Manager Engagement With Performance Reviews

There is an excellent ongoing series called “If I Could Change One Thing About HR” over on XpertHR.  In a recent post by Ian Welsh, he discussed the need to localize performance management.  I left the following as a comment on his post (which you really should read, if you haven’t already):

The piece that is missing for me, and I’m speaking of the process more than your analysis, is around the value of the work to the line manager. Too many times HR is the administrative enforcer, telling managers to fill out forms once a year “or else.” I’ve working in companies that canceled merit increases for any manager that didn’t have all their performance reviews submitted on time. That’s a strong signal that the work is important to the company, but it’s also a telling sign that the work isn’t important to the managers. Why?

We’re missing the value proposition on their end. What do they get out of it? Yes, we know there is intrinsic value in doing the work, and engaged/developed employees are more valuable to the organization. But how do we distill that to the line manager who is just trying to meet production quotas?

What’s in it for them? How do we make them care?  I have a few initial thoughts that I’ll share here in hopes that we can start an ongoing discussion on the topic.

Some managers are very data oriented.  They will be the easiest ones to pull in.  We can show them research on engagement, productivity and the impact on bottom line results.  Not too difficult.  “Softer” managers, the ones that need to feel good about the process, will be tougher.  So how do we make the process hum for them?

  • Simplify as much as possible.  You won’t get any more time of theirs than you absolutely need, so don’t mess about with overly complex solutions.
  • Make the decisions easier.  Don’t use a ten point scale if five (or three) will do the job.
  • Don’t belabor the point with performance review. Have goals and targets that are quantifiable, make it easy to record (or, ideally, have the data ported in from your system of record) and move on.
  • Balance the review with forward facing development pieces that help a manager know 1) what the employee will do for development this year, 2) when/how they will do it, and 3) how much budget is needed for it.  Make these things hum so a manager doesn’t have to spend extra time on it.
  • Build this system in a simple way so the employee can use it as well.  Tie it to your Intranet or other internal system so it’s in front of them, and they can add to it.

Those are a few thoughts of how we can make this work for a manager.  The system becomes simple, it gives managers the answers they need for employee development, and it helps them move forward instead of spending too much time looking back.  Those are my thoughts, I’d love to hear yours!


    1. Thank you, Dwane:

      You have really added substance to my post. Taking the somewhat theoretical solidly towards the practical – and helpful!

      Really appreciated,


    2. Dwane – I think the two key pieces to making performance appraisals more value-adding for EVERYONE is to make them simpler (as you note) and more frequent.

      Imagine if performance appraisals were a simple three-point scale (meets, exceeds, doesn’t meet) and a comment box, answering the question, “How did you do this week?” Employees can make small course corrections immediately. Managers end the year with 52 micro-reviews of employee performance, but spend far less time in the short-term writing them.

      It would allow for more focused conversations on real and immediate business issues instead of a heady “how’d you do this last year” conversation that normally takes place.


    3. I think performance appraisal is a broken process that should just be eliminated. You can read lots of my thoughts on this in my blog

      Dr. Deming stated my belief well: “Evaluation of performance, merit rating, or annual review… The idea of a merit rating is alluring. the sound of the words captivates the imagination: pay for what you get; get what you pay for; motivate people to do their best, for their own good. The effect is exactly the opposite of what the words promise.”

      If management forces you to continue to use bad practices you can try to make them good but really that doesn’t work very well. I don’t believe righter performance appraisal is the answer

      • Thanks for jumping in, John.

        I’m a Demming fan as well, but I think the idea of not having feedback isn’t what he (nor you) intended. I’m a fan of finding a way to give continuous, meaningful feedback. I would absolutely concur that the merit process is broken, annual reviews are way to much to swallow in one lump.

        Getting managers to give feedback is critical. The question that was on the table in Ian’s post is how to get them to do it without HR being part of it, especially as an enforcer.

        • Yup, Deming wasn’t against feedback AS LONG AS IT WAS SEPARATED from performance appraisal (raises, promotions, HR forms…). And frequent feedback is much better.

          My experience is that many people that are all for frequent feedback (even that like Deming’s ideas) don’t understand variation. And they provide all sorts of positive and negative “feedback” about random variation. That type of frequent feedback is not useful.

          But I completely agree frequent feedback is good, you should be careful to make it useful and accurate, but increased frequency is very good. The whole idea of control carts is to get immediate feedback when process goes out of whack so you can effectively address the issues. For the very same reason (and more) frequent feedback to people is wise.


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    3. […] completely agree with Dwane’s thoughts on how to better engage managers in the performance review process. As HR professionals, we definitely need to design and implement processes and tools that provide […]

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