I recently had similar conversations with two different clients about using 360 survey data for the purpose of professional development vs. performance management. This is a relatively common issue that comes up. Most of the people we work directly with understand the distinction and the implications, but sometimes another individual in the organization is pushing for something that can conflate the two. In particular, we see professional development initiatives turning into performance management efforts.
Because our primary focus at LearningBridge is on professional development, we are sensitive to the potential recasting of development data as performance data. Survey tools used for professional development can often be the same as or very similar to surveys used for performance management. It’s in the actual application of those tools that the distinctions occur.
When we talk about performance management, this is typically associated with annual performance reviews. More generally, performance management has monetary implications, such as whether you’ll get a raise or bonus and how much either of those might be. The intent is to have an objective way to determine appropriate compensation. Performance management and the associated evaluations are very much focused on looking back over the past and making an assessment.
Professional development, on the other hand, is focused on looking forward and is not directly tied to compensation. Of course, improved performance may result from professional development, resulting in improved compensation, but the main objective isn’t to assess whether an individual is meeting certain standards to qualify for associated rewards. Professional development is aimed at helping an individual identify strengths to leverage, especially hidden strengths, or areas of potential weakness in their field or role, especially if that weakness could be a derailer for their career. They can then create and act on a plan.
Differences in Application and Mindset
One of the key differences between development vs. performance management is that the individual should drive goal selection, rather than the manager, HR, or the organization generally. That said, in a development situation a feedback recipient would be wise to consult with their manager on their goals and get their manager’s input. That will help the individual to get more support from their manager and make it easier to allocate time to an area that aligns with the department’s or organization’s needs.
- Performance management asks, “Did you achieve the goals we set for you? If so, you’ll get a set reward.”
- Professional development asks, “What can you identify now as an opportunity for you to be a better you?”
Using Development Data for Performance Management
We most commonly see the desire to take advantage of feedback that has been collected for development to also be used for performance management. When this occurs, we generally offer some variation of the following suggestions for our clients to consider.
- What is the primary objective of this initiative? Keep that in mind.
- If an initiative’s primary objective is development and the organization tries to also use it for performance management, feedback provider selection and the way people answer and provide feedback will all be affected.
- Perceptions of confidentiality and anonymity influence who participants ask to provide feedback and how free those feedback providers feel to offer candid feedback. You get more honest and helpful feedback when there is confidentiality and anonymity. (Aside from our amazing service and expertise, confidentiality and anonymity of feedback are common reasons why companies hire us as a third party.)
- What message do you want to send to your employees? This relates to the point about knowing your primary objective with the effort. In particular, you do not want to communicate that something is a development initiative and later use the data for performance management. That will seriously damage the trust your employees have in the organization.
Ultimately, if a debate regarding development vs. performance management arises, it is important to keep your primary objective in mind. Remember that development tends to look forward and performance tends to look back. They can both serve a valuable purpose, but you don’t want to conflate them. Keeping your primary objective in mind will go a long way in guiding your decision and whether there is room to allow the impacts of a performance initiative for the sake of collecting the desired data. If you’re like most of our clients, you will decide that you want to keep things clean, communicating and operating on the initiative in one way or the other and not trying to do both at once.