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The Angry Silence

Part 1

By Mark Deavall - January 2015

A few weeks ago I was chatting with a group of people about performance and performance management. We were debating the pros and cons of performance management systems and whether or not they actually add any value to a business. One of the people in the group got up to get himself some coffee, and as he sat down said, “If performance management systems are an essential part of a business, why is it that there are some very successful companies out there that do not have performance management systems in place?” He proceeded to name three well-known companies that do not have formal performance management systems in place, and yet are doing extremely well.

Well as you can imagine, this sparked a whole new debate around the necessity for a formal performance management system, and what amazed me was the absolutely divergent views among the eight of us sitting there. However, the one thing that all agreed on, is that in the main, performance management systems have more of an intimidating effect on personnel, than what they have a positive effect on productivity. This was an interesting yet not unheard of opinion that I decided to press a little harder. So I asked the group why they felt that way, I’ll list what they said, in point form.

  1. Companies use performance management systems to work out how little increase they can give you
  2. Performance management systems are used to see who to promote. So they promote the best salesman to sales manager and he screws up the job
  3. In my company I have yet to see KPI’s that relate to the work that I am doing here. And yet I am judged by them.
  4. Our KPI’s are completely subjective. If your boss likes you, you get a good score
  5. My manager doesn’t worry about real scoring, he scores you against how well he did the job when he was doing it, or if he was doing it
  6. A performance management system is a job creation exercise for HR.
  7. Performance management is an instrument that is used to fire people – “we are placing you under performance management because your work output is not what we require from you”

Well needless to say I was somewhat taken aback (I am in the business of productivity management), but the views expressed were not altogether new. I have heard these views and more in many companies that I have worked with.

So I decided to take this little exercise a bit further. I walked over to the door and stood waiting for someone to walk past. The group watched me expectantly, not sure what surprise I was going to spring on them, or if the conversation was hitting too close to home for me and I was looking for a convenient escape! As soon as someone came walking up the passage, I asked them to join us for one minute. The group looked up expectantly. I gave our new guest an executive pad and a pen and asked that he write down the three objectives (goals) that he needs to consistently achieve in his job, to make sure that he does not get fired. He looked at me a little quizzically, but nevertheless started writing. When he was finished he handed the pad back to me and asked what this was all about. I told him to hold for a second and picked up the phone to HR. After giving them his name, I asked if I could have a copy of his last performance appraisal. This was duly sent to me, and I handed the performance appraisal to our new guest. “Do any of the objectives that you wrote down appear on your performance appraisal?” I asked him. Slowly he shook his head, a look of incredulity and bewilderment on his face. “No. If I had to focus on these things” he said pointing to his performance appraisal, “I would never reach my objectives, and my department wouldn’t function!”

I thanked our guest for his willing participation, and he left looking quite concerned. Turning back to the group I said, “So what do we make of this?” “Do another person” they chorused. So I did. Same result. And another. Also the same result. “So what is the point of this exercise?” I asked our group. “To see if the KPI’s that we are working to are applicable in the real world?” ventured our coffee addict. “Exactly!” I said. “And are they?” “Hell no!” stated the quietest member of the group, surprising us all with his vehemence. “Thinking of my KPI’s, if I had to work to them all day and every day, I would be fired within a month! I would never reach the objectives and targets that my manager has set for me!”

“So you’re saying that your KPI’s are misaligned?” I ventured. “Absolutely!” came the response. “So what would you do to align them effectively?” The group decided to take a break and get some fresh coffee. While they were busy doing that, I arranged for a flip chart and pens to be brought to us. “Ok then, let’s see if we can find an answer. But before we do that we need to decide if performance management is a management imperative. Yes or no?” After some haggling back and forth between the members of the group, it was decided that performance management is a management imperative under the following conditions:

  1. That less emphasis is given to KPI’s (tasks) and more emphasis be given to KPA’s (responsibilities).
  2. It is applied equally to all staff including senior management.
  3. The person doing the job formulates the KPA’s and KPI’s related to that job.
  4. Performance conversations based on the KPA’s are held at least every two weeks, with a formal appraisal being done every two months.
  5. The performance appraisal is not used as a “big stick”
  6. The manager is “up to speed” with the personnel’s KPA’s and KPI’s

I found this list very interesting and decided to unpack these requirements with this group. So we tackled each point in turn and the results of that discussion were rather revealing:

  1. That less emphasis is given to KPI’s (tasks) and more emphasis be given to KPA’s (responsibilities) – The group felt that there was too much control regarding how the work is to be done. They were fully in agreement with Standard Operating Procedures but felt that too often, the manager insisted on work being done the way he or she did it when they were doing the job, or how they would have done the work had they been doing the job. They felt that more emphasis needed to be on the results of the work being done instead of nit picking on the process.
  2. It is applied equally to all staff including senior management – The group felt that it is unfair that operational staff have to be formally performance managed, but senior management aren’t. Their feeling was that their job is to carry out the instructions and wishes of senior management, yet when things go wrong, the personnel are blamed. Management’s decisions and wishes need to be managed via the Performance Management System so that responsibility can be assigned where it belongs.
  3. The person doing the job formulates the KPA’s and KPI’s related to that job – The comment from the group was, “HR has not got a clue what I’m doing. Why then are they writing my KPI’s?” and so true this is. The group felt that if they are not developing their KPI’s themselves, how can they be applicable?
  4. Performance conversations based on the KPA’s are held at least every two weeks, with a formal appraisal being done every two months – The group felt that a short, informal conversations every two weeks, around progress against their areas of responsibilities, would be more beneficial than an explosion when things go wrong as a result of reactive management. They also felt that an official performance appraisal would have more value when it is done every two months and is based on the short discussions mentioned previously.
  5. The performance appraisal is not used as a “big stick” – This is pretty self- explanatory, and yet there are managers that use this opportunity to voice their dissatisfaction with the employee
  6. The manager is “up to speed” with the personnel’s KPA’s and KPI’stoo often, the manager will have a quick look at the staff member’s KPA’s and KPI’s, just before the appraisal. KPA’s and KPI’s for every staff member should be uppermost in the manager’s mind, and the staff should be managed according to them on a daily basis.

I asked the group if they had ever brought how they feel, to the attention of management, and they laughed at me. Their collective impression was that management don’t care enough to listen to them. They felt that if they spoke out, they would be victimized. Hence the title of this piece “The Angry Silence”. These people were angry and hurting. They wanted to give of their best, but they were being hamstrung by, in their opinion, managers that did not know what they were doing.

At the end of this discussion, the group had come to the agreement that performance management was necessary, but not in the form that was generally applied. We then decided that we had gone far enough, and that this information needed to be communicated to senior management. I undertook to do so, and we said our goodbye’s.

In articles to follow, I’ll unpack for you the contents of the discussions that I had with the management team. This was a real eye opener!

I trust that you have found benefit in this article. If you would like to contact me or have me talk to the people in your company, please call me on 27 11 609-1264, or  This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

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