Delta Partners Management Consultants
Your trusted advisors.

TBS & Performance Management: Hit & Miss?

Debra Sunohara

Not all organizations choose to implement performance management systems.

The people who design, implement and run the systems do not expect that they will actually add value.  Employees typically perceive performance management (PM) systems as window dressing or “wallpaper”, designed to create a paper trail and a smokescreen for the next downsizing event.

Yet those organizations that do adopt well-designed and implemented performance management programs have shown increased individual productivity and financial performance. (Watson Wyatt 2001-2003 Human Capital Index)  But is that the be-all and end-all of performance management – shouldn’t it be about something more?

Performance Management and the Public Sector

Treasury Board Secretariat’s new Directive on Performance Management will come into effect on April 1, 2014. Taken at face value, it represents TBS’s attempt to set out the Meters-gaugesresponsibilities of deputy heads to apply a “consistent, equitable and rigorous approach to performance management”, and a process for public sector employees to demonstrate that they have “…the required knowledge, skills, competencies, behaviours, and engagement required to be productive and perform their duties in the service of Canadians.”

TBS has outlined its objectives in implementing the Directive as an initiative to promote a shared commitment to sustain “a culture of high performance in the public service”. But does the directive promote high performance? Can we expect it to deliver on fostering engagement, communication, recognition, innovation, respect, and service excellence needed to contribute to a high performing public service?

What is Performance Management?

man·age·ment [man-ij-muh nt]
1.  the process of dealing with or controlling things or people.  

When you think about ‘Performance Management’, what do you associate it with? A literal interpretation might suggest that performance management in its most basic form is a process aimed at controlling performance. That said, it has, and continues to, evolve into much more.

Performance management is the process by which organizations identify, measure, manage, and develop employee performance. Performance management is much more than just a new term substituted for performance appraisal. Performance appraisal is only one piece of the process used to determine, first, how well employees are performing, and, second, to improve their performance level over time. Standalone performance appraisals may have worked for some organizations in the past, but nowadays it just isn’t enough.

A modern performance management process:

  • Is on-going and continuous;
  • Provides systematic measurement and analysis;
  • Communicates and clarifies - job responsibilities, priorities, performance expectations;
  • Defines performance standards;
  • Evaluates employee performance;
  • Documents employee performance;
  • Measures progress;
  • Identifies performance problems;Tbs-pm
  • Informs decision-making – promotions, succession planning, strategic planning, performance pay;
  • Provides feedback - includes communication of the assessment to the individual; and,
  • Is aimed at improving performance over time.

In an ideal world, a performance management system helps create a workplace that enables employees to perform at their best. It would:

  • Align employees with strategic objectives and priorities;
  • Confirm mutual understanding between supervisor and employee;
  • Emphasize communication – increase effective, two-way communication between managers and employees;
  • Motivate employees through goal setting;
  • Ensure goals are consistently being met in an effective and efficient manner;
  • Encourage skill development;
  • Value employee development;
  • Coach for improved performance;
  • Foster teamwork;
  • Recognize quality performance;
  • Help resolve performance issues;
  • Reward achievements; and,
  • Provide frequent feedback.

Should organizations have performance management systems?

Legendary management consultant, W. Edwards Deming, ranked performance evaluation as the 3rd of The 7 Deadly Diseases and believed that the effects of PM are devastating – teamwork is destroyed, rivalry is nurtured. Performance ratings build fear and leave people bitter, despondent, and beaten.

Other critiques of performance management in general include:

  • Employees feel that performance reviews do not help them to improve their personal performance, provide honest feedback, nor set clear goals;
  • Input focused – looks backward, not forward;
  • Unreliable and inconsistent measurement system – performance ratings are highly subjective;
  • Works against quality initiatives – individual performance is not indicative of the quality of the system, efficiency Tbs-loser-griddoes not create effectiveness;
  • Universal approach – does not differentiate between junior employees and mature professionals, individual work vs. work performed as part of a team, and does not allow for cultural differences; and,
  • Misplaced blame – people often fail because of process and environment, not as a result of their own competency or efficiency. Process is the managers’ responsibility, but PM provides a convenient avenue to re-assign blame down the chain-of-command.

Expected Outcomes are Suspect

Although some managers would like to do away with performance management completely in favour of a greater emphasis on communication, it just isn’t realistic for an organization to not track employee performance in some way. There has to be some accountability, and we do have to confront poor performance. 

The important point to recognize is that most criticism is a reflection of the quality of performance management systems, and not the actual concept of managing performance. Perception of performance management should improve with improvements to design and implementation.

So, can performance management as described in the various TBS guiding documents result in a system in which public servants possess, “…the required knowledge, skills, competencies, behaviours, and engagement required to be productive and perform their duties in the service of Canadians”?

Given the tremendous emphasis on policy, implementation, and process, compared with the lack of substantive guidance with respect to personal communications, leadership, and coaching, the TBS approach is not likely to have a significant impact on the behaviours or, especially, the engagement of public sector employees.

Do you agree with this perspective? We would love to hear your perspective on the new performance management approach.

Also, keep an eye on this space as we will be releasing a Click here to read the follow-up where Debra discusses some things you can do to promote a healthy and useful approach to performance management.


Download our new eBook:Resilience-ebook-cover-300

Resilience: how to build resilience in your people and your organization







Performance Management
Very informative and practical article.
I would rather name it as performance development strategy; that can be an opportunity to solidify performance track and explore ways to empower, inspire, train, coach, facilitate the staff member performance. It is very important to conduct and manage in two ways open dialogue.
What is missed! It all started at attraction, selection and hiring stage; is the reason we selected and hired the staff under performance review. what happened to the ASKE ( Abilitities, attitudes, skills, knowledge, educational and experiences that we screed, examined and assessed,  that were evaluated in matching with the job description we drafted along with certain KPI, KPAs.
1- Has the employee been investing her/his human capital that was brought into the organization, as the organization is investing on weekly or monthly basis in her/ or him.
2- Has the supervisor or manager who manages staff been able to explore and deploy the
employee’s human capital in the best interest of the organization.
4 - What about manager who underscore his staff member at the review stage,, does not that
    mean s/he was not managing well through the evaluated period. Sound like manager were using two senses only but were instructed not to intervene.
Finally, I believe if there was an efficient management of staff on regular basis there would not be a need for such review but would divert to performance development or improvement.

By Jihad Gafour on 2014/02/09

Thank you for your positive feedback, Jihad.
I really can’t argue with any of the points you made, and completely agree that we need to shift the focus from performance management to talent management and all that it entails.

By Debra Sunohara on 2014/02/10

Good article.  I believe what will make or break the EPMD is the ability of managers and supervisors to coach and provide feedback with the aim of development over discipline.  It’s all about the possibilities!

By Gita Baack on 2014/03/07

Well said, Gita. I wholeheartedly agree with you!

By Debra Sunohara on 2014/03/10

Add a Comment

Notify me of follow-up comments?