Performance Management v Development

I think there is a drastic difference between performance management and performance development. They each serve different purposes and originate from a different philosophy of how employees show up in the work place. One comes from a place of trust and the other comes from a place of distrust.

A Paradigm Shift
A performance management approach tends to a result in an effort to minimize loss instead of capitalize on opportunity. To borrow a philosophy from Marcus Buckingham (Now Discover Your Strengths; First, Break all the Rules), “you ‘manage’ your weaknesses, and you ‘develop’ your strengths.” Buckingham also cites the work of excellent Olympic coaches that focus not on what needs to be corrected but what opportunities can be nurtured. His general philosophy is that your weaknesses will never be your greatest asset so why spend all you time trying to make them great, the better use of your energy is to develop your strengths, that is where greatness can be found.

Performance management of the same vein tends to manage employees weaknesses and therefore will most often not lead to greatness. People get managed to the level of “acceptable”, never to greatness. Another common use of the performance management system is to “manage” people out the door. Again, hardly a model for excellence. Now, I am not saying that occasionally performance management philosophy is not applicable, I simply invite the possibility that it is not an effective mentality if you are looking to maximize your workforce, at best your workforce will be “adequate.”

Development is a key Engagement tool
Another way to look at this is through the lens of employee engagement. BlessingWhite’s 2008 Engagement survey ( indicated that in North America only 29% of employee were truly engaged and 19% of employees were actually disengaged. But what of that middle group, the people who are capable or energetic, yet can’t seem to get to the next plateau? By BlessingWhite’s definitions it was split among the “Almost Engaged” (27%), “Honeymooners and Hamsters” (12%), and the “Crash and Burners” (13%). According to their analysis, all three of these middle groups crave development. Across all groups, “achievement and development” are key factors in engagement. So while performance management might be an effective strategy for helping those employees who have quit but have not left yet (the “Disengaged”) exit the organization, it will not help the other 81% of your employees get any better.

Incorporating Development
Performance management should be a process not a program or a system. A process for managing poor performance out the door. If you are truly invested in retaining employees, improving productivity, and moving your company to the next level, then invest in a performance development strategy. Performance development strategy is more about providing resources and removing roadblocks to performance than correcting undesired behavior. Sometimes it means training, sometimes it means a mentor, sometimes it means starting or involving them in stretch projects. Development is whatever your employee wants it to be. Your job is to 1)help them get the resources they need to improve, and 2) make sure those developmental goals are congruent within the larger context of the organization. Think big picture as well as microstrategy here.  What benefits the organization and the employee, not just me as the supervisor? And career path is not always the same as career development, some employees don’t want to move to the next rung of the company ladder, but they do want development (see “Career Path, Talent Pipeline, and other cliches that miss”)

The Outcome
Imagine if you will, what would happen if you could engage or reengage even part of that middle population at your workforce.  The biggest difference I see in this whole outlook is whether you see employees as a dispensable commodity or as a valuable investment.  From a financial perspective the goal is to manage your losses and develop your assets.  If your employees truly are an asset, then stop managing them like you would a liability (protecting yourself from the worst case scenario) and start investing in their development.  I guarantee the return far outweighs the investment.


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