Written by:

Holly Macdonald


August 9, 2010

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I care about learning.  I spend most of my time helping clients develop great learning strategies.  In a perfect world, I could ignore the messy world of performance. But, since I work mainly with corporate clients, and also because I subscribe to Dan Pink’s theory in Drive (we all seek autonomy, mastery and purpose), I care about performance, too.  If learning isn’t pushing towards improved performance on some level, then it’s aimless and has the potential of becoming a navel-gazing exercise.  And nothing kills credibility in the organizational world than a bunch of navel-gazing HR/OD/Learning fluff!

My last post was about performance management.  I argued that the  performance review naysayers were throwing the proverbial baby out with the bath water and that there are some redeeming aspects about a performance management system.  I still believe that.  I think the whole finger pointing at the performance review is actually a red herring.   The angst isn’t about the performance appraisal, it’s about “the man”.  You know, feeling oppressed and downtrodden and all that.  Since there are more folks who are unemployed or underemployed, there are lots of axes to grind right now.  Sells a lot of books about dumping the performace appraisal.  Kind of preying on the powerless.  But, I digress…

So, learning or performance?  Aren’t they inexplicably tied? 

If you learn something and your performance doesn’t improve, why not?  Is it a conscious thing?  Learn. But. Don’t. Improve.  <imagine grimacing face/voice as though it was really, really hard> If you don’t learn anything and your performance improves, maybe it wasn’t a skill/knowledge deficiency after all.  What if you learn something and your performance improves, but no one tells you or notices?  Do you regress or keep going?  Or worse, yet, what if you learn something and your performance declines and no one notices! 

The problem with some of the arguments around performance appraisals (that I’ve seen anyway), is that people are given goals, ratings, feedback and have no input.  Managers are portrayed as idiots, power hungry, politicos who don’t actually care about employees and use the performance appraisal to lord their power over the underlings.  Well, I’m sure not every manager is like that, and I’m sure not every employee is a mindless drone. 

I think what people are rebelling against is the powerlessness and the impersonlization of the “system”.  Couldn’t we envisage an alternative where individuals are driving their learning and performance, with managers facilitating the process?   The notion of someone else assessing your performance seems to be antiquated and wrong in today’s climate, but I think I have the answer….personalization.  The PKM/PLN/PLE stuff is all over the blogo/twittersphere, why divorce it from performance?

If we really wanted to change things – we should encourage performance management to go open as well.  When I was a manager, I pushed for as much team goal setting and performance discussions as I could.  It falls apart when compensation and sucession planning is tied to individual performance, but I’m not ready to throw out that baby, just yet.