The “performance development” part of an HR Directors role

Posted in: Bloggery

My recent blog: “Death to Performance Appraisals!” certainly sparked a bit of interest –and most likely some level of disagreement.

Performance appraisals are supposed to be about developing and improving performance – which is a laudable aim of course.  Certainly most of us value constructive advice with that in mind.  My main point earlier was that this process is often contaminated with forms, rating systems, entanglement with compensation decisions and bureaucracy – taking it some distance from quiet, effective coaching.

The “Performance Development” part of an HR Directors role also (and more legitimately) addresses investing in individual development – and in broader organisational capability development.

Here I think there are some important perspectives, if this is work is to have real impact.

  • First work back from organisational strategy, to needed organisational capabilities.  This is hard, but critical thinking.  If a future need is to focus on growth, rather than ongoing cost-cutting, for example, then this is where the right people, given the right development guidance and support become essential.  If competitive advantage rests on change in technology, and innovation, then HR needs to understand exactly what this means in terms of people capabilities.
    Effective HR leaders get into the territory of line managers and carefully unpack what key positions are there to deliver in the context of changing strategic priorities.
  • Next go further down to analyse and write down the capabilities needed in each role.  This involves good tools and hard thinking – which is often something line managers simply don’t have the time to engage in.  Definitions of capabilities should be as much behavioural as they might be about skills and experience.   In collaboration with line managers, write down what success in that role would look like – and then think further about the capabilities needed to deliver those outcomes.  There can be merit in sourcing input from experts in Lominger and the Hay/McBer people here as well.  To return to the earlier point however, this involves keeping abreast of constantly changing contexts and needs:  it is absolutely not about locking down static position   descriptions and competency profiles.
  • Turning to lifting performance in individuals in current roles, the guidance given to managers should be to work with strengths, to improve them in people, rather than spending wasted effort on instances of clear and intrinsic lack of aptitude.  I am influenced here by Marcus Buckingham and Curt Hoffman’s observations in “First Break all the Rules”. The claim is made in this great little book that there is one common wisdom to be found in all great managers.  It is that deep down, they cannot change people.  They recognise that each person is motivated uniquely and differently: they capitalise on strengths rather than attack weaknesses.

People don’t change that much.

Don’t waste time trying to put in what was left out.

Try to draw out what was left in.

That is hard enough. [i]

  • Stepping further back again, effective HR leaders then set out to provide guidance in looking at succession, management depth and broad development initiatives which build organisational capability.  This work involves line managers in crafting broader initiatives around talent mapping, training, insourcing expertise, outsourcing non-critical activities, cross-functional projects, secondments, ….and sometimes careful replacement of key individuals.
  • Having said this – and to illustrate the flexibility in thinking required of great HR people (!) – it is critical to also work from the premise that individual development, rests in ownership by individuals, not organisations.  Provide data about key roles, strategic priorities and required capabilities in an “open-source” approach and engage promising individuals in what it reveals and requires as they build their careers.

I think these are more productive perspectives than focusing on performance appraisal processes and systems, quite frankly.  Give the forms and rating systems a good hard flick….


[i] Marcus Buckingham and Curt Hoffman, “First Break All the Rules”, Page 57, Simon and Schuster, UK, 1999