave

– Candid conversations in real-time help employees avoid hitting this low bar.

Being a manager means managing people, not managing performance. Be clear about the results you want them to achieve and hold them accountable for those results. Pay attention to how they do their work and have conversations with them in the moment so they can learn how to improve. Then reward people who accomplish good outcomes in the right ways.

Performance management is dead. Long live performance accountability.