How Performance Management Is Killing Performance — and What to Do About It: A book review by Bob Morris

How Performance ManagementHow Performance Management Is Killing Performance — and What to Do About It
M. Tamra Chandler
Berrett-Koehler Publishers (2016)

“Most of what we call management consists of making it difficult for people to get their work done.” Peter Drucker

Years ago, John Kotter told me during an interview that the most difficult change to achieve is changing how people think about change. It is also necessary to think innovatively about innovation, especially when attempting to transform government.

In this context, I am again reminded of the fact that, in 1865, a German physicist, Rudolph Clausius (1822-1888), coined the term entropy during his research on heat. The word’s meaning “a turning towards” (in Greek, en+tropein), “content transformative” or “transformative content.” Claudius used the concept to establish a mathematical foundation for the second law of thermodynamics: without the injection of free energy, all systems tend to move (however gradually) from order to disorder, if not to chaos.

In Leading Change, Jim O’Toole suggests that the strongest resistance to change seems to be cultural in nature, the result of what he so aptly characterizes as “the ideology of comfort and the tyranny of custom.”

In this book’s Foreword, Dave Ulrich observes, “Performance management faces a major paradox. On the one hand, employees and managers all recognize, and studies confirm, that it is the most loathed HR practice…On the other hand, accountability matters. Not all employees perform well on all tasks; employees often have differentiated performance; and employees often judge themselves by their intent (which is often positive) more than by their outcomes (which may not be)…So performance management faces a conundrum. Don’t do any performance management, and accountability sloughs and performance lags; keep building complicated processes, and the process breaks and performance lags.”

What to do and how to do it?

Tamara Chandler wrote this book in order to answer that question. More specifically, she recommends and thoroughly explains a five-phrase collaboration between supervisors and their direct reports:

1. Mobilize: Formulate a tentative plan (with spec office objectives) and review it with participants
2. Sketch: Collaborate on revisions and determine how best to proceed
3. Configure: Adopt/adapt the performance solution
4. Build: Create content, change/adjust, obtain data, and initiate
5. Implement: Roll-out, obtain buy-in, revise as-needed

Even if everyone shares the same compelling vision of performance management, they should keep Thomas Edison’s insight in mind: “Vision without action is hallucination.” Yes, performance management is more difficult today than at any prior time that I can remember. Yes, the global market is volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous. And yes, on average, less than 30% of a U.S. workforce is positively and productively engaged. And yes again, accountability is imperative at all levels and in all areas of the given enterprise.

Chandler takes these and other considerations into full account. Here’s her challenge to readers: “Use this book to help you re-think the not-so-good parts [of your current performance management solution] and to shift the role that HR plays in your organization’s processes to something that’s both more fun for you and your colleagues and more valued by those you support. Your HR team can move away from policing and overseeing what’s likely to be a counterproductive, frustrating process to becoming designers of great tools and content for your managers and your people.”

These are among the dozens of passages of greatest interest and value to me, also listed to suggest the scope of Chandler’s coverage:

o Fundamental shifts (Pages 30, 32, 33-36, 39-42, 42-46, 46-49, 49-51, and 54-55)
o Case Study: Leading the Leaders (71-74)
o Sketch Your Frame against the Three Common Goals (91-95 and 105-107)
o Worksheets for design (92-95 and 180-183)
o Testing your configuration (105-107)
o Case Study: (109-115)
o Configure phase (111-113 and 117-123)
o Case Study: (123-129)
o Case Study: (130-135)
o Making the case for change (153-156)
o Planning your design: Sustainability (157-161)
o Communication objectives to change (167-171)
o Custom design principles (173-179)
o Sketchpads for configuration (193-197)

All organizational changes are best viewed as a journey rather than as a destination. There are two never-ending processes that are separate but interdependent: creation of something new and making something better. However different they may be in many (if not most) respects, all of the healthiest organizations have effective communication, cooperation, and especially, collaboration. They also have a workplace culture within which personal growth and professional development are most likely to thrive. Values-driven, collaborative performance management in these organizations ensures their “wellness.”

Obviously, no brief commentary such as mine can possibly do full justice the to scope and quality of the material that Tamra Chandler provides in this book. However, I hope that I have at least indicated why I think so highly of it. If your organization is showing flu-like symptoms such as toxic performance management and you need help with making it healthy, look no further.

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