Best Practices for Building a Performance Management Metrics Strategy

HR leaders are often tasked with creating, or revising/overhauling their organizations' performance management metrics strategy, and making recommendations to senior leadership about what they feel needs to be done. That can be a daunting task. Today’s HR professionals, fortunately, have access to the data and technology they need to help them not simply “come up with metrics,” but to design a performance management strategy aligned with corporate goals and strategic objectives. That’s the way to earn that coveted seat at the table and the respect of senior leaders and board members.

So how do you get there? Here we take a look at some best practices for building a performance management metrics strategy that will resonate with senior leaders. 

Alignment to Strategic Objectives

This is where it all begins—or where it should. What your organization is trying to achieve should serve as the starting point for your consideration of the metrics to be used in performance management. Where can you find this information? In your annual report or strategic plan if your company has one. If not, through conversations with your CEO, CFO, and other members of the leadership team.

What is the organization’s mission, vision, and values? What’s important to the organization? How does it make money (this is important for not-for-profit as well as for-profit organizations)? Unless you understand the answers to these critical questions it will be literally impossible to develop a performance management system that matters.

Focusing on Both Tactical and Adaptive Performance

Organizations long ago learned that they could quickly focus on tactical metrics to measure performance—things like absenteeism, showing up on time, etc. Some even progressed into more business-related metrics like sales, customer satisfaction scores, etc.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with these types of measures. However, they don’t really give a full picture perspective of performance. Worse, they don’t provide any insights into to what extent the organization is building capabilities for innovation and future success. These are adaptative performance measures which high-performing companies have learned to build into their performance management metrics strategies.

Are you looking for people who just show up consistently? Or, are you looking for people who can adapt to a dynamic environment? Only you can answer those—or other—questions to help you determine what it is that your organization truly values in employees. Based on the answers, you would then come up with metrics to help you measure how well your employees are delivered on that value.

Overall Performance or A Focus on Key Competencies?

What constitutes a great employee in your organization? What are the core competencies and capabilities they possess that leads them to perform well? Do you know?

Many organizations manage performance at an overall level. This is the most simple way to manage performance and, again, there is nothing inherently wrong with taking this approach. However, the more you can drill down into the sub-elements of performance that really drive success, the more you can customize metrics across divisions, departments, roles, etc.

Goal Driven Performance Assessment

Another approach that organizations take to performance management is evaluating performance based on goal attainment. Those goals might be organization-wide (e.g., quarterly sales goals), division or department-specific (e.g., error rates, quality outcomes), or individual (e.g., achieving specific outcomes or deliverables).

Finding the “Right” Approach

Your company and its strategic priorities, as well as your internal capabilities to gather and analyze various metrics, will determine the appropriate approach for you. There is no handy “one-size-fits-all” solution. And, in fact, despite widespread coverage of trendy performance management approach—like OKRs or “objectives and key results”—there is no one “right” approach, there is only your approach.

It can be helpful, though, to consider how other organizations have approached performance management, and the approaches they use to identify and use meaningful metrics while monitoring performance over time.

Wells Fargo is an example of an organization that once focused on tactical execution. An overly aggressive and singular focus on earnings led employees to take any means necessary to meet their numbers—including opening accounts without customer authorizations. That was in 2016, when the company agreed to pay $185 to settle a lawsuit with federal regulators and the county of Los Angeles. Over time, Wells Fargo has changed its approach to performance management. They provide a good example, unfortunately, of what can go wrong when companies focus only on tactical metrics.

Netflix is an organization with a strong commitment to culture. So strong, that back in 2009 then Talent Officer Patty McCord and CEO Reed Hasting, published a Netflix Culture Deck to provide clarity to the organization—all members of the organization—around what Netflix valued. They then took what some believe to be a radical approach to performance management—they were one of the first companies to boldly do away with the traditional annual performance review. Instead they shifted to a performance management process that focused on what they felt was most important—their cultural norms—and created a 360-degree, transparent (reviews are made public), and ongoing form of evaluation.

Deloitte approaches performance management somewhat differently. Like Netflix, they also eliminated annual reviews, and they eliminated cascading objectives. They shifted to a new approach that, according to an article in Harvard Business Review, has hallmarks that include “speed, agility, one-size-fits-one, and constant learning.” It’s an approach made possible by the availability of reliable performance data.

Keep in mind, though, that the approaches that have worked for these organizations may not work for yours—in fact, what worked for them probably won’t work for yours. Why? Because you’re different. You have a unique culture, unique market, unique product or service, unique vision/mission, and unique strategic objectives.

In determining the right approach for you, there are some important things you need to consider.

  • Your purpose. Your starting point in considering the right approach for your organization is your purpose. Why are you doing performance management? What results do you believe it will drive in your organization?
  • Can reviewers actually and accurately measure what you’re trying to measure? It’s not uncommon for organizations to measure leadership potential. But will your organization’s managers actually be able to measure leadership potential among their employees?
  • Can you capture the data cost-effectively? Just because something can be measured, doesn’t mean that it should. You need to consider how it will be measured, the cost of measurement and the value of the information you’re gathering.
  • Do metrics tie back to key organizational goals and objectives? Do you have a performance management system that can not only track progress against these objectives, but shift and adjust as priorities evolve?

So once you’ve considered all of these factors and come up with a performance management metrics strategy, your job is done, right? Wrong! Performance management isn’t a static organizational function. It’s iterative and ongoing. As you monitor metrics and have discussions around them, and as your internal and external environment changes based on anything from new emerging competition to global pandemics, your metrics will need to change. What’s important today may not be important tomorrow.

Having a process though for clearly and carefully considering the tie between performance metrics and organization performance, the options available to you, what your organization needs, and your organization’s capacity to capture the right information will help you develop a flexible approach for today and tomorrow—an approach that your organizational leaders will clearly see the value of. 

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