HR Roundtable: Performance Management vs. Professional Development

Article main image
Aug 25, 2014

The August HR Roundtable in Cincinnati took a stab at the age-old HR conundrum of Performance Management vs. Professional Development.

The forum took the focus of development as its launching point, but the conversation inevitably fell back into what we know and practice. It was a really interactive session and the attendees started with these brain teasers to get conversation going.

The questions:

  1. Why don’t companies focus on development?
  2. What are some good ways/options to develop people?
  3. How can companies move to a “development model?

Here’s what the small groups had to share from their discussions:

Why don’t companies focus on development?

  • Development costs money. This is true. If development is looked at as an “expense,” it will always be seen as a burden and not an investment. Everything costs money in a company! The question companies have to answer is  are my people worth investing in?
  • Development takes time and resources. This is similar to answer No. 1. It is astonishing that companies tout that employees are top assets until it means that I have to spend time and resources on them. When you look at items like retention and culture, you need to evaluate people’s perspectives on development. If it’s something that “has” to get done, it is truly doomed because people view it as a task vs. an opportunity.
  • There’s a slow ROI. In today’s environment of instant everything, we don’t want to have things that come to fruition over any extended period of time. The companies who understand that a slow cooker method of working in developing their people will be relevant in the long-term, but it takes patience and an intentional mindset.
  • The black hole syndrome. This is on HR. You don’t have to agree with it, but you need to recognize it. The systems for development are typically owned by HR. People see reviews go in and never return. It is viewed as a compliance exercise that is often tied to compensation. These systems can work, but the black hole syndrome needs to have light shed on it for them to be vibrant and alive and not some mindless activity that follows a set schedule.
  • Poorly defined goals. Goals are tricky. Too often we measure and come up with things that are basically targeted at “fixing” people and not developing them. There is an alternative way to look at “outcomes” vs. goals that we’ll cover later in the summary.
  • One size fits all approach doesn’t work. Most systems are framed in a way that ALL people do things in the same way, at the same time, etc. Development, by its nature, is individually based. Companies often see this as unmanageable chaos. If things don’t follow a set pattern then we can’t use the traditional arguments of documentation and building a case. Editor’s note: If the only reason you’re doing reviews, performance management, etc. is to build a case or get your defense ready, then stop it. You’re only setting up a culture that is focused on negativity and what is going wrong. It’s bad HR.
  • Results can’t always be measured. The field of HR is turning more and more towards behavioral competencies, which it should. We deal with behavior every day with all of our employees in some form or fashion. The challenge in this is that behavior is hard to measure because we want hard, tactical goals to see if people have progressed or digressed. There is a way to do this, but you can’t look at things from a traditional model any longer.

How can companies move to a “development model?”

  • Eliminate performance reviews. Now, to be honest, this took an ugly turn during the Roundtable. There was a push back, and good advice, to not demonize performance review systems. You have an opportunity to teach people what you’re expecting with these systems, and you can change them to development discussions. Some things need to change first for this to happen. Don’t make them “have to do tasks.” Create something that gives continuous feedback throughout the year and have some milestone times to meet and dive deep.
  • Focus on outcomes vs. goals. Work WITH your employees to see what outcomes they can reach and define. You can call them “goals” but look farther at outcomes that will make your people stronger and more holistic as people and as contributors to your company’s performance. Goals are narrow and tight. Outcomes are results of the efforts that you decide to work on collectively and individually.
  • Expect your people to develop. This is a mindset shift for companies. We all want our companies to grow, succeed and move forward. If that is really your benchmark, then expect the same from your people. Quit following systems that are nothing more than glorified report cards and take the time/money/effort to develop your people.
  • Individualize your efforts. Moving forward into the future, HR needs to be more individually based vs. the traditional collective model. When you say this, most HR people start twitching because we think the collective method is more consistent. The reality is that HR builds systems to address the exceptions of the people who work at your company and then call that the norm. Development takes an individual approach which will build the collective community by more of a building block approach. It works, but it takes HR to step up and create a new vision and approach to people.
  • Learn from a different model. Steve closed the meeting by sharing a book that he encouraged people to read which is more development focused vs. performance management focused. It’s called Help Them Grow or Watch Them Go by Beverly Kaye and Julie Winkle Giulioni. It’s a great read that is quick, fun and tangible. Steve shared that he uses it daily to remind him how to incrementally develop people throughout his company at every level. You can find the book on

This was a raucous and energetic Roundtable! It seems like most of these forums have that as part of its culture.

Why don’t you make it something that you can be a part of in the future? You’ll have a chance to develop yourself as well as meet other great HR and business folks. Hope to see you in person in Cincinnati soon!

Get articles like this
in your inbox
Subscribe to our mailing list and get interesting articles about talent acquisition emailed weekly!