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Performance Management: HR’s Achilles’ heel

The objective of setting up and managing performance systems in organisations is to improve employee performance and to drive growth and profitability. Unfortunately, many performance management systems are rarely effective. Part of the reason for this inefficacy is that, most companies get the goal setting process wrong. In spite of numerous efforts at teaching SMART goal setting, the fact still remains that, companies rarely set effective goals. Whilst some have generally attributed this slack to the vagueness characteristic of humans, others think, people just have a tendency of not planning to be successful. Another part for the inefficacy of performance management systems arises out of the fact that, companies spend laborious time focusing on performance appraisal and little or no time at all, managing performance. They spend resources improving measuring standards and appraisal systems with the intent of improving individual and business performance yet miss out on the truth that, performance management is a daily improvement process of shaping behaviour and reforming attitudes that militate against performance and not a cyclical ritual of telling people how lazy they are and how often they report to work late. If we will improve performance, we need to have an everyday improvement mindset and not settle for the twice-a-year evaluation model we are used to. What is worrying is that, whilst everyone agrees we are in the company to enhance performance, what we don’t do is to invest in the tools and processes that will deliver that high performing culture we all hope for. Most companies have reduced a strategic activity as building a high performance culture to a burdensome administrative drill of appraising performance, twice a year: mid-year and end-of-year evaluation.


Performance management hinges on three indicators: alignment, competence and engagement. It begins with effective goal setting. Our goals are the lids on our performance. We achieve significance or otherwise dependent on the goals we set. The problem with goal setting is not limited to individuals’ inability to set SMART goals but also, a clear absence of alignment between corporate, business unit and individual goals. This disconnect is often the reason many companies underperform. People work not knowing how their individual roles relate to the bigger corporate mission. The resultant effect is that, they become mediocre by the day. Their erstwhile energies and passions which could have been galvanized to build a truly great business shrink until it grows totally cold. Purpose elicits passion; and passion is a compelling fuel for achievement. And so, in a situation where a company is full of passionless team members, productivity stalls and under performance ostensibly settles in. It is not enough for companies to hang mission and vision statements on walls. These inspiring words are not meant for beautification purposes; they are meant to be goals that galvanize the team onto greater accomplishments. There has to be an intentional program to align the people behind the company’s strategic direction by bringing the mission and vision home to their individual work. How does a Finance Assistant find his work relevant to a media company whose mission is to inform, inspire and educate a global audience? A company’s HR function has a strategic responsibility to create the connection; else the Finance Assistant will perform his/her work in a vacuum.


Competence is cognitive, emotional and values-based. Revered investment expert Warren Buffet contends that, when hiring, he looks for three things, two of the three include: intelligence and integrity. According to him, he is no longer influenced by the former when the candidate lacks the latter. For years, hiring managers have misjudged potential recruits by concluding they are competent once they could communicate well in the interview room. Beyond the excellent communication skills (which is a crucial employability requirement, anyway), recruiters must probe the values systems of candidates. The people we are welcoming in must prove to us that, they share the company’s values. This is important as it avoids double standards in the company’s brand building efforts. A corrupt officer that works for a company that upholds integrity is more likely to compromise corporate values in crucial business negotiations. He may close the sale but will inevitably cost the company millions in penalties. Considering the highly disruptive business era companies are presented with, certain capabilities are central to high performance. An innovative leadership and team playing skills is one of such: the ability to carve a vision and inspire a people to come with you in its execution.


An engaged workforce are reliable marketing ambassadors that passionately sell the company’s products. A research poll revealed that, 86% of a company’s engaged staff say they would recommend the company’s products and services to others. Admittedly, building a highly engaged leadership team is a daunting task. The fact is that, Millennials often move on quicker than the others. They don’t mind leaving a potentially-looking lucrative job to spearhead a social enterprise and pursue community projects. They are rarely motivated by money. They come in with expectations and wield personal visions they want to see actualize. This burden of manifesting their own visions and the persisting desire to manage their own freedom seem to pull them away from the conventional job structure. That notwithstanding, an innovative, enterprising and fast learning workplace is one they will find attractive and is the reason they may stay on longer than expected. People only bring their best to their jobs when they feel engaged; when it is explicit that, they are a part of the whole. One proven strategy in delivering on this objective is to foster collaboration between managers and team members through coaching. Often, what distorts individual and team performance is the trust barrier. What coaching does is to provide a private setting where manager and team member holds conversations geared at building trust, evaluating results, discussing corrective actions and ultimately, improving performance. Such meetings merge personal and business growth. Team leaders are expected to establish a deeper relationship between achieving personal dreams and how it impacts on business performance. Even more important, it is a moment for the company’s managers to inspire their team members all over again to stretch a little more to achieve their personal and corporate goals.






Dr. Mrs. Ellen Hagan is an accomplished HR practitioner with over twenty years experience, an Honorary Fellow of the Boardroom Institute and was decorated with the prestigious 2011 CIMG Marketing Woman of the Year. She is Chief Executive of L’AINE Services Ltd., a leading HR firm in Ghana. She facilitates and coaches managers and corporate executives in an Advanced Management Development Programme on Saturdays. You can join the programme via: 050 128 6660.


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