Performance Management to Performance Coaching !

This article provides an alternate view to the much dreaded Performance

Management process. With a little twist performance management can be

a lot more engaging and supporting employee performance.

Authors : Dr. Sandeep K. Krishnan, Associate Director – People Business and Sarojani Gaikwad, Director – People Business (Download the full book)

Peter Senge’s view of the learning organization emphasizes on molding and changing our mental model to one that suits to create a culture of inquiry and trust. Openness to learn and questioning without confrontation becomes one the key anchors to organizational change. While it is easy to say, organizations have been conditioned to be more evaluative and assessment has been a key aspect of creating competitive workforce. One of the strongest levers of this has been the performance management system. A performance management system aligned with process of differentiation like normalization espoused values of competition, survival of the fittest, elimination of the weakest and continuous improvement. However, over a long run it also created counter behaviors of beating the system through, manipulating and aligning the goals to achieve results, agreements to save poor ratings, and politicking. While the focus of performance management was on outcomes related to ratings like payhikes, bonuses, and promotion, the development orientation of performance management got the beating. Research shows that only one-third of employees feel that they got continuous feedback from their managers and only one-tenth feel that organizations and managers have provided enough career and developmental feedback to them.  It is interesting that organizations are realizing that the focus on outcomes of performance management has depreciated the spirit of performance management which is continuous improvement and development through coaching.

From Performance Management to Coaching

Performance Coaching espouses the true spirit of performance management.  The shift from a traditional approach of performance management to performance coaching would be as follows.

Performance Management

Performance Coaching

Focus on the process

Focus on the individual

Focus on compliance

Focus on participation

Focus on outcomes (ratings, decisions)

Focus on the engagement

Feedback approach

Feed forward approach

Learning and development secondary to performance evaluation

Learning and development driver to


Performance and development driven by the organization and the manager

Performance and development led by the individual and facilitated by the organization and manager

Focusses on a culture of competition

Focuses on creating a culture of coaching and mentoring

Can be automatic and driven by processes

Driven by skill and will of the individuals and managers. Part of culture building.

The interesting aspect that is noticed in the organizational development space is that, while in the past organizations focused on changing the performance management process itself to enhance its effectiveness, it was soon identified that it is not the process but the “skill” and “will” of doing it in the right spirit that mattered.  Performance coaching is not just a process, it needs to become a part of how we believe in the capability and potential of the employees to grow and develop. Leadership, is about relationship between people. Without a relationship, there is no trust, and thus any amount of performance dialogue will not allow for individual growth and development. Mutual respect of critical to the development of employees, it is important for leaders to care about their developing team member.

This method of joint exploration, allows the employee to reflect, ask questions and co create solutions impacting short and long term performance. The manager also begins to intensely listen and observe, he uses probing questions to help the employee discover unchartered areas/options.

The three case studies given below explain how organizations are driving this shift.

Case Study 1: A medium sized IT Organization

The organization had a strong philosophy of performance coaching ingrained in its performance management process. The managers in the organization were called performance coaches. The intent was that these coaches craft the success of their coachees (direct reportees).  It was important that Coaches have the necessary skills to do performance coaching (both the system aspects like goal setting, evaluation, and feedback but also have the tools and approach to engage in coaching conversation related to feedback and development). The organization embarked on a journey of performance coaching culture building that focused at three levels. Building the knowledge and skills of new managers. These managers were told how to do performance coaching as per the organizational expectations and were given an opportunity to experience it through a workshop. The new managers were also given the support of a senior manager who guided them in their journey. The experienced managers in the organization were provided an opportunity to reflect on their approach towards performance coaching through a 360 degree assessment. They were also given support and refresher in terms of tools and approaches for performance coaching. The organization’s coaching competency model was used as a key benchmark on expected behaviors.  The senior managers were also encouraged to coach two of their direct reports on their areas of development. The senior managers got support from external coaches to have clarifications on areas they would have got difficulties. The leadership team in the organizations was provided perspectives on their strengths through assessment and was encouraged to leverage their strengths to support coaching in the organization.  This organization developed a unique culture of performance coaching by leveraging on manager development.

Case Study 2: A large IT organization

This large IT organization felt that performance management process has been not taken seriously by its leaders and managers. Many thought of it has a chore to be done every 6 months. An internal research also showed that many felt no linkage between performance management and learning. The softer aspects of performance management related to career development, continuous coaching and feedback, employee development were neglected or no time was devoted to it. The organization embarked on a journey of supporting its top leaders and managers to reinvigorate the spirit of performance management by building a coaching culture. Senior Leaders were asked to reflect on how they did performance discussion with help of an executive coach. 360 degree feedback was collected through one on one discussion with their team members and manager. Similarly, all senior managers went through a day long workshop that was meant to bring in clarity and ownership about performance management. The idea was to help them devote more time to give coaching and supporting their team on day to day work and also looking at long term development and career. The idea was to break the concept of performance management as a year-end compliance process to one that supports learning and improvement in the organization.

Case Study 3:  This large Indian NBFC received feedback from the employees on how the Performance Management Process was not transparent and was only focused on performance outcomes – ratings & salary increase. Employees saw it as a Human Resource Process, with no impact on their lives as professionals, and managers saw it as a task to be completed and adhered with. An internal audit showed that the process allowed for limited conversations on personal aspirations, career development, growth or mobility.  The organization understood that this critical Talent Management Process needed to be strengthened. There was a deep focus on rebuilding the Performance Management Process through education that helps the leaders understand the purpose of the system , developing manager capability through experiential programs and working with employees to help them change their lens as they experience the process.  The organization works extensively with First Time Managers to help them build and exhibit skills that encourage performance dialogues keeping in mind employee career anchors, aspirations and focusing on the long term development and not just immediate monetary outcomes.

It is well known that successful organizations are resilient, positive, and work together to achieve the goals. Performance coaching culture can create that foundation within the organization that supports learning at different levels – manager led coaching, peer supported coaching, and direct reports supported coaching.  From a perspective of learning this requires organizations to have a learning culture that is supported by skills and an attitude of adult to adult transaction. 

The benefits of building the performance coaching culture are many. For the learning and development or human resources it helps them in,

·         Moving away from learning driven by class room to one that is based on sharing by peers, managers, or direct reports

·         Greater willingness to learn and based on need. For examples: individuals undergo transition in terms of roles and responsibilities almost every year. A culture of manager/ peer coaching can support a lot in term of transition support

·         Research shows that managers, who are effective in coaching their team, can show better results and are more engaged than rest. It makes sense to put efforts in manager development – especially for new managers

·         Research shows that high potentials are more interested in coaching support and they value it more. From high potential learning and development creating a coaching culture can help.

For the learning and development team or HR in general, building the performance coaching culture in the organization is not easy. Foremost, employees should believe that it can yield benefits to them. Leaders in the organization can support this by investing their time both doing and communicating its importance to the team below. Secondly, there should be consistent efforts to build capabilities in terms of skills of managers to do performance coaching. Thirdly, it should be continuous effort and reinforcement should be there through feedback and dip-sticks to measure effectiveness.