Kessar Kalim, Director of HR at London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine

Kessar Kalim speaks about The Future of Performance ManagementKessar Kalim is an award-winning HR leader who specializes in working collaboratively with organizational leadership to enhance organizational performance and culture through the delivery of transformational HR and people services. Kalim was named in HR Magazine’s 2018 Most Influential List (‘Making Waves’ category) and was the recipient of a ‘Highly Commended’ Award at the magazine’s HR Excellence Awards in 2015. Kalim became the first ever individual to win the overall “Gold” prize at the Personnel Today Awards in 2015, and also collected the accolade for the ‘HR Business Partner of the Year’ Award in the same year.

Kalim’s articles and features have appeared in various HR publications on topics ranging from talent management to the future of HR.


What is currently missing in the way overall employee performance is being managed?

In many organizations, performance management is generally characterized by a ‘one-size fits all’ approach whereby HR functions design performance management frameworks (and systems) with oversimplified metrics on what constitutes to ‘good’ performance. What is often missing is a tailored approach, where performance management is unique to the individual. Elite sports teams are at the forefront of tailored approaches to performance management with bespoke and individualized training and development programmes. Of course, professional sports and the world of business operate in different spheres, but there is one key common denominator: the best teams or organizations look to maximize individual performance for the overall benefit of the team/company. Could the business world learn a lesson or two from the professional sport when it comes to performance management? Certainly. Needless to say, the challenges of implementing a tailored performance management approach for an organization of many thousands of employees scattered over various geographical locations are significantly different than, for example, a sports team with a group of 25 athletes training in one base. That said, the need for organizations to look beyond traditional models of performance management is increasingly apparent, and bespoke development programmes could make the difference for organizations when it comes to keeping and losing the top talent.

Given that a company’s workforce now has a significant proportion of virtual and freelance workers, how should performance management include them?

An effective and inclusive performance management framework should not detrimentally affect any type of worker, irrespective of whether they are based in the head office, or a remote location on the other side of the world. The culture of performance management in an organization, embraced and led by senior management, should transcend geographical location. In an age of globalization, remote working and the plethora of available technologies, engaging with virtual and freelance workers has never been easier. Ensuring these groups of workers and their managers buy into the performance management culture is key. The question of why performance management should include them should be asked, not how. The how should be a given. The answer to why is because it makes good business sense.

What are employees, managers and decision makers looking to make performance management more effective?

Commonly, performance management systems are backward looking, assessing performance over the past 12 months. In the age of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, a backward-looking performance management culture is not in keeping with the pace of change across various sectors, and in wider society, where technological advancements and AI have shaped expectations to such an extent that ‘instant’ is the new norm. Performance management, reward and recognition frameworks, and systems need to move with the times and be responsive to the needs of a changing world and changing employee expectations. Whilst looking back over a specified performance review period is important, the need to be instant and current is growing.

Many organizations also look at performance in very simple terms. For example, was performance over the past 12 months rated as ‘outstanding’, ‘good’, ‘satisfactory’ etc? What sales targets were reached, or revenue generated? As far as performance metrics go, these can be useful, but can also be a little short-sighted. We know from the 2008 financial crises that often, those working in various financial services firms were said to be meeting and often exceeding what later turned out to be misguided short-term performance targets, which ultimately led to long-term damage bringing whole economies to a standstill. To continue with a sporting theme, various UK based football teams over the past decade who took short-term approaches to try and achieve instant success often resulted in such clubs ending in administration or in serious financial ruin. The need for long-term planning, and thus long-term performance measures, is clear. Whilst short-term performance metrics can be useful, they should be considered alongside medium and longer term objectives.

What are some of the new things being introduced in Performance Management that are working/not working?

When it comes to performance management, what works and doesn’t work is largely dependent on the context of the organization, and even the sector. Considerations such as how often performance management discussions take place; how goals and objectives are set, monitored, reviewed and assessed; how are these recorded etc. mostly depend on senior leadership attitudes to performance management, and of course, the resources available to implement effective performance management programmes that facilitate the pursuit of the an organisations aims.

Debates on backward-looking performance management frameworks vs current/instant and forward-looking models are commonplace amongst HR and L&D professionals. A shift away from traditional notions of performance management is starting to take place across many sectors. Organizations that are able to promote a performance management culture that is in keeping with their mission and values, whilst enhancing employee engagement will thrive. Organizations, where performance management is seen as a ‘tick-box’ exercise, will fail to get the best out of their people more often than not.

If not periodic appraisals, then what & how?

I am a passionate advocate for continuous discussion and dialogue on performance and development. Whilst periodic performance reviews have their place, they should not be the only tool in a manager’s armory when it comes to performance management. Good managers know this and continuously appraise, professionally stretch and develop their staff without a prompt from the HR department to complete a yearly appraisal. For a good manager, effective performance discussions occur daily.

The key for organizations is to equip managers with the skills and the abilities to develop and grow their staff, and view performance management as integral to the role of the manager and the business, not just a tick-box exercise or a ‘nice to have’ fad.


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