High Performance Organizations Strive for an Ideal World

As an advisor to executives on how to increase their organization’s performance by being more effective at managing the human side of their business, one of my jobs is to keep up with research, trends, and other issues that can be used to help them achieve success.  As a result, I subscribe to and read a number of magazines, journals, reports, articles, newsletters, and other sources of information, both in print and electronic format.  Depending on the time of year, some topics seem to recycle on a predictable basis, while others seem to simply ebb and flow, depending on the “flavor of the month.”  Sometimes those flavors seem to hang on for a very long time, or they keep recycling in new forms.  One of those topics is performance appraisals.

On Wednesday I received three different newsletters in my e-mail inbox, all about performance appraisals.  Two were about different approaches to make performance appraisals better.  Well, actually the third was about that same thing, too, but while I tend to almost immediately trash most of these e-mails, this one caught my attention.  It began with a callout quote from within the article that said “In an ideal world, managers would manage performance throughout the year, offer timely and consistent feedback, and ensure that both goals and feedback were aligned with and supported organizational goals.”  Yes!  Definitely!  This is exactly what should be happening.  Surely this article would be different!  Alas, it was not to be.  As I began to read the article it went on to essentially state that organizations and managers didn’t work in an ideal world, despite the fact that ongoing performance management would certainly lead to more engaged employees.  So since we were not in an ideal world we should stop trying to “ditch” (their words) this “archaic ritual” (my words) of performance appraisals and find a way to make the process work.

The problem with this approach is that we continue to promote a practice that no one likes to do, is non-motivating for most employees, demotivating for many, and, worse, actually does not provide any impact on the organization’s performance level.  After over 10 years of research and over 1000 research documents reviewed on what drives performance in organizations, I have yet to find a single source that shows that annual performance reviews actually impact organizational performance.  Isn’t it time to stop making excuses for and trying to come up with reasons to keep this archaic approach and help managers move on to a 21st century approach to managing performance?

That is exactly what the best organizations do.  They create their “ideal world” by creating real-time objective performance measures that allow employees to track their own performance on a regular, ongoing basis.  These individual measures come from the cascading of goals from the organization’s goals and measures, insuring that work is aligned with and accomplishes those things that achieve the organizational goals.  They realign managers’ duties to include frequent and ongoing performance coaching of employees, encouraging employees in their performance, and helping employees to uncover problems and identify developmental opportunities.  These high performance organizations insure that the performance coaching duties, i.e., their leadership role (see Manager vs. Leader), is their most important or primary role.  And they don’t waste time and resources and create negative emotions on a process that provides no value to the organization, like annual performance appraisals.

This isn’t the world of the ideal; it is the world of the high performance organization.  To not do these things and offer excuses for managers not managing performance throughout the year, not offering timely and consistent feedback, and not ensuring that both goals and feedback are aligned with and supporting organizational goals is not living in the “real world,” but it is living in the world of mediocrity.  By definition, most organizations live in mediocrity.

Keep in mind that the best organizations don’t just do things differently; they do different things.  So they don’t make excuses and try to come up with better ways to do performance appraisals; the same things, just differently.  They find different things that actually manage and improve organizational performance.  High performance organizations simply strive for something better, and are not satisfied until they rise above the world of mediocrity and achieve their “ideal world.


To learn more about how your organization can rise above mediocrity, keep an eye out for Gary’s new book “Rising Above Mediocrity: The Path to Performance,” which is scheduled to be released later in 2014.  Or contact us for more information.