line manager’s role

Performance management and appraisals are usually carried out by line managers rather than HR professionals, so it is important they understand their role in managing performance and how performance appraisals contribute to the overall aims of performance management.

Performance management is the part of the line manager's role that requires getting the most from the people they manage, so they should receive training in this function. Ideally, this should include not only the skills of conducting performance appraisals, but also its rationale and how the process aligns with business strategy, value creation and fit with the wider strategic process of performance management.

However an organisation structures its performance management and appraisal process, it is usually the line manager who is responsible for:

  • conducting the appraisals which agree and set individual goals, competencies and development needs for their team
  • reviewing performance throughout the year
  • agreeing on a personal development plan
  • reviewing objectives if the organisation’s needs change
  • providing coaching and/or access to training
  • managing under performance

If carried out well, performance management is a powerful tool to focus activity and effort and therefore enhance business objectives. Done badly, it can disengage staff, foster unproductive activities, waste effort and misdirect rewards. The process should be clear, concise and easily understood by all involved.

Line managers’ central role in performance management means they need to ensure the people or teams they manage:

  • know and understand what is expected of them
  • have the skills and  ability to deliver on these expectations
  • are supported by the organisation in developing the capacity to meet these expectations
  • are given feedback on their performance
  • have the opportunity to discuss and contribute to individual and team aims and objectives

Line managers’ key role in performance management also means their success will depend on their ability to apply it. At their best, performance management systems ensure that managers themselves are aware of the impact of their own behaviour on their staff and exhibit positive supportive behaviours that help them perform.

Research stresses the importance of a positive relationship between individuals and line managers. Carried out sensitively, the performance appraisal can be an important way of developing and maintaining this relationship.

appraisals: not universally liked

Research by the Australian Psychological Society reveals 47% of working Australians cite workplace issues as a source of stress, and it’s hardly news that annual appraisals are seen as potentially difficult and painful experiences by all involved.

Studies have shown that up to three-quarters of performance management initiatives fail, and much of the fault is laid at the door of the dreaded annual appraisal which remains in widespread use.

In the words of organisational psychologist Graham Winter – three times chief psychologist for the Australian Olympic team – “The annual performance review is one of the most talked about, least changed, HR absolute sacred cow...[but] the annual cycle doesn’t make sense: something done annually doesn’t constitute feedback, but the performance review remains unchallenged.”

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