Performance Management Theory

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Reginald Ugaddan
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HRD Review Paper: “Performance Management Theory: A Look from the Performer’s Perspective with Implications for HRD” by Thomas W. Buchner, University of Minnesota (Published in Human Resource Development International, Vol. 10, No. 1, 59-73, March 2007)

This article is a conceptual paper that looks into the construct of performance management and challenged and discussed it along two lines: to what degree does theoretical support for performance management exist as it is applied in organizations; and from the performer’s standpoint, how performance management might be improved. The succeeding sections of this paper will show some relevant motivation theories by exploring their strength of connections to applied performance management system. Lastly, the implications for HRD will be presented.

Brief Summary of the Article
The concept of performance management has gained strong attention to improve results in the midst of challenging economic conditions. Many organizations instead of waiting for external improvements such as market growth and technological advances, they looked into their internal capabilities for performance and productivity gains.

Performance management has been defined as management’s systematic application of processes aimed at optimizing performance in an organization (Warren, 1982). There is an emphasis on process that somewhat carries a negative connotation in the performer’s perspective – something done to people. While a more progressive definition was given by Weiss and Hartle (1997): ‘A process for establishing a shared understanding about what is to be achieved, and how it is to be achieved, and an approach to managing people that increases the probability of achieving success’ (p. 3), this definition continues to represent a top-down orientation. Performers and their immediate supervisors tend to think performance management is in compliance of something that is required or forced. Likewise, employees do not look at it as helpful or valued element of their job (Coens and Jenkins, 2000). Traditionally, performance management is viewed to be the responsibility of immediate supervisor (e.g., Barnes-Farrell, 2001; Cardy and Dobbins, 1994; Latham and Wexley, 1994). However, with the presence of different organizational challenges such decentralized workforces, enlarged spans of control, lack of direct experience, evolving performer expectations, etc., caused supervisors not to be effective managers of others’ performance. In addition, the tendency of managers never having held one or more of the positions that report to them. Without the expertise, knowledge, and understanding that come with having performed the work, the credibility of feedback is suspect (Coens and Jenkins, 2000). Finally, many of the modern employees now expect to be more involved in determining the performance management that affects them (Mohrman et al., 1989).

Moreover, with the sizeable investment of many organizations for performance management it does not appear that there is a clear evidence of theoretical research supporting organizations manages performance. Despite the availability of relevant and advance models especially work motivation; performance management is described in process terms (e.g. Grote, 1996; Swan, 1991) wherein it starts from objective setting, through formal appraisal, to the start of the next cycle. There may well be theories applied to this but clear connections are weak and average managers would have hard time to grasp such a theoretical support.

There is a vast array of relevant motivational theories that can be utilized in the improvement of performance management. However, managers are apt to the more traditional and sometimes to those theories that have patently weak connections to the distinctiveness...
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