Article: Performance Management Selling, not System

Benefits & Rewards

Performance Management Selling, not System

If Performance Management was a product, how would the HR create an environment which enabled its consumers to see the power of this product? Mohit Sethi, Director HR, Nielsen on selling performance management!
Performance Management Selling, not System

Performance Management is not HRs baby alone. HR is merely the facilitator. The real owners are people in the line function and they should own the system


While the HR invariably knows a lot about the business, it doesnt often use knowledge to convey the messages about the PMSs benefits or its impact using the clients situation


I recently attended a panel discussion on the topic of Performance Management System and its ability to take care of the needs of any organization today. We spoke about VUCA environment and the constantly changing priorities of today’s organizations. We questioned whether traditional systems or the new approaches (of ditching the bell curve) are the answer to the problem. 

I was hoping to get some direct answers to the questions however; our panellists engaged the audience and encouraged them to challenge the notion and debate amongst the crowd! It was fascinating to see that when HR folks are not amongst their own organization, they can express their own disbelief or incapability with so much comfort. The panellists did a wonderful job of stirring up the minds of all who were present. 

Everything said, one question that remained was – what is that HR can still do ‘BETTER’ in order to get more and more people to buy in the strength of this system. Below are some points and arguments that were discussed. (My inner voice is also presented (in italics) which counter argues and pushes me to think of some even more basic solutions):

Whose baby is PMS anyway – HR or Line?


For long, we have debated and finally agreed that Performance Management is not HR’s baby alone. HR is merely the facilitator. The real owners are people in the line function and they should own the system. 

 Debate: I wonder if it were so clear and easy, then why we wouldn’t win the battle already. And then why would our lives in HR never change during the last quarter of year when ratings of all associates have to be keyed into the system just before the system goes for a close. Why would HR have to chase people down to the last day?

What was the objective of having a Performance Appraisal in the first place? Who did it first? And what is the difference between Performance Appraisal and Performance Management?


Performance Appraisal was a system started by GE where this organization paved way for all the others to be able to differentiate between associates in order to reward them well. Many have called this science; some have called it as a mix of science and art. Whether, you give numeric rating (such as 1,2,3,4) or give a title (Excellent, Good, Fair & Bad), many in HR fraternity argue that Performance Appraisal system has lost its core essence of providing feedback. Most employees don’t receive their feedback but are handed over a rating which gets keyed into the system for the kitty to be distributed. Additionally, while Performance Management is the whole lifecycle of performance identification, development and assessment + feedback, Performance Appraisal is that one moment where that feedback culminates into a discussion and then eventually a rating. Performance Management is continuous and thus a flow concept. Whereas Performance Appraisal is more of a stock concept as it happens during a specific month in a year. 

 Debate: If we know all of this, then why does line forget to follow the key objective of the Performance Management/Appraisal system and not provide regular feedback which becomes the vehicle to drive better productivity or output in the subsequent years? We have for long conducted enough number of overview sessions for businesses to know about the importance of Performance Management and have done several role plays in our training programs – but then why do our associates on the ground not know why they got a rating of ¾ this year and what could they do to remain on the top rating of 4/4 next year. They are communicated a rating, a supporting dialogue such as “this is what has come from the top” and then a delayed objective setting for the next year. And, by then the associate’s confidence in the system of PM has already shattered. S/he doesn’t feel the need to commit since they haven’t seen any benefit of it.

HR has failed to convince the business to believe in the power of this system. If business tweaks the system of Performance Management to their advantage, then this system wouldn’t work for anyone. And then, you would be compelled to give up some key attributes of this system such as the ‘Bell Curve’.


Performance Appraisal is a system that helps distinguish top performers, medium performers and bottom performers. Thus it is a vital tool to distribute the kitty in such a way that everyone feels rewarded in comparison to the contribution that they have made to the company.  This is one best method of achieving ‘Meritocracy’ in the system and differentiating chalk from cheese. 

 Debate: If this is how simple the result of using this system was, then why would there be any reason for organizations to challenge the traditional Bell Curve one after the other. Certainly, somewhere we have failed to let people appreciate the outcomes of meritocracy and differentiation, which enable a rightful distribution of reward and proper feedback for all.

What can we learn from Sales?

The purpose of this article is not just to illustrate the problem that we are facing today and leave everyone with some obvious questions like – so what? The key reason is to present a very interesting spin on what we can learn from our Sales people in order to better the game of Performance Management. Let’s consider Performance Management as an awesome product which was built with a lot of thought and hard work. Now, the challenge at the hands of HR people is to create an environment which enables its consumers to see the power of this product. 

1. TREAT IT LIKE A PRODUCT – Get trained for selling this product first – Just like when you don’t know the features, advantages and benefits of a product you would find it difficult to sell, the same way is Performance Management. The key feature of this product is that it helps solve the problem of ‘feedback’. However, we have been underutilizing it to use it for only ‘rating’ people. Our clients would undertake repetitive purchases only if they were satisfied the first time. Since they are using the product for ½ of its benefits, the chances that our clients may not like our product are high.

2. THE HERO WITHOUT A STORY – When sales people market their product, they choose the brand icon that represents the ethos of the brand. Now, sales people do a great job of marrying the brand icon and his/her story with the brand. When we (HR folks) have to market the adoption of PMS, we first do a hurried job of choosing the brand icon (take anyone from the top management – how does it matter). To make matters worse, we don’t elicit the story of our hero and build a connection. Next time, try having your top leader share a personal story of how an incidence of feedback and evaluation changed their life and then sell the product. 

3. NOT SHAMELESS CONFIDENT – Sales people keep knocking at your doors till the time either they are thrown out or their client is convinced. They are shamelessly confident and do not get perturbed by the first few rejections. In HR, when we pitch the product for the first time and our people don’t either get it right or don’t appreciate the value, we try once, twice, but then we easily curl up in the corner of the room and start blaming, “these guys would never get it! They are not even interested”. Succeeding at selling to our internal customers is not linked to getting the pay cheque every month. Convincing our clients to buy the full package in its entirety is not a compulsion. Sometimes, even successful selling of an idea is not a compulsion. Therefore, we don’t try too hard to be shamelessly confident. We need to know that success at sales is only when either your client throws you away or buys your product. Anything else, is emotions. Thus HR needs to accept 2-3 rejections before the internal customers even begin to see value!! 

4. SALES HAPPEN WITH A BEAT PLAN – Sales people go to average 40 stores in a week. They are constantly creating schemes, bundled offers, organizing for ATL and BTL activities. The HR conducts trainings and awareness sessions to educate people about the PMS System. However, the number of times we conduct these, or the variety of ways with which we capture our audiences’ attention is very limited. And then we start complaining “after many attempts to train the business, we have failed to establish the importance and the right way of adopting the product”. Let’s accept. It is one product which not many people get clearly. Also, if they get the product well, most of them can’t sell its features to each other… so, at the end you are dealing with a client base that has to be “entertained” well and in as many ways as possible. Go for a stricter beat plan. Ensure variety and quantity; both. Just check your feedback score from the last training on Performance Management and the number of times you conducted this education session. Now, compare this to the number of Communication Skills or Effective Presentation Skills programs and scores. You would know the difference. Repetition is the mother of all learning.

5. KNOW YOUR CLIENT’S BUSINESS – Sales people do a lot of research about their clients before walking into a meeting.  This is done simply to make sense to the client in the business meeting and look credible to him/her when you are proposing the benefits of your products. So, in the famous SCQA model, you present your client’s Situation, Complication, Question and Answer in such a manner that the client feels compelled to believe you and listen to what you have as solutions. What is noteworthy here is that they always know that no amount of research about the client from secondary sources or asking your colleagues/network will ever be enough. The client would know about his business better than the sales person any day! Still, they use this technique every time before the business meeting. 

While we as HR folks invariably know a lot about the business, we don’t often use our knowledge to convey the messages about the PMS’s benefits or its impact using our client’s situation. If we are not researching about our clients’ biggest pain areas and taking the risk of connecting their Situation & Complication to a question that they should think about and the answer that we have (PMS), then we can never convince them to convince their own teams about it.

6. THE SALES LOOP – Sell, service, get feedback and repeat – the Sales loop clearly instructs sales people to continue the whole Sales loop. Whenever a sales person neglects any of the stages in the Sales loop, (s)he sees repercussions immediately. Either there will be more sales than they can service or there will be more feedback than new sales. If Sales loop’s equilibrium is broken, you see the side effects immediately.

PMS is HR’s baby. They have to own the product. And, the Sales Loop is necessary to remind us about the steps such as sales pitch, service, gain feedback and repeat! It is the discipline of sales that gets sales people their credibility in the organization. It’s the same way that HR folks have to come through. 

Everyone at HR has been working in the area of Performance Management through one or the other way – whether it were the Comp & Ben people who kept yelling at the HRBPs to keep the distribution in control or whether it were the HRBPs who kept pushing their own BU Leads; whether it was the Head of HR who presented the most meritocratic outcome to the stakeholders in the business or whether it were the L&D team which drove successful role play led sessions to make our managers learn more about the application. 

If we invest so much in the system of Performance Management, then we also need to listen to the environment and for a minute investigate like a Marketing Head who not only looks at just one of the ‘Ps’ of the marketing - Product. S/he looks at other Ps too - Packaging, Promotion, Positioning. They all are critical and that’s what we need to bring into our scope of work if we wish to succeed at ensuring this product works well for our organizations in today’s environment. 

To conclude, here is what I suggest you do – do a very basic and a quick analysis of human-hours spent by your HR team on all the 4 Ps of marketing of this product. You would soon realize where the investment needs to go up. And that’s when you can go back to the suggestions given in points 1 to 6 to turn around your story of Performance Management Sales!!! 

Happy selling Performance Management!



Read full story

Topics: Benefits & Rewards, Learning Management Systems

Did you find this story helpful?



How do you envision AI transforming your work?