Time to Break the Link?

October 18th, 2016 by

Conventional wisdom often creates a strong linkage between performance evaluation ratings and compensation. On its face, this link seems completely appropriate. After all, it is only natural for people to think that stronger performance deserves more pay, weaker performance less.

However, a performance / compensation model with this direct link has a number of inherent downsides. First, many managers “force fit” employee rankings into desired compensation distributions in order maintain budget.  This practice discredits the performance system, breeds cynicism, and demotivates employees.performance-ratings

Another unwanted side effect of a direct linkage between performance rating and compensation is that many employees worry excessively about the pay implications related to the differences in ratings. As a consequence, they become fixated on their rating and drown out any discussion about developmental needs.

Focusing less on the link itself between performance and compensation allows companies to worry less about tracking and rating, and the consequences thereof, and more about building capabilities and inspiring employees to stretch their skills and aptitudes.  Now, to be clear, I am not suggesting that compensation has no linkage with performance. I simply believe that the focus on the immediate linkage, at the time of the review, has several drawbacks that take away from the intended outcome of the performance review process and discussion.

Here is the rub: Since only a relatively few employees are truly standouts, (5-10%, perhaps 15%) why risk demotivating the broad majority of your employee base by focusing almost exclusively on the linkage between pay and performance.

Even General Electric, a long time proponent of the performance – pay linkage model and all the related processes and templates that go with it, is currently reinventing itself in this arena.  They are considering options ranging from dispensing with the entire model to a more gradual shift over time. They also understand that they must equip their managers with new tools and methods to motivate and reward employees.

The growing need for companies to inspire and motivate performance makes it critical to create managers and supervisors who are better coaches. Without great and frequent coaching, it’s difficult to set goals flexibly and often, to help employees stretch their jobs, or to give people greater responsibility and autonomy while demanding more expertise and judgment from them.

If you’re rethinking your organization’s performance management process, you don’t have to go it alone. Contact CAI’s Advice & Resolution team to help you and your leadership team evaluate alternative models and coach you through making a change.

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Tom Sheehan brings 20+ years of extensive, broad based strategic, tactical and practical HR experience to CAI’s Advice & Resolution team.  He advises HR and other business leaders on talent management, organizational effectiveness, employee engagement, M&A’s, and employee relations.

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