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Counterpoint: Lee J. Konczak.


Lee J. Konczak

Olin Business School, Washington University

If given the choice between two personal investments of similar risk, one having a high probability of returning 4-5% and the other having a high probability of paying 10%12%, which would you choose? The answer is obvious but yet when it comes to investing in the time and energy of employees, managers focus heavily on skill deficits and competency gaps--foregoing potentially higher-ROI solutions and more substantial performance improvements. As Peter Drucker (1999) noted, "one cannot build performance on weaknesses, let alone something one cannot do at all" (page 66). Drucker also noted that most people think they know what they are good at, but they are usually wrong.

Shifting the focus to an individual's strengths when assessing performance, making job assignments and placement decisions and determining promotions in line with succession plans makes good business sense, but how can an organization increase the likelihood that managers change their behaviors and pull the "master lever" more consistently? Buckingham aptly chronicles the problems with many performance management (PM) systems and offers some viable and creative solutions along these lines, particularly for those employees in the Generation Y age group. The observations that most PM systems focus on weaknesses and provide infrequent feedback driven primarily by the manager are certainly sentiments that would be shared by many HR professionals. But these are transactional aspects of PM. There are two other critical factors that need to be in place to help managers put Buckingham's ideas to work and transform their own thinking and the performance of their teams.

Culture Change. Implementing a new performance management system in a culture that thinks and behaves in the "old way" won't result in positive change or add sustained value. Senior leaders have to ensure that the organization's culture supports the new system. Recent research by Hewitt Associates (2007) suggests that a key driver of successful talent management initiatives is senior leader involvement and support. I've experienced numerous initiatives that change rating formats, feedback schedules and manager training that result in "surface" changes but no underlying shift in the desired mind-set and behaviors of managers. In order for talent management systems to be optimized, culture change must occur and must be driven by senior leaders to ensure enduring behavior change.

Accountability and Reinforcement. It follows that managers must be held accountable and then recognized and rewarded for adapting new approaches and behaving differently in managing individual and team performance. I'm not referring solely to monetary rewards. Managers have to feel that their performance management responsibilities are valued and recognized for them to become engrained practices in the organization. This sense of accountability must be modeled by senior leaders and reinforced continuously for best practices in performance management to be sustained.

One final point concerns generational differences and performance management. Buckingham offers some interesting suggestions on how to engage Generation Y in the performance management process. Though generational differences are top-of-mind for many practicing managers, studies comparing different generations on workplace values and factors that facilitate work motivation find few if any significant differences (Deal, 2007; Giancola, 2006). This suggests that the real PM challenge is to create flexible systems that address the needs of the different generations in the workplace and can evolve as demographics continue to change.


Deal, J. (2007). Retiring the Generation Gap: How Employee Young and Old Can Find Common Ground. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Drucker, E (1999). "Managing Oneself." Harvard Business Review, March-April, 64-74.

Giancola, E (2006). "The Generation Gap: More Myth Than Reality." Human Resource Planning, 29(4), 32-37.

Hewitt (2007). "Top Companies for Leaders: Research Highlights--North America." Lincolnshire [L: Hewitt Associates.
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Title Annotation:COUNTERPOINTS
Author:Tavis, Anna
Publication:People & Strategy
Date:Sep 1, 2008
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