5 Keys to Building a Human-Centric Performance Management Process

— April 7, 2017

Putting the human into human resources can be challenging.


Even with modern orientation and on-boarding practices, performance evaluations, management training sessions, and a solid reward system, it can still feel like a cold, sterile environment, as opposed to one that fosters engagement and growth.


Comments like “Our people are our greatest asset,” and “People are the heart of our organization,” sound good and make us feel good, but if the processes, systems, and frameworks we put in place don’t match that sentiment, they’re just words.


But you can align these sentiments with the systems you develop, and it’s easier to accomplish than you might think. Here are five keys you can begin implementing today to support a more human-centric performance management process:


Build Genuine Relationships


A 2014 survey conducted by Deloitte Consulting found that 58 percent of the executives questioned, (using a sample of nearly 600), believed that their current performance management strategy does not increase employee engagement or improve employee performance.


This is a sad statistic when you consider many of these business leaders were undoubtedly allocating significant resources toward those strategies.


From the pioneers in performance management processes like Max Weber and Chester Barnard to motivation-hygiene theorist, Fredrick Herzberg to Douglas McGregor’s theory X and Y, and Peter Drucker — all have reorganized, tweaked and even reinvented performance management in attempts to develop a near-perfect process, and bring out the best performance in people.


While many of the new strategies offered today in countless books on performance management have some qualities that can be gleaned and applied, most of them can be boiled down to the relationships that are built between your organization and its people.


The American Psychological Association (APA) conducted an online survey of 1,714 adults in 2012 and found that, “Employees who feel valued are more likely to report better physical and mental health, as well as higher levels of engagement, satisfaction and motivation, compared to those who do not feel valued by their employers.”


The survey revealed that contributing factors to feeling undervalued included:



  • Having fewer opportunities for involvement in decision making.
  • Being less satisfied with the potential for growth and advancement.
  • Inadequate monetary compensation.
  • Lack of non-monetary rewards.
  • Few opportunities for flexible work arrangements.

In an Entrepreneur Magazine article, Andre Lavoie lists five simple things managers can do to show the love. These include welcoming new hires, publicly recognizing achievements, and setting aside time for employees. But the one that captures the essence of them all is taking an interest in the employee as a person.


People work for various reasons, but the main one is usually to earn an income. Try to think beyond that, and understand why they’re at your workplace.


What is the income for? Are they taking care of six children or a sick parent? Are they saving for a boat? What are their hobbies?


Many managers can’t answer these questions. In many work environments, managers may just as well manage robots because they will obey commands, and the manager doesn’t have to build relationships with them.


So how are some of the world’s most successful people-centric organizations approaching this?


According to one of the Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM) Foundation’s Effective Practice Guidelines Series (2012), “Building a High-Performance Culture: A Fresh Look at Performance Management,” the Top Eight Habits of Highly Effective Google Managers are:



  • Be a good coach.
  • Empower your team, and do not micromanage.
  • Express interest in team members’ personal success and well-being.
  • Don’t be shy; be productive and results-oriented.
  • Communicate and listen to your team.
  • Help your employees with career development.
  • Express a clear vision and strategy for the team.
  • Demonstrate technical skills so you can help advise the team.

Seven out of the eight are all about the team. It is all about the people—their concerns, their skills, their success.


Prioritize Psychological Safety


There are myriad benefits to developing an environment of psychological safety.


Where there is psychological safety, fear of failure diminishes. It builds, encourages, nurtures, trains, teaches, and provides a platform for employees to excel. Fear is driven out so creativity has a place to live and grow.


W. Edwards Deming, considered to be the father of quality control in Japan, believed that most quality problems are not the fault of employees, but of the organization’s system.


Listed as number eight in his famous 14-point plan for improving quality is:


Drive out fear of expressing ideas and concerns. It will only strengthen your team and your organization.


Check-In Before Checking Out


Many of the big successful firms are abandoning traditional performance reviews. Dell, Microsoft, IBM, Adobe, General Electric and the Gap are all doing away with a system that has been broken, but embraced due to traditional habit.


Formal annual performance reviews are outdated. The system of giving Susan a 2, and everyone else a 3 on a five-point scale simply does nothing to improve performance.


At best, the annual performance review is just a holding place for employee raises. At worst, it’s a justification for rewarding friends and keeping everyone else at mediocre performance levels.


According to a Harvard Business Review article, “The Performance Management Revolution,” the biggest limitation to annual reviews is that it places a heavy emphasis on financial rewards and punishments that holds people accountable for past behavior at the expense of improving current and future performance.


Instead of setting an annual date for review, why not check in with team members on a regular basis? Informal rather than formal chats about an employee’s performance at regular intervals provides for an opportunity at course correction in real time.


Similarly to the Hawthorne experiment of the 1920s and 30s, regularly checking in on an employee creates a feeling of sincerity, trust, and caring for the employee. It doesn’t always have to be a face-to-face meeting, though that would be preferred.


Utilizing communication platforms, video chat, or a workflow organizing tool such as Trello can assist managers in communicating to employees during time constraints.


The key is to review performance and provide feedback regularly, and use your established relationship to comfortably discuss an action plan and next steps.


Recognition, Not Just Rewards


Unfortunately, many employees today aren’t feeling appreciated. They feel that even after giving their best, their efforts are frequently ignored.


According to a Gallup Analysis, only one in three workers in the US strongly agree that they received recognition or praise for doing good work in the past seven days.


There are various forms of recognition, but the one rated as the highest isn’t formal recognition. Instead it is informal recognition that employees value the most. These inexpensive, yet highly motivating moments of recognition help to encourage team members and increase engagement in their work.


Recognizing the work of an employee can take place at their desk, surprising them at lunch, on a big screen in the common area, or simply shaking his or her hand and thanking them as they leave for the day.


It is not always how or what is given in recognition, but that they are recognized.


Be generous with praise. Be generous in general. Empower and encourage your peers to do the same. That generosity will pay back massive dividends. Organizational psychologist Adam Grant offered easy to implement strategies for cultivating a culture of generosity in a recent TED talk:



Keep It Simple


The final key to building a human-centric performance management process is to remember to keep processes simple.


The corporate world’s performance management process has evolved into a tightly woven, tangled mess with a small percentage of companies breaking free from its bond.


Zappos, Google, Adobe, and many other progressive organizations have shaken off the shackles of tradition and found new ways of increasing employee engagement and improving performance.


A key ingredient that these companies have found is that simple is better. Some organizations have torn down the walls, (literally) and broke down barriers to communication.


Flat systems without managerial titles have seemed to work for some while others have found success in liberating employees to be creative and even encouraging failure, with the thought that if team members have the freedom to fail, they will create more successful products and services.


Not every change will work, but it is worth making adjustments and then monitoring to see if what you implemented will work. Solicit candid feedback, then make more adjustments, tweaking as needed with always a focus on making things simpler and more human-friendly.

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