Performance Management: Focus on Engagement Rather Than Compliance

Posted on February 02, 2021 at 09:00 AM

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We all know that performance management has, in the past, had a bad rap.

In any given organisation, we suspect that performance reviews and appraisals have, at some time, been viewed simply as a check-box exercise and neither managers nor team members have seen the value in these meetings.

And perhaps it’s not surprising.

For years, performance management has looked backwards, retrospectively addressing performance issues and/or being seen as the input to the reward process. It became an admin task that no one wanted to do well: managers complied to tick the box and individuals dreaded the inevitable dredging up of long-forgotten actions set months ago.

And yet performance conversations could hold such value.

Quite simply, people struggle to see the value that performance appraisals can have: research revealed that 95% of managers aren’t satisfied with how they run and, in the past, a mere 8% of organisations consider performance management to be a valuable use of time.

How did an inherently effective tool end up being so dreaded and lacking in value?

The answer is simple: because often the focus is on driving up a metric around ‘getting the review done’ rather than that the value-add that comes with engagement.

The old adage of ‘you can’t manage what you can’t measure’ is often used to justify measuring completion rates. We see talent leaders asked to report on completion rates as a way of demonstrating that performance review is alive and kicking in the organisation. But measuring for measuring’s sake is just rhetoric to put a number in a box unless what we’re measuring is the right thing.

For years, performance management software displayed little more than completion rates, so it’s understandable that this was the typical variable measured across the board. The question is, does completing the process alone lead to engagement with the objectives and achievement of the goals?

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A new view of performance appraisals: driving compliance through engagement

It’s clear that some areas of the organisation may need a focus on compliance. Perhaps reported completion rates are required by suppliers, customers, or external inspectorates.

But the driver of compliance is engagement.

For one Head Light client redesigning its performance review process, it defined its goal to be one of changing the “culture and engaging the workforce in meaningful conversations about both their own and their Force's development and performance.” (Cleveland Police)

With the right technology supporting you and a reframing of the purpose of performance management, you can get greater engagement (and not just compliance) - and better business results.

Here’s how:

  1. Reframe The Purpose Of Performance Management.

Many organisations that have successfully transformed performance management have gone back to basics and examined the underlying and fundamental purpose of managing performance. Instead of solving performance issues in a small portion of the workforce, their focus is now on proactively developing and engaging all employees. This is important, given that employees increasingly look to their employers for meaningful work and growth opportunities.

The opportunity for transformation lies largely with progressive action from HR leaders, as Ian Lee-Emery of Head Light identifies:

“HR has an opportunity to step forward and not be the ‘internal compliance officer” he says. “However, it requires some bravery and conviction that doing the right things will generate the right results. In short, resist being drawn into discussions about lack of compliance by ‘outliers’ and you’ll free yourself up to focus on the engagement of and benefits to the majority. Initially you might be a lone voice”, Ian adds, “but not for long.”


  1. Check On The Quality Of Performance Conversations – And Not The Number Of Conversations.

Switch from recording the completion rate of performance cycles to something more meaningful. Check in on the depth of the check-in conversation. A good indicator of this is the length of the notes and frequency of meetings between an individual and the manager. Take a look at the progress being made on the objectives. How often is progress being updated? Can you get a sense that the goal is understood, accepted and being worked towards?

Unless your software offers what we have - a Continuous Performance Management Index (CPM Index) - it’s likely you’re missing a key metric. The CPM Index enables managers to measure the quality of the performance conversation and provides an indicator of the quality of the review feedback being given, so you’re relying on a far more productive measurement for growth than simply the fact the conversation took place.

Get in touch to talk to us about Talent Performance, as this feature is built in as standard.


  1. Proactively Encourage Individuals To Use The System.

Make sure that your performance management system enables you to locate hotspots in which the software may not be being best used.

Reach out proactively to offer support to areas of the organisation struggling to implement the new performance process. Make a conscious choice to encourage engagement rather than discipline lack of compliance.


  1. Make The Software Inclusive Across The Organisation.

Choose a system that allows detailed configuration and develop supporting practices that encourage inclusivity and engagement.

For one Head Light client, this included tailoring the specific words, instructions and terminology to meet the language levels of employees. The result was a greater “engagement of people not only achieving their objectives, but in knowing how they fit into the organisation. They're more engaged, more likely to go back and update their objectives and progress on a regular basis. They can see how they're progressing and say, “Actually, I've met that goal. That's great," and talk to their manager and stretch themselves with a new goal.” (Allison Miller, The Muñoz Group in the UK).


“If we focused on high levels of engagement, we would need to spend a lot less time on compliance”

Deploying and embedding a continuous performance management approach that focuses on engagement rather than compliance requires a rethink of how to view goal setting and tracking.

Sara Postlethwaite of Northamptonshire Police which introduced Talent Performance saw professional development review (PDR) engagement exceed expectations and reach record levels within three months. “We always thought that if we focused on high levels of engagement, we would need to spend a lot less time on compliance!”, she says.

We have drawn together tips and actions into a Good Practice Guide that help to embed an engaged performance review process. Get your copy here.

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