Line Managers Want More Support on Performance Management

Covering Ears

Corporate executives claim to understand the critical role performance management and workforce development play in improving their company’s retention efforts. However, middle and front-line managers say their leaders aren’t backing up those words with real action, and are generally out of touch with what’s going on in their employees’ real world.

Research by Betterworks, a provider of performance management software, found managers are significantly more pessimistic than senior leaders about performance management efforts. They also see a dramatic lack of alignment between executives, workers and themselves.  

Front-line managers: Executives don't back up performance management talk with action, are out of touch with employees’ real world. #HR #HRTech @BetterWorks Share on X

The report adds a layer to Mercer’s 2019 Global Performance Management Study, which found a bare 2 percent of HR leaders believe their performance management systems offer real value. That’s roughly the same finding as in 2013. Mercer said the use of forced ranking, technology and continuous feedback “have not achieved the desired impact.”

Much Performance Management Talk, Less Support

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While organizations expect them to take the lead in improving workforce performance, the majority of managers say talent management efforts need significant improvement, according to Betterworks. In fact, most say that “effective or motivating coaching” is neither expected nor encouraged.

And managers are quick to get the message when leadership doesn’t take performance management seriously, in deed if not in words. For example, nearly two-thirds—63 percent—of managers don’t have regular development conversations with their workers. That’s not surprising when just 43 percent are held accountable for employee development. It follows that 59 percent of both managers and employees find no value in their organization’s process.

Seeing What They Want to See

Perhaps most troubling is the report’s finding that senior leaders consistently believe communications, performance management and workforce development efforts are effective when the managers closest to the workforce do not. For example:

  • Nearly half of senior leaders say workers understand their organization’s vision and mission. That compares to just 34 percent of managers.
  • Thirty-nine percent of executives believe employees aren’t overworked. Only 22 percent of managers agree.
  • Fifty percent of executives say the performance process is regularly used to asses skills and capabilities. Just 33 percent of managers see things that way.  
  • Some 48 percent of executives say their company values work-life balance, compared to 36 percent of managers.

We have to agree with the report’s authors when they write, “This persistent, significant discrepancy in perception between senior and front-line management suggests that businesses have neither communicated nor delivered their talent management programs effectively down through the organization.”

And we’ll note that in recent conversations, HR technology analysts and HR leaders agreed that executives have a tendency to regard a tool’s implementation as an actual solution. That may be because once technology’s been deployed, corporate leaders assume HR and middle managers will put it to its best use, and they stop closely following the system’s adoption and performance.

However, many managers also say their company’s leadership and management training leaves much to be desired. Over a third rated their programs as average or below, Betterworks said. That indicates that performance management solutions—whether organizational or technical—aren’t being supported by necessary learning programs.

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