Real Research: A Guide to Effective Performance Management

Performance appraisals are often called performance reviews, which commonly get confused with performance coaching. Simply put, performance reviews are day-to-day performance management, and performance coaching is continuous coaching for development.

Why do managers often confuse these two most important management practices? We suppose in most organisations, the need to deliver tangible results still constitutes a critical performance scorecard.

Dr. Lily Cheng recalls two occasions where she was invited to speak on leadership matters and the topic of what keeps leaders awake at night to 100 leaders in a seminar for non-profit organisations, and to 200 SME leaders at an event held by SPRING Singapore. On both occasions, issues on performance management were raised. Specifically, there was the question of why leaders in the past, today, and even in the foreseeable future are troubled by performance management? 

Most leaders have little confidence in the efficacy of their performance management system and processes. In addition, most people managers have raised an issue with the administrative burden of the appraisal process. What then can we do as leaders to ensure that employees are given day-to-day performance reviews so that the efforts needed in the annual appraisal will not be dreaded and daunting?  

Ever since performance reviews came into existence, there has been the question of to kill or not to kill them? Continuing the debate on the utility of performance reviews, let’s take a moment to reflect: 

How many of you agree that you can do an excellent job with an annual performance review?

How many of you agree that you can do better with ongoing performance reviews?

The answer is obvious, I hope. Tiger Woods, who is among the most successful golfers of all time, was interviewed and asked if he was given direction, feedback and development just once per year. As you can imagine, this was absolutely not the case. 

How much time do your managers spend having meaningful conversations about performance issues? Is this a weekly event or is it reserved for quarterly, biannual, and annual reviews? Do your managers get to the key performance issues during these performance review conversations?  Meaningful, ongoing performance review conversations will roughly constitute:


Let’s now take a look at performance coaching, which is continuous coaching for development. Significantly, managers must not work under the illusion that focusing on continuous performance review conversations will improve their performance.  

Take for example that of a frustrated manager with a direct report who consistently fails to produce an important report on time. That direct report can’t get the figures from his colleague, who is un-cooperative. In this case, is the real issue poor performance or the lack of competence in having  a productive working relationship with a colleague? Probably both. We can go on and give various examples, but ultimately, we must recognise as leaders, that we need to have both ongoing performance review conversations and performance coaching.

Performance coaching needs to be conducted in an efficient and productive manner so that it provides our direct reports a way to connect, learn, and grow both within the company, and on their own career paths. Performance coaching boosts productivity and effectiveness. If leaders in your organisation tell you that they don’t have the time to coach others, go deeper and review if time is truly the problem or if coaching is just seen as a nice-to-have and not a must.

Leaders must recognise that performance coaching is needed to help their direct reports fulfil their roles and adapt to changing performance circumstances. It is an essential, and when done right, not only boosts the expertise of the one being coached, but also helps to establish connections with direct reports and builds a culture of trust.

Through performance coaching, leaders can strengthen their direct reports’ skills to delegate and empower them in more of their tasks. Leaders are then freed up to focus on more important leadership responsibilities.  

The immediate R.O.I. of performance reviews and performance coaching is the retention of motivated staff who will contribute significantly to business outcomes.

Long, J. (2005). The Difference Between Managing Performance and Coaching. Association for Talent Development. 

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