For any organization to achieve its stated goals, a clear performance management process is vital.

However, it’s a process that’s rarely understood, and it’s often applied in a way that fails to produce its intended results — the high level of employee performance that is so important to an organization’s success.

In fact, a survey by Watson Wyatt found that only 3 out of 10 team members felt that their organization’s performance management process was a positive experience that contributed to their success and led to employee improvement.

A solid performance management process leads to improved results and happier employees, just like the employees pictured here celebrating a win.

The same survey also found that only 45% of team leaders say that performance management programs are effective.

Most likely, these numbers reflect the often-threatening conditions that are fostered by traditional, highly impersonal methods — effective employee improvement plans are, by nature, deeply personal endeavors for everyone involved.

What Is the Performance Management Process?

When many people think of the performance management process, they think of run-of-the-mill quarterly or annual performance reviews or other similar appraisals used by a lot of organizations to evaluate employees’ level of production.

Those tools may be part of the process, and those reviews might be the most identifiable aspects for employees, but they shouldn’t comprise the entirety of the performance improvement methods and tools used by an organization’s leadership.

In reality, an effective performance management process is so much more.

The performance management process is an ongoing opportunity for development where employees are offered frequent feedback, guidance, and direction necessary to succeed in their roles within the greater team system, and team members’ performance is the determining factor in achieving results.

Organizations seeking to reach the highest ranks of their industry or to surpass competition within their marketplace need to implement a variety of measures to empower team members to perform at the top of their game.

Both strategic and practical in nature, the performance management process largely aims at observing and tracking employees contributions to the organization’s objectives. It identifies opportunities for offering support along the way. It defines the organization’s interaction with its employees and utilizes a wide variety of performance improvement methods, tools, and activities.

Ideally, the process should identify opportunities and utilize effective tools that enable managers to evaluate individual performance. This evaluation forms the backdrop against which managers can then optimize productivity across the organization.

Performance Management — A Process, Not a Single Event

The performance management process, which is focused on performance improvements that correspond to organizational goals, needs to be a focused opportunity for both management and team members to develop an understanding of how each individual contributes to team goals and increases competencies, which further drives organizational results.

This process, which is focused ultimately on improving performance at work, often includes the following:

  • Defining roles and setting expectations
  • Observing and tracking performance
  • Increasing role-specific competencies
  • Providing feedback and ratings on performance and improvement needs

Let’s examine those points further.

Clarifying Roles and Expectations for Employee Performance

Everyone wants to know up front what’s expected of them. By clearly defining roles and expectations together and engaging in frequent discussion, management and team members reach an understanding of how the individual’s work is essential to the greater scheme.

When employees have a clear perspective regarding how their work furthers team goals, they discover greater energy, increased motivation, and engagement, and produce more inspired work.

Monitoring Employee Performance Improvement

By consistently monitoring performance and providing feedback, both in informal settings and (possibly) formal reviews, leaders can offer team members the opportunity to correct course or make adjustments to methods early on, which in turn can lead to employee improvement.

Such early supporting measures drastically increase individuals’ chances for long-term success, keeping in mind that collective results are driven by the sum of individual performance.

Increasing Competencies to Improve Performance at Work

As a result of tracking performance and identifying opportunities to support team members, team leaders can utilize a number of tools to increase their employee’s skills — the following are some examples:

  • Online or classroom training sessions
  • Mentoring programs or other forms of individualized coaching
  • Supervision sessions designed to rethink the definition or expectations of the given role

Again, the goal is to achieve collective results based on team decisions, and to do so means each individual must succeed.

Giving Feedback and Assigning Ratings

To be effective, feedback, whether positive or constructive, needs to be timely, specific, and consistent if it is to be an effective agent for employee improvement and increased motivation.

Feedback needs to be focused on the action, not the person, and it needs to be descriptive and detailed. The purpose of feedback is to help team members understand their relation to the expected levels of performance.

Prior to any numerical ratings that would permanently record a team member’s performance, a number of discussions should have already taken place, and should a team member be falling short of expectations, team leaders need to be clear and honest long before a significant problem develops.

When a formal evaluation that is to appear on the team member’s record is required, the results should not be a surprise to them — the above pieces of the process should have provided clarity on the team member’s level of performance sometime in advance.

A final, overall evaluation will only be accepted by the team member if they feel they have been provided ample opportunities and have been supported in their efforts to improve along the way.

The Performance Management Process — Based on Trust

We’ve said it already — the goal of every team is to achieve results. When teams:

Then teams stay focused on their larger purpose and can achieve their highest possible levels of performance…

But it all begins with developing trust.

Without that foundation of assurance that everyone (team leaders and members alike) is on the same page, a performance management process will never help employees improve or reach their potential — the lines of communication will be ineffective without that assurance.

If you’re new to the concepts of The Five Behaviors, click the link to learn more about vulnerability-based trust and consider how it might affect your overall performance management process strategy.


Brett Cooper

Brett is the visionary President of Integris Performance Advisors, a professional development firm he co-founded to expand the existence of healthy organizations and great places to work. By creatively bringing together concepts from The Five Dysfunctions of a Team (by Patrick Lencioni), The Leadership Challenge (by Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner), and Lean Six Sigma, Brett and his team have influenced thousands of people in government, non-profits and corporate America to work together in more productive, more effective and more human ways. Outside of his role at Integris, Brett dedicates time to serving others in need. He is a volunteer coordinator for the East Bay Stand Down and Stand Down on the Delta, two non-profits serving the needs of San Francisco’s homeless Veteran population. He is also board member and financial sponsor for Partners in Sustainable Learning, whose mission is to bring early childhood education to marginalized communities in the developing world (current projects are underway in Nepal).