What to Do When Your Star Performer Stops Performing

Star performers can make an incredible contribution to an organisation, with the top 10% of performers typically responsible for 30% of the total production output in their industries¹. So, what do you do when your star performer stops performing?

Star performers

Defining a Star Performer

Those of you who caught my article on retaining top talent will know that star performers are in a league of their own. They make up 10-15% of the workforce, can be found in every industry¹, and consistently deliver at the top of their game, often exceeding the productivity of their colleagues by as much as 400%².

They are self-motivated, show a stronger tendency towards self-learning and development than other groups² and are more likely to stay in a role long-term if there is the potential to learn new skills². As a result, they are receptive to feedback and, while they value recognition, are keen to focus on areas where they can improve. You’re unlikely to see a star performer repeat the same mistake twice since they generally listen to assessments and successfully apply feedback².

Contrary to popular belief, high productivity is not the sole definition of a star performer. Unlike workaholics (another group that can deliver high outputs), star performers know their value and don’t need external validation³. They also have a high emotional intelligence with an increased tolerance for stress, and typically display traits including empathy, assertiveness, and optimism⁴. They prioritise their workloads, are highly efficient, and are less likely to suffer burnout as a result³.

The Difference Between Star Performers and High Potentials

Don’t confuse your star performers with your high potentials. Star performers can be great at their job – and a real asset to your team – but it doesn’t necessarily follow that they have the desire (or ability) to assume management roles. As leaders, we have to know the difference between high potential and high performance if we want to identify, develop, and retain talent. Check out my recent article on promoting high performers for a more detailed look at how to make the most of your high potentials.

Why Do Star Performers Stop Performing?

It is unusual for a star performer to stop performing completely. They can (and do) become disenchanted with their work⁵, but it’s not always easy to spot disengaged stars. Unhappiness at work won’t necessarily translate into poor performance, and star performers can still meet and exceed targets when they are not engaged or invested.

Environments that would affect productivity in other groups are less likely to result in performance problems with stars, who will simply seek a new employer. A 2014 study found that less than half of high performers are satisfied with their jobs, and 20% are likely to leave in the next six months².

So, if your high performer isn’t working at their best, then the chances are the issue is down to more than simply the working environment or management style. High performers’ productivity can be impacted by a number of situations, including:

  1. A problem in their personal life affecting their work.
  2. Misdirected effort.
  3. Lack of challenge.


Address the problem

The only solution is to get to the root of the problem. Managers need to handle the situation carefully, especially if the issue is a personal one. A one-to-one conversation is the first place to start. The general rules of feedback apply here, and you need to avoid making the conversation personal, instead keep it specific and forward focused:

“I noticed that we are behind on X. Is there anything I can do to help, are there any roadblocks in your way?”

Provide direction

Aligning star performers with organisational goals is crucial. Misdirection is a common reason for poor performance, and ensuring your star performers are aware of the big picture means you can make the most of their ability to prioritise goals and think around a problem¹. If managers fail to provide a clear understanding of what they are working towards and why, star performers simply don’t have the information available to perform at their best.

Giving star performers the freedom to work autonomously and deliver on set objectives is a great way to reward their work and reinforce their value, capitalising on their talents and increasing their worth to your organisation in the process. Too much autonomy, however, can lead to misdirection and lower productivity, with individuals working against organisational objectives or at cross-purposes to each other. To maximise productivity, an autonomous approach should always be accompanied by regular check-ins and a clear understanding of organisational goals.

Be sympathetic

If your star performer is struggling with a personal issue, giving them time off to address it is often the quickest way to get them back up to speed. A sympathetic approach also demonstrates exactly how much you value their contribution to the team.

Provide new challenges

Star performers are great creative thinkers¹, so provide them with new challenges if their current work is becoming repetitive. Just ensure the new assignment is aligned with the organisation’s long-term plans and fulfils a real purpose.


The ability to independently judge their value means that a lack of feedback or praise can make star performers feel unappreciated. These guys are well aware that they perform above the rest of the team, and they need to know that you appreciate and value that contribution. Show them how much they are valued and set up regular check-ins to make sure they have the support they need to perform well.

To Sum Up…

Star performers exist in every industry, and can make a significant contribution to organisational growth. Managing them requires a unique approach, and leaders need to focus on developing skills and retention rather than performance.

Any tips and tricks for managing star performers? Feel free to share them in the comments section.


¹Aguinis and O’Boyle, 2014. Star performers in 21st century organisations. Personnel Psychology, 67. pp. 313-350

²Willyerd, K. 2014. What high performers want at work. Harvard Business Review.

³Gordon, 2014. High performers vs. workaholics, 7 subtle differences. LinkedIn Pulse.

⁴Durek and Gordon, 2009. In: Hughes et al. ed., Handbook for developing emotional and social intelligence. Chapter 9: Zeroing in on star performance. pp. 185. Available from: IMD.

⁵Kibler, 2015. Prevent your star performers from losing passion for their work. Harvard Business Review.

Upgrading Performance Management Processes

Evolving your performance management process

In my May 11 Blog, Should You Drop Performance Ratings? I discussed the revolution occurring in HR Departments and companies large and small with regard to the traditional performance evaluation system. Many companies are shifting away from the annual review to more flexible, on-demand evaluations to align with a fluid, on-demand market. The need to respond quickly not only to customer desires, but to the needs and wants of employees and managers is driving change in a system that has been largely unchanged and in place for decades.

Recently, six of our Cognology clients took the time to talk with me about how they’re evolving their performance management processes. They’ve developed some innovative solutions I wanted to share, along with general trends we’re seeing in the business community.

The Trends

Many companies that decide to upgrade their ratings system are developing processes that work just for them. They may add more frequency, build on the system in place, scrap the old model all together, or any combination. The variety of changes is as vast as the variety of companies. Some models will work for one firm, others for another. But they’re all based on the singular notion: engagement and innovation occur in real time, and so should performance management.

In some cases, the need to reduce the complexity of the system has been the driving force behind change, for others the need to reduce formality is the goal. In almost all cases, higher frequency feedback is implemented. In a highly competitive marketplace, business must be poised for change at a moment’s notice: as must their employees. When feedback is frequent and ongoing, change is easier to affect. And, as the lines of communication open and trust is built, the “we fear change” mentality shifts to “we can do it together.”

Another trend is to eliminate the “goal setting” aspect of the rating; exchanging it for predictive planning. Collaborating on achievable projections, rather than setting rigid goals, engages the employee in the growth process. Instead of telling staff members where you expect them to be within a specified time frame, you work together to achieve short-term milestones that translate into long-term growth. The payoff for employers are employees who reflect on their growth throughout their employment – not just when evaluation time is nigh.

Including self-initiated and self-reflective ratings give employees the opportunity to evaluate their own work with the guidance of their manager or team leader. In addition, they can also provide valuable insight into a staff member’s perspective on the company and their role in its success.

A common thread in all upgrades is that a system built on rigidity can create a barrier to employee engagement. Building fluidity into the process, even including an option to incorporate peer and crowdsourced feedback, changes the dynamic from assessment to teamwork. Some are even creating trust with audit logs as a fallback in the event of disagreements – an option to agree to disagree – that isn’t punitive, and can be reevaluated in future, if need be.

Building With Trust

Throughout any change initiative, trust is crucial. Upgrading a performance system is reliant on trust: trust that the change will be beneficial not only to the company, but to each individual staff member. Engaging staff in higher frequency feedback could be viewed as micromanagement or collaboration: how it’s seen and utilized by depends on how you frame the case for change. If employees know they can seek out feedback without fear of reprisal, productive communication can begin.

And fear of reprisal has some legitimacy: remember the traditional employee evaluation system, which intended to provide guidance and set goals, has long been tied to annual salary increases. Showing your weakness, in the past, may have meant a lower raise for the future. Staff will need to be assured the new system will not be punitive: that we improve as individuals and as a company when we seek guidance; discuss areas for improvement; or work together to problem-solve.

Monitor Change

As with any change, it’s important to monitor the effectiveness of each aspect of the new system as it evolves. Are more frequent feedback meetings opening lines of communication and breaking down barriers: if not, why not? Is self-evaluation providing insight and opportunities for planning: or are trust issues impeding its success? The payoff – as staff members participate in the evolution of the process, you should see them gaining ownership of their future. That ownership can translate to higher productivity and engagement.

Some adjustments may be needed along the way, but don’t let them discourage you from moving forward. Some methods will work well, others not, still others may need modification. But all attempts to upgrade will show staff that you’re working with them to drive their success, as well as your own. As you build on the knowledge you accumulate, you may very well develop a customised system that serves your company, your staff, and bottom line quite well.

Is Your Performance System Due for an Upgrade?

Is it time to make a change? You may not be comfortable with a complete overhaul, but some trends may intrigue: feel free to take them for a test drive. If they work, hang on to them: if not, try something else. Whatever motivates you and however the process evolves, the result can be real-time, actionable feedback. That level of agility could make your company more responsive to an ever-changing market. The bonus – employees will recognise they are taking a role in their own growth, which translates into growth for the company.

Whether you’re ready to jump into a new system entirely, or hope to evolve your current system into a something more flexible, the trend to shift the performance process itself is an expression of a larger need for change: a recognition that our staff are partners in prosperity. When everyone is collaborating to succeed, the possibilities are endless.

Turning Poor Performers into Productive Team Members

A whopping 65% of Australian HR managers admit to hiring an employee who failed to meet their expectations¹. These poor performers are an expensive commodity. They reduce productivity², monopolise their managers’ time³, and drag down the morale of those around them¹.

With so much at stake, addressing under performance is crucial to long-term organisational success. However, poor performance is a complex issue, and there are many reasons why someone might not be giving work their all. More often than not, that reason lies with their manager. So, how do we separate the true poor performers from those who are struggling to meet expectations?

The Reasons Behind Poor Performance

There are two main reasons why someone under performs; lack of ability, and lack of motivation⁴.

Ability is governed by more than just skill. While competency gaps are an obvious reason for poor performance, a lack of resources, expectations, and understanding will also affect an individual’s ability to perform well.

Motivation is influenced by both external and internal factors. Mental health issues such as depression can impact productivity and motivation⁵, as can tensions within a team, concerns over job security⁶, burnout, and a lack of incentive or accountability⁴.

Is Your Poor Performer Really A Poor Performer?

Source: Eagle Hill Consulting

Managing Poor Performers

When addressing performance issues, do not view the individual as a poor performer. Assume that the problem is your responsibility since, as a manager, you are ultimately responsible for setting expectations, ensuring they are understood, and providing resources that enable staff to deliver on their objectives. Managers also have a huge impact on motivation and job satisfaction.

A one-to-one conversation is the quickest way to identify the problem. Avoid comments that sound critical or personal, and instead keep the conversation forward focused,

“I noticed that you’ve been struggling to meet deadlines recently, and I wanted to check in and see if there was anything I could do to help.”

By the end of the meeting, you need to have a thorough understanding of how that individual does their job and what obstacles and everyday problems they encounter.

Don’t be surprised if you hear the phrase, “I’m working as hard as I can”, or “There is nothing more I can do.” In my experience, this is true, and the individual really is working to the best of their ability. As managers, it’s down to us to identify any obstacles and address inefficiencies.

Training and Coaching

If your performance conversation highlights a skills gap, then it is your responsibility to address it. Providing employees with the opportunity to gain job-related skills introduces new ideas and encourages innovation, increasing productivity in the process⁷. Don’t be afraid to allow individuals the freedom to implement those ideas, either. Giving employees the autonomy to adjust ineffective workplace processes can improve performance at both a team and individual level⁷.

Ongoing feedback and coaching are vital to the success of any performance management strategy, especially when managing under performers. Coaching places the responsibility for finding a solution on the employee but provides them with the support they need to identify that solution. It’s a great way to increase confidence and help individuals prioritise their workloads, and can boost productivity by as much as 21%⁸.

If a lack of skills is the problem, then a combination of on-the-job training and coaching is often an effective solution. Don’t expect miracles to happen overnight, recognise that the process may take months and give the employee the time they need to address skills gaps.

Setting SMART Goals

If the individual doesn’t understand what is required of them, then it is up to you to establish clear expectations. Regular readers will know I’m an advocate of SMART goals, which are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound. By providing employees with a measurable objective and clear deadline, you increase responsibility for the outcome and individual accountability for performance.

Addressing the Impact on Team Members

In a US study, 68% of professionals cited a negative impact on employee morale as the biggest problem with poor performers. Most (54%) believe that they also play a pivotal role in cultivating an environment where a mediocre performance is acceptable⁹.

Leaders spend nearly 20% of their time managing under performers³, so it is crucial that you don’t overlook the rest of the team. Schedule performance conversations with those working alongside your poor performer. Focus on identifying any long-standing issues or obstacles facing the team as a whole and make sure that employees who are meeting or exceeding expectations feel valued and appreciated.

Knowing When to Quit

If intrinsic motivation is the problem, then you have on your hands a real poor performer. You can determine this by attitude, and a performance conversation or coaching session will generally be met with repeated negativity and disengagement. If this is the case, then the only solution is to remove the individual from their role.

To Sum Up…

Poor performance is a complex problem influenced by many factors. Addressing the issue requires a personalised approach, with a focus on improving workflow efficiency and providing individuals with the resources they need to meet expectations.

Do you have experience managing poor performers? Feel free to share your ideas, insights, and successes in the comments section below.


¹Robert Half, 2016. The cost of a bad hire: 10% of employee turnover is attributed to a poor hiring decision. Robert Half.
²Ekpang. 2015. Counselling for effective work performance: a way for service improvement. IOSR Journal of Humanities and Social Science. 20 (3). pp. 39-43.
³Robert Half, 2012. One bad apple. Robert Half.
⁴Marr. 2015. 7 causes of poor employee performance and how to address them. LinkedIn Pulse.
⁵Wang, et al., 2004. Effects of major depression on moment-in-time work performance. (Abstract) The American Journal of Psychiatry. 161 (10). pp. 1885-1891.
⁶Staufenbeil and Konig, 2010. A model for the effects of job insecurity on performance, turnover intention and absenteeism. Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology.
⁷Fernandez and Moldogaziev, 2010. Empowering public sector employees to improve performance: does it work? The American Review of Public Administration 2011.
⁸Cognology, 2015. A leader’s guide to coaching. Cognology.
⁹Eagle Hill Consulting, 2015. Are low performers destroying your culture and driving away your best employees? Eagle Hill Consulting.

Clinton vs. Trump: Two Alternative Approaches to People Management

From FBI investigations to opinion polls and some unfortunate word choices, American Presidential hopefuls Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are filling the column inches and keeping the world’s media on its toes. One article caught my attention last month and sparked more than a little curiosity about how they each run their campaigns. I’m not talking about the merchandise-laden tour buses and charged debates, but the experts, aids, and volunteers bustling about behind the scenes.

In 2012, Ann Marie Habershaw – the COO behind Obama’s 2012 reelection campaign –  revealed that hiring practices among staffers were, at best, ad hoc. She was responding to a Tweet from Nathaniel Koloc, then CEO of recruitment firm Rework. She told him that department heads often make hiring decisions on the fly, and campaigns are inevitably run by friends of friends and talent sourced through word-of-mouth.

As though to prove her point, three years later, Habershaw mentioned Koloc to Clinton’s deputy COO, who called to offer him the position of Director of Talent Acquisition and Development on the Hillary for America campaign. That makes Clinton’s outfit the first major political campaign to have a role dedicated to people management and talent sourcing¹. An interesting move, don’t you think?

Which got me thinking, what can we learn about people management from these two very different candidates?


25 seconds in, learning from criticism. 3.29, expressing her opinion and identifying problems without micromanaging the solution. 5 mins in, importance of compromise for progress.

Team and Hiring Style

The first female nominee is known for her close inner-circle. Many of the major players on her staff have been with her since she was First Lady, and she has retained a number of employees from her time at the State Department – not to mention some notable names from both husband Bill’s and President Obama’s campaigns².

This tried and tested team have proven they can handle anything a Presidential election might throw at them, but Hillary has also future-proofed her staff. Her established team is joined by new hires with more contemporary skill sets, like Marlon Marshall, who is known for his alternative approach and willingness to operate contrary to established Washington precedent². Interestingly, it’s an attitude mirrored by campaign manager Robby Mook, who worked with Clinton on her 2008 campaign.


The thousands of work emails now available to the public reveal a lot about Clinton’s character and how it translates to her management style.

Performance-oriented Clinton is happy to circumvent time consuming, official procedures when she judges them irrelevant. For example, when waiting to receive a statement which lacked any sensitive information but had been classified top secret, she instructed the sender to simply email it directly (and against protocol), ensuring the document was available there and then without delay.³

“Take criticism seriously, but not personally. If there is truth or merit in the criticism, try to learn from it. Otherwise, let it roll right off you.”4

Source: Huffington Post

Management Style

There may be no better way to define Clinton’s management style than with her own phrase, ‘smart power’. It encapsulates the need to learn and adapt to new situations in pursuit of the best possible outcome⁵. A practice reflected in her team, who embody a mixture of experienced and unconventional thinking.

Throughout her public career, Clinton has championed training and skills development.

In a primary debate in 2007, she advised against contracting out government jobs, an expansion of her 2006 idea to form a ‘public service academy’. Much like a military academy, this theoretical institute would train civil servants for free in exchange for a set number of years work. It’s a management approach that offers benefits at both an individual and organisational level, the organisation in this case being the USA⁶.

Defining Principles

  • Compromising
  • Manages to strengths
  • Performance orientated


On being detail orientated (1 min 32 in), 2.50 attitude to employee performance.

Team and Hiring Style

The Republican nominee launched his bid for The Oval with a very small team. Including long-time advisors Roger Stone and Corey Lewandowski, his initial staff had little political experience and were later joined by communications and foreign policy teams that, again, consisted of strategists and consultants with little or no experience in the political arena⁷. Trump opted for those he knew and trusted from his years in industry rather than new faces or unknown experts.

However, as the election gained momentum, Trump’s hiring policy changed in response to the developing needs of the campaign. Established political consultant Paul Manafort came on board, bringing with him over 30 years experience in presidential politics. At the same time, those in Trump’s team with political backgrounds were promoted, and the campaign strategy took on a more traditional approach, with Manafort introducing teleprompters and speechwriters⁷.


Intuitively driven, Trump is not a manager bound to the status quo. He is known to base his hiring decisions on gut reactions, and places greater emphasis on potential than experience.⁸ It’s a focus reflected in his initial campaign team, picked for their skills rather than their experience in the political world.

“Management is an art that is very important to me. Having leadership skills and employees that love their work is one of the great joys of life.”

Source: Sullivan and Costa, 2016. In campaign chaos, Trump shows his management style. The Washington Post.

Management Style

As a manager, Trump has high expectations. He leads by example, working around the clock and expecting his employees to do the same⁸. He also cultivates a competitive environment, actively encouraging rivalries even amongst high-level employees like Manafort and Lewandowski⁹ (those of you looking for another approach to aligning employees with organisational outcomes might want to check out my recent article, Aligning People: A Leader’s Greatest Challenge).

Trump has a well-founded belief in his abilities, appears very resilient to criticism, and is confident that his approach is the best.ⁱ⁰ He doesn’t delegate big decisions and takes personal responsibility for the outcome of projects in all fields⁹. It’s an exhausting style of management, and not one many could successfully emulate, but it is fantastic for achieving huge successes and is the reason he can deliver on projects that would be unattainable to other managers.

The best example of this is his campaign, which has taken him from a candidate with no elected experience –– not even running experience – to a nominee; a victory that has only been achieved by a handful of men, most notably Herbert Hoover and William Howard Taft¹¹. In the light of this success, his claim that he is a quick learner¹² seems well founded; and clearly he expects the same from those around him. When the campaign hit a snag in March, it was Lewandowski who hired Manafort and his company of politically savvy aids to put it back on track¹³, demonstrating a penchant for agile learning in Team Trump, with senior staff continually assessing performance, identifying missteps, and adjusting their strategy in response.

Defining Principles

  • Intuitive
  • Hierarchical
  • Performance orientated

To sum up…

Trump’s experience in industry and Clinton’s decades in Washington have created two very different managers with two very different approaches, but they both have two values in common: performance and agile learning. Only time will tell which management style is the best suited to the political arena but I, for one, cannot wait to see the outcome.

What are your thoughts on these two approaches? How would they translate to your organisation?


¹Krueger, 2016. How the Hillary Clinton campaign built a staff as diverse as America. Fast Company.
² Anon. 2016. Hillary Clinton presidential campaign staff and advisors, 2016.Ballotpedia.
³ Klapper and Lee, 2016.What we learned from 52,000 pages of Hillary Clinton’s emails. PBS.
⁴ Sanghoe, 2015. 5 important leadership lessons from Hillary Clinton. Huffington Post.
⁵ Shambaugh, 2010. Leadership secrets of Hillary Clinton. Forbes.
⁶Katz, 2015. What a Hillary Clinton presidency would mean for the federal workforce. Government Executive.
⁷ Anon. 2016. Donald Trump presidential campaign staff and advisors, 2016. Ballotpedia.
⁸Kruse, 2016. The executive Mr Trump. Politico Magazine.
⁹Sullivan and Costa, 2016. In campaign chaos, Trump shows his management style. The Washington Post.
ⁱ⁰Gaskell, 2016. 4 Leadership lessons from Trump. Forbes.
¹¹Raunch, 2015. Amateurs in the Oval Office. The Atlantic.
¹²Dickerson, 2016. How fast does Donald Trump learn? CBS News.
¹³Moussa and Newberry, 2016. What we can learn from Donald Trump’s campaign reboot. London School of Economics (US Centre).

Talent Management Rankings: Our Kind of Olympics

With Rio in full swing and the country getting competitive, what better time to take a look at the all-stars dominating our favourite sport, Talent Management? Time to find out who won big in the categories that really matter; Onboarding, Performance Management, and Learning Management.


Talent Management rankings - Medalllists


Those of you who read my article on onboarding and employee success will know that well-designed onboarding practices are key to ensuring new hires integrate quickly and perform at their best. Amazon-owned retailer Zappos took the gold in this category for its focus on protecting and promoting company culture above all else.

Landing a job at Zappos isn’t easy. The retailer puts the same emphasis on personality and cultural fit as skills and experience, applicants have a 1.5% chance of receiving a job offer¹. But an offer doesn’t mean new hires can breathe easy. Whatever their level or department, everyone goes through the same four week course, receiving extensive training in customer service and company values².

At the end of the four weeks, new hires have two options; head to the office and get started, or take a $2000 payout and leave if they don’t fit the company culture. Less than 2% opt to take the money and run³, with 98% starting work on Monday engaged and committed, knowing exactly what to expect.


Facebook scooped silver for an onboarding process that is fast and engagement focused. New hires arrive to find their requested PCs, personal devices, and systems all set up and ready to go; but it’s the developers’ boot camp that really won the day for the social media goliath. Developers aren’t hired for specific teams and departments. Instead, they spend six weeks training at HQ and get to choose which department to work in when they graduate⁵, cherry picking the projects that most excite them.


These guys are secretive, but rumour has it Apple is a find your own feet kind of employer. New hires are greeted on their first day by any specialist tools they need, a new iMac, and a t-shirt with ‘class of’ and the year of joining. They are expected to dive right in, set up their own computers and introduce themselves to co-workers⁵. It isn’t for everyone, but this ‘do-or-die’ approach certainly means employees hit the ground running.

Talent Management rankings - Medalllists


I’ve spoken before about Google’s performance management process, so it should come as no surprise that it romped home in first place. This well-deserved gold was awarded for the search giant’s extensive research and the resulting unbiased, 360-degree performance management processes.

Google’s research into employee performance identified two main factors influencing success; clearly written goals, and frequent conversations between individuals and managers⁶. These findings form the basis of a complex, 360-degree feedback cycle that begins with self-evaluation before peers review an individual’s fit with the company culture (a.k.a Googleyness), analytical abilities, execution, thought leadership, leadership, and presence. Peers grade based on strengths, weaknesses, and contributions⁷.

This feedback is used by managers to provide a draft grade, a non-numerical evaluation on a five point scale that ranges from ‘needs improvement’ to ‘superb’. All performance data then goes through a calibration stage, where heavy-handed or lenient graders are identified and employee scores adjusted⁷; giving employees an accurate, unbiased view of their performance.


Beauty subscription service Birchbox has a dedicated People & Culture team that manages the complete employee experience, with a focus on aligning individuals to organizational goals⁴.

Bi-monthly pulse checks and two yearly, quantitative studies mean they can guide managers and board members on how best to align employees and skills to developmental strategy and initiatives⁴. This integrated approach to business growth and performance management was well-deserving of a silver medal, don’t you think?


Goldman Sachs is breaking the mould with its recently overhauled performance management system. Designed to improve staff retention, the Wall Street stalwart has swapped its traditional numerical grading system (complete with automatic layoffs for the bottom 5% of performers) for a qualitative approach almost unheard of in the financial sector⁸.

Now, the focus is on providing high-quality, continuous feedback. Reviews are conducted earlier in the year, giving individuals a chance to improve before bonus time⁸. To reduce grading bias, the new system even uses a similar calibration method to Google⁷.

Talent Management rankings - Medalllists


Global consulting firm Cognizant was streaks ahead of the competition and landed gold for its Millennial-friendly approach and focus on integrated learning.

With a predominantly Millennial workforce⁹, many who work on-site with clients, the Cognizant learning and development (L&D) strategy needed to be agile, mobile and engaging. The company rose to the challenge, producing multiple learning platforms such as blogs, customized portals, live webcasts, and discussion forums⁹. But the jewel in its L&D crown is ‘One Cognizant’ an app store boasting over 50 learning apps. From gamification to ebooks and progress planners, individuals can choose the tools best suited to their learning style⁹.

Recognising that L&D is an essential element of organisational grown, Cognizant’s ‘5D’ approach to content focuses on aligning learning with long-term objectives. The senior team establish organisational goals first, identifying potential impediments and their solutions, and provide a mix of informal, formal, and collaborative learning initiatives that enable staff to deliver on those goals⁹.


Like Cognizant, silver medal winner Hilton Worldwide delivers a suite of learning tools to a global workforce. Its L&D strategy is focused on maximising employee performance with self-guided tutorials, interactive workshops, one-to-one training and courses. Learning is typically tailored to the needs of the individual, with employees identifying their own skills gaps and receiving the training and support they need to address themⁱ⁰.


Healthcare provider Virgin Care has recently been shortlisted for the Employee Engagement Award thanks to its ‘People Flourish’ learning management system. In a sector known for its apathy to learning and development, this revolutionary program provides staff with leadership training; delivering four modules on people, personalities, and behaviours that are designed to help individuals progress to management positions. It’s an investment that’s paying off, with the program delivering a 22% increase in employee retention¹¹.

To Sum Up…

The tech sector dominated our talent management competition, scooping gold in both the learning and onboarding categories. However, we’re already starting to see Silicon Valley’s innovations trickle into more traditional sectors, as demonstrated by both Goldman Sachs and Virgin Healthcare. These guys are rejecting the typical model of Talent Management in their industries and are already reaping the rewards. Let’s hope more employers follow suit – by 2020 this is likely to be a far more hotly contested race!

Any ideas here you could borrow? I’d love to hear your thoughts on these approaches. Would any work in your office?


1Michelle, J. 2011. The Zappos Experience. Inc.com
2Zappos. 2016. Onboarding Fact Sheet. Zappos
3Reynolds, 2016. 3 Companies With the Most Unique Employee Onboarding Process. TinyPulse.
4Doshi and Gregor. 2015. The secret to an ideal work culture. Time Magazine.
5Bhattacharyya, 2016. Employee Onboarding at Facebook, Google and Apple. The Qustn Cafe.
6L&D, 2016. How performance feedback is evolving. L&D.
7QCulture, 2015. Google’s Performance Management Practices. QCulture.
8Shen, 2016. Goldman Sachs is about to make life a bit less stressful for employees. Fortune.
9Meister, 2014. Cognizant Academy: Lessons from a 2020 Learning Organisation. Forbes.
10Association for Talent Development. 2014. Hilton Worldwide. ATD.
11Virgin Care, 2016. Virgin Care Shortlisted for Employee Engagement Award. Virgin Care.

Should You Drop Performance Ratings?

Performance management is undergoing somewhat of a revolution. In some circles, the argument is being made that the six-month or annual review provides too little information and is too late in coming.

Performance ratings

While most companies don’t rely solely on formal performance rating meetings to provide one-on-one feedback, a number of company leaders posit that ongoing feedback could actually replace the annual review entirely.

Is there a case for change?

Based on a series of public announcements, a consensus amongst a number of well-known organisations seems to be emerging: performance reviews can be too retrospective, too infrequent, and vulnerable to bias on the part of the rater. In today’s real-time working culture, undergoing review only once a year could be far too infrequent to be effective.

Recently Adobe, Accenture, Deloitte, and other major players announced ‘scrapping ratings’ in favour of departing from the performance review to the performance prediction.

Deloitte’s1 research revealed that “more than half their questioned executives (58%) believed their current performance management approach drove neither employee engagement nor high performance.”

Additionally, rather than providing an accurate index into the employee’s job performance, evaluations were found to be somewhat more indicative of the knowledge and psychological peculiarities of the raters themselves. That data bears out:

A survey published in the Journal of Advanced Psychology2 found that of 4,492 managers rated on certain performance metrics by two bosses, two peers, and two subordinates, 62% of the variance in ratings was due to the raters’ personal biases. Actual performance only accounted for 21% of the variance. That translates into a vast range of opinion in what should have been a relatively objective rating process.

Then there is the problem of ‘sugarcoating.’ Knowing the employee in question will be privy to their result, and that a rater will have to discuss and possibly defend their comments, tends to put raters in the position of being overly generous rather than realistic.

New Talent Pool Demands New Solutions

As millennials crowd the workforce (they will comprise 75% of the world’s workers by 2025) the need to work with, rather than against, this demographic is crucial. Millennials are accustomed to real-time gratification. They’re driven by feedback that’s both ongoing and encouraging. A recent survey by Intelligence Group3 shows their priorities:

Millennials infographic

Millennials may be more forcefully expressing it, but they want what all employees want: feedback that is thoughtful, helpful and productive, and in real time.

According to a Fast Company4 survey millennials aren’t shy about their disdain for evaluations:

Disdain for performance evaluations infographic

There is an emerging trend by organisations to replace or modify their rating systems. The number of employers that are either changing the numerical rating system or giving up on evaluations altogether is growing. The trend has increased from 4 percent in 2012 to 12 percent in 2014, according to a Corporate Executive Board (CEB)5 survey of Fortune 1,000 companies.

Rebranding ratings

It would be more wishful thinking than reality to believe there are no ratings needed or being enforced in companies. Certainly the different categories, pay ranges, and levels of responsibility effectively “rate” staff to a large or small degree, whether we want to admit it or not.

While Deloitte may no longer reduce a year’s work to a percentage score, they still needed to find a way to recognise excellence and adjust poor performance. Their solution:

Rather than measuring opinions about what happened, they now ask for predictions and opinions about what will happen (or ought to happen) in employee’s future. They ask only 4 questions: the first 2 are rated 1 through 5, and questions 3 and 4 are simply answered yes/no:

  1. Given what I know of this person’s performance, I would always want him or her on my team.
  2. Given what I know of this person’s performance, and if it were my money, I would award this person the highest possible compensation increase and bonus.
  3. This person is at risk for low performance.
  4. This person is ready for promotion today.

Questions are posed as part of a survey at the conclusion of each project rather than at the end of the year. The new process, called the “performance snapshot” evaluates at a single moment, rather than the culmination of a year’s work.

Ensuring Evaluations Remain Fair

The organisations mentioned in this article believe that eliminating yearly reviews in favour of a more ad-hoc approach will actually improve – or at least not degrade – the accuracy of the evaluation. However, for anyone looking to adopt a similar approach, it seems wise to include measures that will ensure evaluations remain fair.

Alastair Woods, PwC’s reward team director, summarised this succinctly:

“6Companies need to be careful not to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Without the year-end rating, the danger is that the distribution of pay and bonuses can become even more of a dark art as shadow systems evolve without proper governance and infrastructure behind them. Our research shows that when done well, with a balance between rewarding past performance and considering future development needs, performance conversations can really motivate employees. And many employees appreciate the clarity that an effective formal assessment provides.”

Enhancing Performance Ratings with Real Time Feedback

I don’t believe that removing ratings is where the change needs to occur; rather we need more regular and real-time feedback and coaching conversations. And so it’s interesting to note that Deloitte has introduced their own version of Adobe’s “check-in’s” for their teams.

Check-in conversations are the team leader’s responsibility: they meet with team members to review projects, set expectations, provide coaching and more. The meetings are initiated by team members, giving them ownership of their development. HR merely monitors that meetings are held weekly.

Adopting Agile Performance Management

The check-in system, or other methodologies like it, shows significant value in terms of real-time, usable feedback that enhances productivity, engagement, and ownership for employees. When used to augment the annual/bi-annual review system, these solutions can provide staff and team members with an open line of communication that’s based on trust.


Overall, it’s not rating employees in the purest sense that should be avoided. The shift in thinking is to work in real-time to achieve goals and growth, rather than reflect on (and punish) past performance that cannot be changed.
There is definite cause to re-evaluate the effectiveness of existing annual review process if you haven’t done so already. However, make sure that any new system is largely based on objective data.

Many organisations are looking to improve their performance management process and part of this is of course how ratings are used. From announcements and articles and the organisations I meet it’s clear there is a rating’s evolution underway but in most cases these are subtle adjustments or enhancements to address the perceived needs of the employees within a certain organisation.

Deloitte believes their alternate subjective approach will produce similar results but without the significant effort and costs they currently incur, however it would be fair to say that this substantial change would not be for all organisations.

I certainly believe that any widening of the channels of communication through more regular and structured check-ins will be the most important improvement. This will enable the detection and addressing of issues earlier, and I believe build trust and increase engagement across the workforce.

In a future article, I will share my own recent findings from consultations with a number of Australian organisations that are reviewing and redefining their performance management processes.


1Performance management is broken
Replace “rank and yank” with coaching and development

Deloitte University Press

2Understanding the Latent Structure of Job Performance Ratings
Michael Mount, Steven Scullen, and Maynard Goff
Journal of Advanced Psychology

3What Millennials Want In The Workplace (And Why You Should Start Giving It To Them)

4The Future of Work
Here’s what millennials want from their performance reviews

5Corporate Executive Board (CEB) survey of Fortune 1,000 companies

6More companies planning to ditch annual performance reviews and ratings, but will employees benefit?
PwC research

Mastering Performance Conversations with Highly Sensitive People

You might not have heard of the term ‘Highly Sensitive Person’ before, but I’m willing to bet it conjures up a face or two. According to Dr Elaine Aron, who coined the phrase back in the 1990s, nearly 20% of us fall within this bracket1. Which means most offices have at least one hypersensitive person.

Creative, with a high attention to detail that often equates to exceptional performance, highly sensitive people can be incredibly useful. At the other end of the scale are less productive behaviours, traits many leaders struggle to manage – especially when it comes to feedback and performance conversations.

Highly sensitive people

Hypersensitive people are especially receptive to social, emotional and physical stimuli. This group typically become overwhelmed during busy periods, don’t respond well to sudden changes, worry excessively and display emotional behaviours less sensitive people may consider extreme. These reactions make addressing shortfalls in performance problematic, which is why leaders must learn how to deliver constructive feedback to hypersensitive individuals.

Acknowledge Social Bias

The reactions of highly sensitive people are often considered inappropriate in the modern workplace. Excessive displays of emotion can be viewed negatively, while a tendency to become flustered under pressure, avoidance of stressful situations and an inability to cope with changing demands are often viewed as incompetencies.

When preparing for a discussion with a hypersensitive person, acknowledge your bias towards their behaviour. Does their emotional reaction make you uncomfortable? Are you exasperated by particular reactions? Hypersensitives are very aware of body language and tone, understanding your response and staying objective is essential for keeping any conversation on track and avoiding misunderstandings.

Adopt Agile Performance Management

Frequent readers will know, I’m a big advocate of Agile Performance Management (APM). Regular feedback means this system delivers tangible benefits to productivity and engagement.

For highly sensitive people, it also offers a raft of other advantages. These guys actively avoid situations that make them feel uncomfortable, and an annual performance review could mean weeks of stress and worry.

Adopting Agile Performance Management

By meeting regularly for informal one-to-ones, leaders create a less intimidating environment. Setting goals and keeping the conversation forward-focused puts less emphasis on feedback that could be construed as criticism and reduces the chance of an overly emotional or defensive reaction.

Plan Ahead

Potentially inflammatory conversations with highly sensitive people can be avoided with forward planning. Schedule any meeting well in advance. This allows you to reduce the threat of the situation as much as possible and gives a sensitive individual the chance to prepare (a valuable coping mechanism for many hypersensitives).

Avoid Confrontation

Highly sensitive individuals have strong emotional reactions2 and can become defensive when criticised (or when faced with perceived criticism)3. Using empathy in your statements and speaking in a low voice can go a long way to avoiding confrontation4. Remember, a feedback conversation is not a trial. Don’t go over evidence or allow for counter arguments. Simply state the feedback relating to a specific expectation and focus on strategies for success in the future.

Take Control of the Conversation

Every performance discussion should focus on moving forward and the necessary actions needed to achieve success. For highly sensitive people, who are typically very invested in their work, this reduces the threat of criticism and keeps them motivated.

If you find yourself drawn into a disagreement, then be mindful of your reactions. Hypersensitives are quick to pick up on body language. Listen calmly, keep your voice low and avoid ambiguous language, or statements that can be misinterpreted, as much as you can. If you can’t get a highly sensitive person to agree to your feedback, get their agreement on the outcome and future goals instead.

Keeping calm

To sum up…

While managing hypersensitive people often requires more thought and consideration from leaders, it is important to note that these individuals should always be held to the same standards as their colleagues. Failing to address performance issues for fear of causing a scene or upsetting one individual will have a negative impact on engagement and productivity throughout their team.

A highly sensitive person who is unable to meet expectations or consistently performs poorly must be managed appropriately, and should not remain in a position they are unsuitable for purely because they are hypersensitive.

What are your experiences with hypersensitivity in the workplace? I’d love to hear your thoughts on managing this unique group.


1Ramsay, 2014. Highly sensitive people in the workplace: from shame to fame. HRZone
2Lawrence, 2013. Are you a highly sensitive person. HRZone.
3Aron, 2007. A meditation for HSP on criticism: the killer. Elaine Aron.
4Thibodeaux, Not dated. How to deal with an overly sensitive person in the workplace. Small Business.

Top Ten CEO Quotes on People Management 2015

Back in January, I posted a snappy article on performance management. It wasn’t full of the latest research, complicated metrics or breaking news, but it certainly inspired a lot of you. Which got me thinking, we don’t always need cutting-edge data to instigate a change. Sometimes, we just need an inspirational word from someone worth listening to.

When you’re looking for an inspiring approach to people management, the tech companies are a good place to start. In a year when Netflix’s culture document went viral, Google was once again crowned the no. 1 place to work, and Intel’s OKR strategy infiltrated Accenture (one of the biggest companies in the world), it became pretty obvious that these guys are leading the way. So what can we learn about people management from the CEOs presiding over these HR whirlwinds?

Marissa Mayer

1. “Work for someone who believes in you, because when they believe in you, they’ll invest in you.”
– Marissa Mayer, Yahoo CEO, knows the importance of investing in individuals.


Mark Zuckerberg

2. “Unless I feel like I’m working on the most important problem that I can help with, then I’m not going to feel good about how I’m spending my time.”
– For Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, it’s all about managing to strengths.


Larry Page

3. “We don’t have as many managers as we should, but we would rather have too few than too many.”
– Larry Page, founding CEO of Google, isn’t a fan of micro-managing.


James Spenceley

4. “If there’s someone really good who has excellent industry experience, we like working with them, [they have] common sense and fit our values, we just hire them, because the biggest thing is having smart people who work well together.”
– Vocus Communications CEO James Spenceley focuses on hiring the right personality types.


Taso Du Val

5. “Teaching your employees something new creates an instant connection, and they will respect you for it.”
– For Taso Du Val, CEO of freelancer networking site Toptal, it’s all about continued development and on-the-job learning.


Brian Chesky

6. “You gotta build a team that is so talented, they almost make you uncomfortable.”
– Brian Chesky, CEO of AirBnB, focuses on talent.


Eytan Lenko

7. “The key thing is really aligning everybody so they all understand where you’re going.”
– Eytan Lenko, CEO of Aussie company Outware, knows that a clear vision is important.


Ginni Rometty

8. “I’m a big believer in lessons learned. Constantly with the team we go over, why? Why? Why? … The only bad mistake is a mistake you don’t learn from.”
– For Ginni Rometty, CEO of IBM, on-the-job-training takes many forms.


Brad Smith

9. “Millennials … are more socially and globally connected … than any prior generation. And they don’t question; they just learn.”
– Intuit’s CEO Brad Smith recognises that younger workers have different learning and development expectations.


Reed Hastings

10. “At most companies, average performers get an average pay rise. At Netflix, they get a generous severance package.”
– Netflix is known for bucking silicon valley’s people management trends. What do you think of CEO Reed Hastings attitude to performance management?

My Top Takeaways of 2015

With the year drawing to a close and the festive season almost upon us, I thought now would be a good time to take stock of everything we’ve learned in 2015.

Agile Performance Management

The annual reviews and performance metrics of traditional Performance Management (PM) have been slowly giving way to an agile (APM) approach. This trend became increasingly obvious in 2015, with the publication of numerous papers and case studies all highlighting the benefits APM offers. Add to that the fact that major companies like Adobe went on record crediting this new approach (they went agile in 2012) with the rocketing share price they’ve experienced since adopting it, and it’s little wonder that APM is picking up pace.

The increasing popularity of the agile approach doesn’t surprise me. Agile Performance Management strategies are an integral part of Cognology’s solutions, and regular readers will know I’ve long been an advocate of real-time reviews and 360-degree feedback. I’m not the only one to note the accelerated change in PM this year and, while companies like Accenture announce plans to adopt it, others warn of the potential pitfalls of an accelerated change.

Tom Hakk, the founder of The HR Trend Institute, believes organisations are failing to recognise the difference between performance ratings and management. He worries that companies are so keen to jettison the traditional annual reviews and performance metrics, that they are abandoning PM altogether. I’m not sure I agree with his observation (the number of HR managers citing PM as ‘important’ or ‘very important’ rose to 75% in 2015), but I do recognise his concern. If we fail to implement this new approach properly, it could cost us more than it’s worth.


With poor onboarding contributing to the failure of 50% of new hires, doing it properly has the potential to save organisations thousands (and some, much more). I covered the science behind onboarding earlier this year and discovered that 35% of companies spend nothing (as in $0) on onboarding. Of the rest, 40% think their programmes are ‘less than moderately effective’.

Innovations and trends to revolutionize performance management, employee engagement, L&D, freelancing and onboarding in 2015
In October, Google gave us a lesson on how to tackle this sticking point. Their analytics team experimented with multiple approaches before hitting on the Just-in-time option. Characterised by an email to a manager the night before a new hire starts, onboarding is left entirely up to managers providing they perform five key tasks:

  1. A role and responsibilities discussion.
  2. Match new hire with peer buddy.
  3. Assist new hire to build a social network.
  4. Conduct onboarding check-ins once a month for the first six months.
  5. Encourage open dialogue.

It might not sound particularly innovative, but Google’s data suggests this approach reduced new hire time to productivity by 25%.

Imagine how technology can improve this by starting the onboarding process from contract stage through to Day 1 and the first six months. Incredible.

Learning and Development (L&D)

I’ve delved into L&D topics many times this year. By far the most important takeaway was the benefit of aligning learning with strategy, and its ability to increase ROI, enhance engagement and speed organisational progression.

Like PM, L&D has been driven by technological advancement, with gamification and social learning taking centre stage in 2015. Offering benefits across the board, a recent study by PWC suggests the technological innovations in this field will become increasingly important as more Millennials enter the workforce. Statistics published this year indicated that L&D is more important to this group than any other, with 52% stating that fast career progression is more attractive than salary.

Employee Engagement

Arguably one of the most notable takeaways of 2015 was the discovery that work engagement and employee engagement are two separate entities, often operating independently of each other. This, coupled with the finding that individuals engage differently, goes some way towards explaining why employee engagement initiatives traditionally produce poor results.

Newly published data suggests that engagement is an increasingly important issue. The average employee is 6% less satisfied with their role in 2015 compared to 2014; experiencing a reduction in enablement, autonomy and a sense of accomplishment.


You probably don’t need me to tell you that freelancing is the new workforce megatrend. Driven by economic pressures and an increasing focus on lifestyle over work, this trend is particularly popular with Millennials, 38% of whom work freelance.

This isn’t a number that is likely to decrease anytime soon. PJMorgan’s Chauncy Lennon is studying the rise in freelancing and flexible work initiatives. His findings suggest that this new megatrend will change the business landscape. In the future, we can expect to see operations organised around workers, instead of workers organised around companies.

To sum up…

As research continues to offer us greater insight, and technology gives us new metrics and opportunities, it seems likely that the changes we’ve seen this year in PM and L&D will be mirrored in other areas, including employee engagement and onboarding, which are currently poorly managed in a number of industries.

It’s been a year of learning and discovery, improvements and advancements in the HR field this year. At Cognology, we’re excited about what 2016 will bring. If there are topics you’d be interested in hearing from me on next year, drop me a line. In the meantime, have a wonderful Christmas and festive season.


Up to 20% of staff turnover happens within the first 45 days of employment. Source: Urbanbound

Level-Up Your Leadership Knowledge: Performance Metrics Masterclass

Terms such as KRA, KPI and OKR are thrown around pretty frequently in the business world. Many organisations use them as measures of success; basing bonus, promotion or grades of pay on the progress (or lack of) that staff make towards these goals. But what is the best set of performance metrics designed to unify the workforce and drive your organisation forward?

We need to understand exactly what these measurement approaches can achieve if we’re going to use them as more than just workforce yardsticks.


Key Result Area (KRA)

These are critical success factors: actions that are necessary to achieve a specific objective. Ideally, everyone within an organisation is assigned KRAs specific to their team, department or other workgroup, so they know exactly which actions they must take to realise strategic goals and ensure future success.


Teams that use KRAs have been shown to be proactive, rather than reactive, simply because they make a point of consciously identifying the areas where their efforts make a difference long-term.

By defining expectations and providing clarity, employees know exactly why they’re there and what they’re doing. Individuals understand why some KRAs take precedence over others and have the knowledge to effectively prioritise their workload.

In fact, the KRA-centric appraisal system of Simbawli Sugar Ltd., one of the biggest mills in Northern India, has had a significant influence on employee engagement (an issue I tackled a little closer to home in this post). Senior staff credit the KRA approach with focusing employees on outcomes, improving competencies and increasing accountability.


There are a couple of downsides to KRAs, namely finding metrics that are easy to measure. Setting individuals objectives also poses a problem, since it only captures around 80% of a department’s workload (the rest falls in areas of shared responsibility).

When would you use it?

This system works well for organisations with multi-skilled teams and high numbers of experienced staff. Everyone understands the vision and their role in achieving it, so using KRAs negates the need for micromanagement and daily check-ins.

Objectives and Key Results (OKR)

Objectives and key results are a favourite of the tech industry (see my recent performance management post). They were designed to challenge individuals and are comprised of one objective and multiple quantifiable key result measures. Progress indicators for these measures are scaled by either 0-1 or 0-100% and are regularly updated. A good OKR should be pretty hard to nail, so they’re considered complete when progress exceeds 75% or 0.75. If you hit 100%, your OKRs are far too easy.

Objectives and KRAs


Google loves this one; Rick Klau even credits it with helping to keep the company on track and moving forward. That’s because OKRs provide clarity, every person in the organisation knows what is expected of them and why, and everyone’s OKRs work together to drive the business forward.

The defining factor about OKRs is that they are transparent. Employees can see what colleagues are working on, their progress on current targets and how well they performed previously. This is also true at Google, where even Larry Page’s objectives and progress are available for all to see.

They’re also pretty adaptable. Google sets an annual flexible OKR supported by quarterly objectives that are set-in-stone. Of course, you can opt for biannual or monthly targets: it’s really about what works for your business.


The main disadvantage of OKRs lies with managers, specifically their goal-setting ability (if you’re not sure exactly how to set worthwhile, actionable goals, take a look at the Cognology guide to writing SMART objectives).

When it comes to OKRs, managers must have a realistic understanding of employees’ roles, skills, and resources. Otherwise they risk setting unachievable goals that demoralise their workforce.

In contrast, the ‘nice guys’ set a couple of easy and one difficult objective because they don’t like to see employees scoring 0.6 (remember, OKRs are meant to be challenging. Google sets targets of 0.6-0.7).

When would you use it?

OKRs are particularly well suited to start-ups and those operating in capricious markets. Quarterly or bimonthly objectives provide staff with a sense of purpose and direction but are flexible enough to adapt to a changeable long-term vision.

Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)

KPIs are probably the best known performance metric. Of course they vary between companies and industries, but KPIs are frequently used to analyse factors that are crucial to the success of an organisation. They exist at both operational and staff appraisal levels, with employee KPIs supporting operational KPIs.

Used to help manage both KRAs and OKRs, employee KPIs measure of primary responsibilities. Consisting of a timeframe, a target, and a benchmark, KPIs focus on results, opposed to activities. They are milestones designed to help individuals, and their managers, gauge whether their performance is on track.


Like all appraisal systems, KPIs allow organisations to measure progress towards a strategic goal. They require discussion on how they will be measured before they’re converted into a benchmark, so are more likely to be realistic and attainable than OKRs.

Unlike KRAs, they can be team-wide, with whole departments monitoring and addressing issues associated with the success rate of an indicator. They’re also great for turning prospects into clients since the metrics tend to go hand-in-hand with performance data and often provide actionable insight.

Pfizer, a pharmaceutical Goliath, relies heavily on KPIs at both an operational and corporate level. And it makes good use of them when it comes to boosting brand trust, publicising KPIs of public concern, such as carbon emissions.


No matter how you tackle it, measuring KPIs can be a time-consuming process. Pfizer might love them for the insight they offer when it comes to identifying strengths and weaknesses in its global empire, but those insights come at the cost of data collection and analysis, internal audits, facility self-assessments, and management system reviews.

Which leads us to the next point: KPIs can be expensive. They’re also pretty limited since they are restricted to variables that can be measured (employee engagement, for example, is difficult to quantify). Plus they’re inflexible – changing a KPI can potentially mean disregarding years of comparative data.

When would you use it?

KPIs are an excellent way to measure performance and profitability metrics. They work particularly well in organisations that have multiple uses for performance data and can justify the time and expense of monitoring it.

In conclusion…

These appraisal systems each ensure employees are working towards a common goal; the best even include individuals in the attainment of that goal. Each has weaknesses, but they are not insurmountable – it’s all about what works best for your organization. Choosing the correct performance management system requires a keen vision, long term goals and an understanding of the resources and skills available to your staff.