In a nutshell...

This client had identified a need to introduce a performance management system. Negative past experiences of the usual ‘tick-box’ systems had produced a certain level of cynicism towards the idea. The need was to help the senior team put a shape on a performance management system that they could truly believe in and implement. We brought the team through a series of workshops which placed the development of their people at the heart of the system. The questions we put to the managers were “How would you like to be managed?” “What brings out the best in you?” At the end of the programme the senior team had moved from an initial place of cynicism to one of genuine engagement in the process. They had established a clear vision for what they wanted performance management to look like in their organisation as well as a roadmap to safeguard the implementation of a system that would support it.

A Vision for Authentic Performance Management

Assisting the senior management team of an international food production company to develop a vision for authentic performance management as well as guidelines for the design of a system that would facilitate that vision.


An international food production company headquartered in Ireland with staff of over 3,500 and locations in several countries across the globe.


The client was experiencing substantial growth and was fast becoming the world’s leading producer in their sector. At the same time, the leadership layer of the organisation was in the process of moving on from the original founders to the next generation of management. To accompany these changes, the HR department wanted to introduce a new performance management system. The brief was to assist the senior management team to come up with a unified vision for performance management as well as a roadmap for a system that would support that vision.


At an initial fact-finding meeting with the senior management team there was a startling revelation that none of them actually believed in performance management systems. They were only going along with the idea of implementing one because it seemed like the 'right thing to do', ‘the things large organisations usually do’. Their experience on the receiving end of such systems in other organisations was that they amounted to nothing more than an administrative ‘tick-box’ exercise. Given this underlying cynicism and lack of faith in performance management systems, there were four challenges:

  1. To overcome the cynicism and doubts of the senior team and secure willing engagement from all.

  2. Clarify the vision for an effective approach to managing people and their performance.

  3. Put a shape on what a performance management system would need to look like if it were to support that vision; a system that the senior management team could believe in.

  4. Agree on a set of guiding principles to safeguard the authenticity of the system in order to avoid falling into the ‘tick-box’ trap.


The cynicism and lack of faith in performance management experienced by the senior management team was neither unusual nor unwarranted. The reality unfortunately is that they are right insofar as the vast majority of performance management systems and approaches are ineffective. There are several reasons for this, but the key failing is a widespread misunderstanding of what it actually means to manage people and their performance. This misunderstanding is to blame for the current mediocre practice in the business world of performance management being equated with and often substituted by performance appraisal. Performance Management is the day to day management of our people in all aspects of their work – i.e. productivity, communication, behaviour, attitude, team work, ways of working and so on. Performance Appraisal on the other hand is the formal evaluation of that performance at different intervals throughout a working period, e.g. twice yearly. The misunderstanding has led to considerable confusion among managers and staff which has resulted in performance management suffering from neglect, and performance appraisal ending up as an administrative exercise which both staff and management come to resist. If this organisation was going to have any chance of implementing an authentic system of performance management, it was this misunderstanding that was going to have to be addressed.

What determines the authenticity of the system?

A true Performance Management System facilitates the effective execution of both performance management and appraisal. The success of such a system is entirely dependent on the level of authenticity in the day-to-day engagement, interactions and relationships between managers and staff, and these cannot be systemised. In fact, it is precisely these aspects which cannot be systemised that determine the quality of performance management in any organisation. If these aspects are not addressed, any system that is implemented will inevitably end up as a ‘tick-box’ administrative headache for both management and staff alike.

What we did

We scheduled a series of 6 meetings with the senior management team of 14. This team represented all aspects of the business i.e. finance, marketing, production, human resources, logistics, research and so on.

A System to Believe in

At the first meeting we agreed that the organisation would be better off with no system rather than a ‘half hearted’ one. Without belief and commitment, the performance management system would only serve to foster a culture of cynicism and division. All managers agreed that for any system to work there could be no division between the ‘system’ and how they ‘behave’: as someone said, ‘it must be in our DNA’.

A New Vision

We sought to clarify the team’s vision for what performance management should look like in the organisation. The vision that arose came entirely from the team members and was as follows:

"Performance management will focus on the real and substantial development of every individual in the interest of the whole organisation. It is a daily affair where all issues of performance are addressed and the real development needs (not wants) of people are fully attended to in a timely manner".

Now we had a vision of performance management that every single member of the senior team could get behind with their full support. The idea was that each member of the team would hold to this vision and actively encourage all management and staff to do likewise.

Developing the Team

Now that the team was armed with this new vision, they needed to be equipped with the knowledge and understanding to be fit to deliver on it and fit to manage their people in a way that would live up to this ideal. So the subsequent meetings, which consisted of both group and individual sessions, focused on developing skills and know-how in relation to managing people. The meetings were facilitated over a period of six months and addressed the following:

  • Understanding the basis of the ‘manager-staff’ relationship.
  • Performance management as a daily affair.
  • Adopting a ‘People First’ rather than ‘Task First’ approach.
  • How to uncover the real development needs of people.
  • Agreeing the principles of an effective system – System Design.
  • The importance of making honest communication a practical daily reality.
  • Bringing out the best in people – How?
  • Understanding what prevents us from addressing all performance issues.
  • Frameworks for addressing delicate issues of performance.
  • Ensuring the system serves the people and not vice versa.


A central aspect of the programme was the practical application and exploration that the managers were encouraged to engage in during the intervening periods between sessions. For example, managers had to meet with their staff and gather feedback on what staff would like from a performance management system. On another occasion they had to experiment with different approaches to addressing delicate issues of performance and on another they were asked to complete an exercise designed to identify the real needs of their people as opposed to their wants.

Designing the System

Specific time was allocated to the design of the performance management system that would be put in place in order to support the new vision and agreed principles. This involved bringing in the heads of IT and learning and development. In addition, we asked managers to meet with their staff to gather feedback on what this system should look like. One example of how the vision guided the design of the system was in relation to time. The vision states that performance management is a ‘daily’ affair. So it was decided that there should be a daily monitoring aspect to the system to avoid any possibility of the process falling into the twice yearly trap.


The senior team moved from an initial place of cynicism to one of genuine engagement, with each manager working towards the creation of an authentic performance management culture and an accompanying system. You could say that the initial cynicism was utilised to fuel the desire to avoid falling into the ‘tick-box’ trap that so many of these systems end up in. At the end of the programme the organisation had a clear vision for performance management created by their own senior team. In addition, the senior team all felt that their understanding of managing people had evolved considerably and this was already having an effect on their daily interactions with staff.


Restoring a Dysfunctional Team to Good Health