How to excite senior leaders about performance management

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min read
May 23, 2023
January 18, 2024
Three types of leaders who might need persuading about the value of performance management
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Sadly not all senior leaders see the value in performance management. Here are our tips for motivating three different sorts of leaders to them get on them on board with your process.

If we had a pound for every time a customer asked us to help them get their most senior leaders interested or engaged with performance management, we’d be almost as rich as Elon Musk. OK, this might be a slight exaggeration, but this is a perennial question that we get asked again and again.

We wanted to create something that would help our customers solve this dilemma, so based on their experiences, we’ve looked at three types of senior leaders that they’ve come up against. Getting the executive team on board can be difficult, and yet they are critical because they set the tone for the entire organisation and have the greatest impact. We’ve put together some pointers on how to make them sit up and take notice of performance management.

The "dinosaur" leader

The "dinosaur" leader

How can you spot them?

A ‘dinosaur leader’ is probably most likely to be male, pale and stale. They will have a traditional outlook on life, resistant to change and new ideas. They may often be heard starting sentences with the words, “well in my day….” They may have done a management course years ago, but wouldn’t dream of doing any training now – they know all they need to know.

When it comes to business, they like things to feel familiar and comfortable. They like to know where they stand and favour a traditional management structure with a traditional hierarchy - flat, fluid structures scare them. Everything should flow from the top down; this is the normal order of things which should not be upset.

Technology is likely to be another thing that scares them. They often rely heavily on a PA or a more junior member of staff to show them how things work. They are wary of social media and are probably only on LinkedIn under sufferance.

They feel people should be in their place of work most of the time, seeing employees reassures them that they are doing their jobs. They’re not convinced by this hybrid working malarkey! They prefer to have a clear separation between home and work life, both for themselves and their employees.

What do they think of performance management?

They are likely to have an old-fashioned view of performance management, still associating it with an annual appraisal and little else. In their opinion, a performance review is about a manager telling an employee what they have done well and what could be improved, with minimal input required from the employee. They see it as a management tool to control the workforce and weed out those that are underperforming – the “yank and rank” approach is something that appeals to them.

They see performance management as something that employees do rather than senior leaders; they excuse themselves as they are “too busy”. They fail to see how it relates to them and how it can be important for their role. They believe HR should drive the process and it is not their responsibility to play a part in it.

Their view of performance management is likely to reflect their view of other aspects of people management, such as presenteeism and compensation, stuck firmly in the twentieth century.

What might grab their attention?

For these leaders it’s all about the bottom line. To them, success means a healthy balance sheet. They like figures and the certainty that these provide. They are not interested in what they think of as the “fluffy stuff” like workplace culture, engagement or wellbeing, failing to see that they are intrinsically-linked.

If you can show them in black and white that performance management is having a positive impact, be that improving sales figures or reducing employee turnover, they will begin to take notice.

Killer questions to spark their interest

Asking the right questions means being prepared. Get your facts ready. This may require you to conduct some research with employees or interrogate your own people data to find a compelling angle. The following questions are suggested prompts to introduce the topic of performance management in a way that is likely to get a positive reaction:

Did you know x% of the employees who left last year stated that lack of development opportunities was a factor in their decision to leave?

What percentage of our employees do you think don’t feel they fully understand our organisation’s objectives?

Did you know that on average it takes employees x hours to complete their reviews? How can we best maximise the time spent?

The “willing but clueless” leader

The "willing but clueless” leader

How can you spot them?

These are just as likely to be male or female, probably in their 30s or 40s. They are likely to have little previous leadership experience, having been newly promoted or could be the founders of the business, who are great at ideas but not so adept at people management. 

These tend to be people who don’t have the attributes often associated with classic leaders; they may lack some self-confidence or have introverted tendencies. They want to do the right thing, but aren’t quite sure what that is. They may try to be too friendly and “down with” their employees, rather than provide an example for others to follow. 

They want their organisation to be a great place to work, but are unsure how they go about creating a culture that people want to work in. They realise that people are important to the business but just don’t have the skills to bring out the best in them.

What do they think of performance management?

They probably associate performance management with dealing with poor performance rather than something that can be used proactively to support positive behaviours. As they have limited management experience; their view of performance management will be shaped by their own personal experiences. They don’t fully grasp all the areas where it can be used to underpin  employee experience and business success, seeing it in simplistic terms.

What might grab their attention?

With this type of  executive leader, it is about opening their eyes to everything that performance management can deliver and how it can help them personally as leaders. The cycle of setting objectives, assessing progress against them and regular reviews provides them with a framework to help them develop their management style and build a better understanding and connection with their direct reports.

Showing them how versatile different check-ins can be will also pique their interest. Understanding there are reviews for different occasions, such as at the end of a probation or to discuss career ambitions will give them the framework to help them develop leadership skills across the company.

Killer questions to spark their interest

The advantage of these leaders is that they want to do the right thing, all they need is to be pointed in the right direction. Highlighting how performance management can help them personally and their employees is the best way to attract their attention. You could try these questions  to get their attention. We have provided some third party statistics as an example (if you can find figures that relate to your business, that would be even better):

Did you know that according to research from PwC around three quarters of employees want feedback about their performance every month? Holding regular check-ins provides this opportunity, so let’s take a look at what’s going on in our organisation

Did you know according to research from Appraisd more than 80% of employees want regular check-ins with their line manager. What are we doing with our employees?

Did you know that according to research from Right Management 81% of employees have no written career plan? How about we include regular career development conversations as part of our performance management process? 

The “professional narcissist” leader

The “professional narcissist” leader

How can you spot them?

This type of leader is not so much about age or gender, it’s more about their attitude and their incredible level of self-confidence. They hold their own abilities in very high regard and feel they know all there is to know. They think the business is only where it is because of them and that they are more important than those that work for them.

They are likely to be larger-than-life characters, who like to be seen and heard. As they have so much confidence in themselves they are often poor at listening to others or taking advice. They certainly don’t appreciate their views being challenged in public and view any constructive criticism as a personal attack.

They are known by everyone within the business and they like their name to be known outside too. They tend to be keen to attend industry events, spending time and effort on building their profile in person and online. They may also have a tendency to take credit for the work of others.

They may have done management training in the past, but will have probably used the opportunity to extend their own network, focusing on how it makes them look, rather than taking any insights or techniques on board.

What do they think of performance management?

They feel performance management is unnecessary for themselves to take part in; they have so much confidence in their own ability they feel they don’t need other people telling them what to do. They view performance management as a constraint to their natural talents.

They are also likely to be sceptical about the value of performance management for their employees too. As well as hating the administration involved, they feel they provide the best possible example for employees to follow to build their careers.

What might grab their attention?

As everything is about them, to grab their attention you need to highlight the personal benefits involved. They are the most difficult of these three management types to engage and present a stiff challenge. The key to having any hope of changing their opinion is to make them think it’s their own idea. If there’s an opportunity for them to raise their profile at an all staff meeting or external event through talking about these benefits, so much the better.

Killer questions to spark their interest

The key here is to be as subtle as possible. Perhaps finding high profile business gurus who are supporters of effective performance management could be a good way in. Alternatively, presenting case studies from successful businesses that highlight the role of performance management could do the trick.

Piquing their interest will be far from easy so you might want to target other senior leaders who will be more sympathetic to your cause to save yourself a lot of wasted time and effort!

Tips for all types of leaders

Whatever type of leader you’re dealing with, we recommend you do the following things before approaching them to make your pitch as compelling as possible:

  • Do your research - take the time to gather as much internal and external data as possible to back up your argument
  • Plan what you’re going to say - order your thoughts so you are ready to answer any questions or counter their objections
  • Get advice from others - find allies either in the business or your professional network who can help you, suggest approaches and can sense check your pitch

Good luck! We know these approaches have worked in the past, so hopefully they can help you get a positive outcome too.


Webinar: "What (if anything) gets senior leaders excited about measuring performance?"

Why aren’t senior leaders excited about measuring performance? And what would get them interested?

Senior leaders and performance management
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