An article in this month’s Harvard Business Review (Reinventing Performance Management by Marcus Buckingham and Ashley Goodall) argues for a fundamental shift in our thinking about performance management, asking managers what they would do in future with a team member rather than what they think about their past performance.

The traditional view of management focuses managers on getting people to implement a set of planned tasks.  To the extent that people perform as expected, we see them as good; if not, we see them as a problem.  The focus is on task performance.  This makes sense if you see people as resources to be allocated to perform clearly defined tasks by established methods.  It makes less sense if you expect anything more from them, such as judgement or creativity.

The new approach to performance management these authors propose requires managers to focus on what they would do with the team member based on their performance: reward them, invite them onto their next project, promote them, or flag them as at risk of poor performance.  This means seeing, recognising and fuelling performance by focusing on what people have done to deliver results and thinking about how to build their capabilities.

This shift has three principal components.  Firstly, it means concentrating on people first, then on the task, rather than the other way round.  Secondly, it means identifying, recognising and celebrating what has gone well and the corresponding strengths people have demonstrated, rather than on gaps and weaknesses that need to be ‘corrected’: focusing on the positive rather than the negative.  Finally, it means directing our efforts to building on those strengths for the future, rather than justifying our evaluation of the past.

We think it’s worth a try, and we are planning to revamp our own approach to performance management accordingly. We’ll let you know how we get on!