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I haven’t gone soft. Yes I drove performance management initiatives in various businesses. In one, which was at risk, we were pretty monochrome about performance. Needs must. When survival is the objective then you go to interesting places. And performance improvement is one key objective of most HR activity.

But I’d like to paint you a picture……

You pursue a top performer (remember those words) from another organisation on LinkedIn. In a competitive market their rare skills are in demand. They come to talk to you. Gradually they start to think seriously about applying to join your business. They apply. After a meeting of minds you attract them in. You are delighted.

We all know what it’s like to join a new business. With my transition coaching practice I work with plenty of people in those crucial first few months. Network vanished…don’t know how to function….understanding and contracting with new boss…..new clients or products to get to know…..new colleagues….new team which may need restructuring…anxiety….etc.

A great deal of interference.

A couple of years later in the moderation meeting they fail to make it above the bottom bit of your bell-curve. Not sure about them. Are they who we thought they were? Hiring error?

Hmmm. Top performer becomes hiring error. Really? You need to ask yourself is it them or is it the company they have joined. Maybe both? What have you done to support them through the transition? What has happened that they have ended up being in the exclusive group “down there” on the bell-curve? Look at yourself in the mirror and ask yourself: how did a high performer in a key competitor become an under-performer in your business? Are they actually that – or are they a victim of your bell-curve or of a warped moderation process? The things I’ve seen happen and had to challenge in those meetings! I could write a book (now there’s a thought)……

For organisations are too tied to this approach. And it’s hard to move away from them. I tried and failed to convince the Board of one company that they should do so. They would not countenance it – not even a serious discussion. We had an opportunity to do something really forward thinking with a culture of performance but they had a quasi-religious belief in their distribution. But the employees loathed it, the HR team ended up advocating something they were at least unsure about and the process was pretty painful for all concerned.

A few years on I bet they are still going through the same annual pain. And I bet that some of the favourites somehow end up at the top-end and some of those “different” people at the bottom. So there’s an inclusion point here too.

We know that the ‘link to reward bit’ is tricky. How else would we decide how to split the pot? Fair question but I’m sure it’s not beyond the wit of man & woman. And I’m not sure a few extra percentage points for the person at the top of the curve is that much of a motivator is it?

So, in the above scenario, what would YOU be doing as a leader to create the conditions for the high performance you rightly expect? And to avoid the situation arising in the first place? What are you doing to understand true performance in your business as opposed to squashing people into pre-ordained categories?