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Feb 26, 2014

Here’s how to design the perfect performance management process.

It isn’t a trick. Really.

OK, well “perfect” may be a bit strong, but it is possible to design a performance management process that fits your organization and your culture.

Here’s what makes for a “perfect” program

Despite all of the negative press that performance management continues to receive, it is actually an important process for organizations, their employees and their leaders. If effective, it can measure and improve performance at the individual, team and organizational level. It can build a relationship of trust and confidence between the manager and the employee. And it can provide the developmental feedback that employees crave.

What makes a performance management process perfect for an organization? It is a process that the organization believes in, holds themselves accountable, and demands the level of energy which the organization is willing and able to provide.

The form, the number of ratings, the process don’t really matter. What matters is what the organization wants to achieve from their performance management process.

Once you understand that, the rest is fairly simple.

A wild and crazy assumption

I cannot tell you how many bright HR leaders (me included, at one point in my career) start with “what.” What should the form look like? How many ratings should we have? Should we have ratings at all? What is the bare minimum that our leaders will tolerate?

This makes for one wild and crazy assumption — that the organization wants and needs a performance management program.

But they do, you say! As HR professionals, we know that we need documentation to support employment actions, goals to help people focus and competencies to help people develop. So we go about building a program, training managers on it, and then tearing our hair out when managers don’t do it, or don’t do it right.

Instead, start with “Why”

Let me suggest another starting point.

Instead of starting with “what,” start with “why.” First, ask yourself, as the HR team, and then ask the organization. By having your own list of “why,” you can facilitate the dialogue with leadership and help them discover the “why.”

Start with the premise that you don’t need to do performance management. Give the executives the option. I can pretty much guarantee you that they will come up with their own reason to have performance management. If they don’t, you might want to consider your own options.

Once you allow your executive team to decide to have a performance management program, help them discover the “why.” All of a sudden, you shift the responsibility for the success of the program from HR to the organization.

Make it theirs

At that point, provide options for program design, reasons for each option, and let them decide.

And here’s the crucial point: Ask them if they are willing to commit to holding their leadership accountable for the process, and what they feel are the appropriate consequences should a leader fail to manage performance effectively.

The heavy lifting of program design is already behind you, the big “R” (Responsibility) has shifted, and you can design a program that fits the culture and the organization.

That’s my premise. I’d love to hear your feedback.

This originally appeared on the ….@ the intersection of learning & performance blog.