Shakil Butt, Independent HR Consultant

Shakil Butt (FCIPD, FCCA) is a value-driven, accomplished, award-winning HR professional, with over 20 years of experience leading an award-winning global HR team in a multi-faith, multi-ethnic and multi-cultural environment.

Now working as an independent consultant, Shakil adds value engaging with organizations and individuals with their HR and OD challenges and executive support.  Shakil has been part of various senior management teams leading on strategic direction, organizational development, and change management in multiple organizations.

Shakil enjoys writing and contributing to articles on HR and management and regularly speaks at HR conferences and events.

Shakil can be contacted at

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

The assumption here is that employee performance is being managed when in reality what is happening in many workplaces is a process of performance management which is something very different.

Performance management processes in their current format are still very much about looking historically backward and managing the ‘what’ and at best in some cases the ‘how’ rather than the actual person. This systematic approach is often reduced to an exercise of going through the motions without connecting at an emotional level. These processes are often linked to a forced distribution and rewards, so rather than raising performance, they can have a negative impact on the organization.

Performance management was at one time presented as best practice and has not really changed for many decades. It was part of many HR practitioner’s toolkits and was consistently rolled out irrespective of the organization or sector. Appraisal forms might be simplified, be replaced with online programmes or expanded to 360 appraisals but there was not much differentiation in the application.

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

For each piece of work, the expectations are set out in the terms of reference for the contract or the project so in that regard the initial approach is similar.

However, a certain freedom comes with having a virtual workforce that is not ‘tied’ into a specific business for both the business and the virtual worker. Performance is much more dependent on the personal relationships between both parties as either party can terminate the working relationship and both have greater options. Consequently, performance management can be more genuine and in real time. A positive experience for both parties can lead to more work in the future whilst a negative experience can end the working arrangement without any further commitment.

In this regard, it is a bit like marriage for better or worse until death (P45) do us part compared to dating with no real commitment, verging on no strings attached.

There is no ‘industry standard’ on how to performance manage virtual and freelance workers so performance management is more likely to be very bespoke and specific to both parties and as such also more likely to have a greater measure of success.

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

In the age of the knowledge worker, employees are looking for autonomy to deliver the technical specialism that they have been recruited for. In this case, the best thing a manager can do is get out of their way. Many (some) managers are still looking for tools and techniques to help them manage often resorting to appraisals and virtual tools rather than investing the time to treat their people as people. For managers to really raise performance requires a shift in mindset requiring them to view their roles as enablers to allow their staff to be the best version of themselves in the workplace.

Performance in many organizations is still very much limited to monetary success which is a very short-term perspective rather than truly being strategic and long-term. Decision makers are the architects in their organizations and to truly compete they have to unleash the potential of their people through the culture and the values which should be part of the performance management system but is often neglected focusing on more tangible areas such as revenue and growth.

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

There has been an increasing trend in the HR profession to focus on ‘evidence-based HR’ in an attempt to shift away from the label of HR following ‘fads’, ‘being fluffy’ interventionists and lacking commercial acumen. This has led to the traditional approach to performance management being challenged and a number of corporate organizations are recognizing that the appraisal processes are not conducive to work, disliked by employee and employer, time-consuming and costly.

Continuous performance conversations are increasingly becoming popular with a number of organizations ranging from the Department of Work and Pensions to River Island changing the way performance is managed by removing forced distributions, delinking performance from reward and having regular real-time conversations around performance and development and importantly these are more future focused.

Are these new approaches working? It is hard to be factual and currently is very much subjective because comparing performance under a traditional performance appraisal to performance managed through continuous performance conversations would only be possible if all the other variables remained constant. The VUCA world means that variables are in constant flux so performance is impacted by many factors from the economy to the technology being employed to the demographic mix in the workplace. Similarly, good performance is dependent on being clear on what ‘good’ performance actually entails. Is it sales targets? Is it behavior? Is it the same from one period to the next? There is simply a lack of empirical robust evidence to argue that continuous performance conversations really are better for managing performance.

If not periodic appraisals, then what & how?

Appraisals are still very much about having the paperwork to support a rating that often leads to a ‘carrot’ or ‘stick’ reaction rather than about managing. The rating has implications for rewards and talent management programmes at the one end of the spectrum and disciplinaries and terminations at the other end of the spectrum so it is understandable why they have had longevity when they are so intrinsically connected to other HR practices. This in itself does not make for an argument to continue with them.

Appraisals are dependent on the assumption that the manager is emotionally intelligent enough to connect at a human level to have an honest holistic conversation with another human being that they are responsible for leading and developing.

I’m not convinced that continuous performance conversations are the “magic pill” because they are predicated on the manager being able to have these good conversations about work, regularly. Managers have struggled with having good conversations once or twice a year in an appraisal process so are unlikely to have better conversations more frequently without first the organization investing in developing their soft skills which tend to be overlooked, with the organization placing more emphasis on technical ability.

If appraisals are primarily about addressing performance then the root of poor performance of a ‘bad’ employee is often a ‘bad manager’ tasked with doing more with less, who has themselves first been failed by the organization by not being supported in their own development enabling them to be better managers. As we know people don’t leave organizations, they leave their managers, so until the root of the problem is addressed effective performance management will be a challenge, irrespective of the approach taken whether periodic appraisals, 360 appraisals or continuous performance conversations.

Finally what is needed is less Taylorist standardized best practice approaches to a more tailored fit specific to the sector, the organization, and the individual.

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