Performance management technology can drive this crucial facet of work out of the annual review cycle and into a positive part of the business…

Words by Dan Cave | Design by Joe Jones

So, I’ve got an HR joke that I’ve been wanting to share for a while. It goes as follows: why is performance management like visiting the dentist? Any takers? Anyone? Well – not that anyone asked – performance management is like visiting the dentist because [dramatic pause] nobody really wants to go to the allotted appointment, there are fears the experience will be painful and awkward, and the outcome might result in a lot more work. (Okay, okay, it’s not the best joke but it’s the most apt real-world analogy I could think of when thinking of what performance management is considered to be).

This is because – as you might have guessed from the dental analogy – performance management doesn’t usually have the best press. Stereotyped, not insignificantly experienced and depicted as – think The Office and Peep Show – that once-a-year or once-a-month meeting employees and managers shuffle towards, making awkward small talk about the commute on the way, as they struggle to locate a too-grey room somewhere on a floor of the office building they don’t usually work on.

(All the while the employee hoping their manager doesn’t bring up their scatty approach to filing documents on the shared drive and their apathetic desk slouch which kicks in from mid-Tuesday onwards and lasts until Friday. Whilst, on the same joint shuffle, the manager anxiously runs through ways in which they don’t sound too meek or too uncharacteristically bold when bringing up the employee’s scatty approach to filing documents on the shared drive and their almost-week-long apathetic desk slouch.)

It would be hard to disagree with the fact that these type of talks don’t drive much – performed in a we-have-to-get-this-out-the-way manner, an incidental to the main job, without hard data or clear metrics.

However, Stuart Hearn, CEO and Founder of Clear Review, believes that the newest performance management technologies can actually help solve some of the problems that beset most organisations. “Performance management technology was historically thought of as a tool to simply capture data, once a year, at appraisal time. But things have changed and organisations are now looking to performance management to improve productivity and employee engagement. To do this, we need to drive new behaviours centred around regular conversations and feedback, and we can’t achieve this without technology,” he says.

In Hearn’s view – and he cites some snazzy research by Stanford University behavioural science boffin Dr Fogg – performance management technology could become the driver behind changes in application and behaviour at work (the very thing performance management is meant to do). Hearn adds: “A new breed of performance management technology has emerged that puts these three drivers [Dr Fogg’s motivation to do a new behaviour, the ability to perform the new behaviour and a trigger to remember to do the new behaviour] at the forefront of user experience and is changing manager and employee behaviour on an unprecedented scale.

“For example, a recent analysis of the entire user base of our Clear Review software found that 70% were taking a meaningful performance management action every month. So, by using technology, we can finally wave goodbye to the ineffective ritual of once-a-year performance management.”


Katy Snell, Group Head of People at Emerald Group, an academic publishers, also believes that technology can drive continuous feedback improving performance, growth, development and company culture. Using performance management technology – Snell initially introduced it to help with manager’s feedback – technology is now helping the publishers to, as Snell explains, “set goals, self-reflections and performance evaluations.”

“We’re really excited around how [this technology] is supporting Emerald to move from the traditional annual performance review to a more ongoing dialogue around performance, growth and development throughout the year, and is supporting us in building a feedback rich culture,” she adds.

Matt Timmins, Lead Customer Success Coach at Culture Amp, adds that technology, in the performance management area, should be able to simplify work and help employees build trust. “Workers, both employees and managers, are overwhelmed. Gone are the days of 15 step Performance Management processes that are seen as an arduous, demotivating experience. Technology has the power to simplify Performance by offering a lightweight process with a clean, consumer grade user experience. This helps to drive much greater buy in from employees and managers,” he adds. 

“Trust is the currency of high-performance businesses, but the harsh reality is that the majority of employees do not trust their company’s performance process when it comes to fairness. Technology can help to reduce the biases prevalent in performance management ensuring a more transparent, more equitable process for employees. Technology can also help to facilitate career growth conversations between managers and employees, meaning performance management takes on a developmental dimension. As a result, employees feel like they are actually growing and over time organisational performance and productivity will increase.”

Moving towards team-based performance

According to Deloitte’s Human Capital Trends 2019 report, most performance rewards are still based on individual performance. 55% are still based on individual performance reviews. However, findings from the consultancy suggest that technology and big data could drive both changes in how performance is understood, as well as organisational design, moving towards a team-centric approach.

Bersin analysis [the data-y bit] found that high performing organisations are more than twice as likely as low-performing counterparts to include overall team performance in its evaluation of performance.

Moving towards a team-centric understanding of performance would require a radical shift. Whilst 28% of organisations do currently reward through via team-based goals, a large number of businesses even struggle at C-suite to perform as a collective. 44% of respondents to Deloitte’s 2018 Human Capital Study found that they operate independently or only occasionally partner.

Additionally, reorganising a business to better perform using network data [the tech-y and data-y bit] – i.e. seeing how employees within an organisation interact with one another – to see the ‘organic’ structure of their organisation and realign it for better performance would require permissions under GDPR.

In the interim, Deloitte recommends “striving for a culture of collaboration and aligning incentives with team performance” as the first step.

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