Pulse - Adapting the pace of your performance conversation to suit your organisation’s needs

Pulse - Adapting the pace of your performance conversation to suit your organisation’s needs

This is a summary of a longer article which is available from the author.

Some of the biggest names in industry began, in recent years, to remove their annual performance review and ratings process. Accenture, one of the largest consultancies in the world with 300,000 employees, announced in late 2015 that it was moving to a more fluid system of feedback between managers and their staff. 1, Why this sudden trend and why now? We have been aware of problems with formal performance management systems for years but recent years have led to what feels like a tidal wave of changes to how we approach managing performance. This article looks at how can we create a simple, not simplistic, system that managers and their teams will buy into and will give organisations the performance impact.

What problem are we trying to fix?

Why are performance appraisal systems so disliked? What is about them that unite both managers and their teams in disliking them? Research shows that getting it right allows organisations to obtain significant benefits from their staff but the fact that we have not managed to do so points to a failure on all our behalf.

At its core, there are two basic problems with performance management. First, labelling people with any form of numerical rating or ranking automatically generates an overwhelming ‘fight, fright or flight’ response that impairs good judgment.  Moreover, at least half of all employees will receive a B or C rating, no matter how hard they worked or how many A ratings they had garnered in the past. Second, managers, quite often without the necessary skillset, have to face these disappointed team members and motivate them for the following year. Thirdly, this often results in managers either fudging the result or passing the buck to the leadership – ‘if it was left up to me, I would give a different rating’.  

Combined with cumbersome processes, HR as the bad cop chasing deadlines (even though HR would prefer not to) and the perceived shifting of goalposts – it’s no surprise that the process is very artificial and that employees feel that it is not ‘fair’.

What does the Research say? 

Research shows the absolute business impact of insuring that the organisation goals and individuals work are aligned. According to Gallup “knowing what is expected” was the top factor in motivating employees enough to make their employers successful. In their bestseller, 12 Elements of Great Managing, Gallup outline that organisations with high scores in job clarity are more profitable, more productive and more creative. 4

This goes beyond a job description and goes into a full understanding how what one person is supposed to do fits into the overall organisation, how it links to what others are expected to do and ultimately, why it is important. The best place for an organisation to provide clarity is through the front line managers. 4

Pulse Conversations

Athletes do not maintain the same level of exertion each and every day. They increase their effort the closer they get to the big day – with breaks built in- working to hit peak performance on the vital day. Nor do they go flat out in training all the time. They start slow, warm up and mix high and low performance points with a pulse to match. Their pulse starts out slow, builds up, levels off as needed and slows down at rest points.  

We need to adapt our performance arrangements similarly. By adapting the rhythm of performance conversations to suit the needs of the individual or team, we are matching our support to their needs.  Otherwise we are in danger of giving random feedback that is as likely to distract at best and demotivate at worst.

Design of a Pulse System

The starting point for any organisation is to understand why they are introducing - or changing – a performance process and why now? Unless all stakeholders have all bought into what the company are trying to achieve, and how they propose going about it, the pulse system will fail from the outset. 

Once buy-in is accomplished at manager level, a communication to the wider organisation can also answer concerns – why this process? what does it mean for my role, salary, bonus and promotion? Without answering these questions for staff, they will bring any pre-conceived ideas into the new process including any history from previous performance management systems for good or ill.

It is important to build in some form of data as this will alleviate employee concerns that the current evaluation processes are full of subjectivity. Rather than relying on a once-a-year, inexact analysis of individuals, companies can get better information by using systems that provide data that can support, not replace the performance conversations.

The dangers of getting it wrong

The Corporate Executive Board’s survey of Fortune 1000 companies found that simply removing the standard performance review did not necessarily lead to better outcomes. Without a properly thought out replacement, manager conversation quality declined by 14%, employee engagement dropped by 6% and top performers’ satisfaction with pay differentiation decreased by 8% 6. This happened because the managers then continued to ignore their staff and now had no reason at all to engage with them even if for only a box ticking exercise once or twice a year.

Managers felt that their organization was no longer prioritizing the performance review process as much as they have in the past. So they focused on it less. Managers noted “when I gave someone a low score in the past, I felt responsible for helping them out, now I just don’t feel that I have to spend time doing that anymore.” Removing ratings is a cosmetic exercise unless you also design smart, efficient processes into your normal day-to-day operations to create an environment for regular, constructive feedback.


A key misunderstanding is to think that employees don’t want feedback on their performance; what they want is a system that isn’t akin to a straightjacket. Any process should be fluid and dynamic to meet the needs of the circumstances, should focus on the future and developing the skills needed to meet the targets. By becoming as natural a part of the organisation rhythm as all other processes, managers and their teams will be comfortable matching the Pulse of the conversations to meet their immediate needs.

Managers must be given the skills and support to develop/mentor/coach their staff; otherwise it will not be seen as a priority. Any new system must start by changing the role of managers from being overpaid ‘doers’ of the ‘important stuff’ to being proper leaders and developers of their people. Equally, managers should understand the importance of adapting their style to meet the needs of their team and should be held accountable for delivering against this. Anything else is management by numbers.





4. 12 Elements of Great Managing (2006), Rodd Wagner & James K. Harter, Gallup Press

5. http://www.fastcompany.com/3061147/the-future-of-work/why-eliminating-the-annual-review-caused-a-drop-in-performance

6. Corporate Leadership Council 2004 Employee Engagement Survey

About the author

Shane Twomey is an Organisational Design specialist with over 25 years experience in assisting organisations align their organisation capabilities, structures and people to match their strategic needs.

He can be contacted at www.organisationdynamics.ie

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