Research Diary: Lessons from Performance Management Redesign


Welcome to “Research Diary,” a regular peek inside NLI’s latest industry research project. Since March 2020, our Industry Research team has been interviewing HR professionals about the way they’ve experienced change and transformation efforts in their organizations.

Tackling this mammoth topic is quite timely as humankind tries to simultaneously keep up with its existing efforts, while also coming to terms with the new reality of pandemic-related disruption.

As such, leaders will need to confront many different questions moving forward, such as how organizations will adapt to changes in their business environment, how they drive and manage major transformation efforts, and the role behavior change plays. 

In this new series, I want to share what we’re learning along the way. More than offering smart answers that we don’t (yet) have, I want to distill emerging, interesting themes and questions from our interviews, while still maintaining our interviewees’ complete confidentiality. The goal is to provide you and your teams with food for thought as you work through your own change efforts.

April 14, 2020

Performance management redesign is a complex undertaking. This is particularly the case in large and well-established organizations whose processes used to be anchored around the traditional approach of annual, administratively heavy activities.

As a result, almost everyone in an organization is expected to do things differently: from managers and employees who are supposed to conduct more frequent quality conversations, to HR teams who need to apply a more future-oriented mindset to talent assessment and reviews, and compensation discussions. The following questions emerged in our exploration of one organization’s change initiative:

  1. How can we evaluate our employees’ performance in their daily flow of work?

Many organizations have a complex workforce, whose daily routines and tasks vary greatly. Think about everything from call center staff to sales consultants, top-shot subject matter experts, HR professionals, and many more.

It can be hard to figure out how to organize the (theoretically valid) signposts of “effective” performance management processes such as quality conversations, frequent check-ins and coaching so that they make sense in the context of their daily routine—for example, if the change initiative is meant to enable a growth mindset, or to boost employees’ growth and potential.

However, at the end of the day, people experience daily stand up meetings which can be energizing on good days and threatening on the bad days, and behavior change may be hindered by a gap between theory and reality.

How are you planning to address performance in people’s daily flow of work?

2. Would you consider rewarding behavior change?

It seems to be relatively easy to define the types of behaviors employees and managers need to adopt when an organization is changing its approach to managing performance. For example, conducting quality conversations or the adoption of a growth mindset is being taught in well-constructed training sessions and coaching efforts.

However, reward is not a term that is associated with behavior change. Rather there is an implicit expectation that if managers conduct better performance conversation that their reward would come in the form of higher team performance. But is this really enough?

(How) are you planning to reward employee’s behavior change?

3. What legacy behaviors may hinder your change effort?

Resistance to change or “change fatigue” seem to be obvious hurdles for behavior change during performance management revamps. However, sometimes people may simply be disillusioned about their past experiences with the company and therefore not see the value of the current change effort.

For example, in organizations where the outcome at the end of the year was not necessarily perceived as being a reflection of the employee’s contribution, employees may be less open for the introduction of a new process. Past experiences may have undermined employees’ trust in the process, and in the people who conduct these processes, making the desired behavior change particularly challenging.

What type of historical experiences may stand in the way of the intended behavior change?

Author: Andrea Derler, PhD

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