Talent Management: Performance Management’s Part in the System


Talent Management (TM) starts with considering role performance. Role performance considers what is expected to support business goals, how it is best organized to ensure delivery of said performance, and establishing performance ranges (acceptable low – expected – acceptable high). This is not a HR related discussion it is an economic one.

Role performance always assumes that it is filled with competent, fully present people.

Performance Management (PM) in the HR context is about setting individual and even group performance expectations and these are often tied to development, decisions, rewards decisions, promotional decisions, etc. Where role performance is primarily economic, HR PM is about getting the optimum best out of people in the present and future.

As a strategy lever, TM PM creates the opportunity to shape talent supply/demand needs, and the uncertainties & risks exposure facing the organization. Change the system that the talent role is part of, you change your talent issues. Change the role within a system, you change your talent issues. Primarily the impacts are:

  • quality of talent needed – may make it easier/harder to enter into talent supply markets
  • quantity of talent needed – impacts talent productivity and this makes it easier/harder to  enter into talent supply markets
  • attractiveness of role to those with the talent – impacts our ability to sustain suitable access to the desired talent (includes retention)
  • usability of the role, includes how those in the role are treated and enabled to be optimally effective – impacts our sustaining access, the productivity of the talent in the role, and the ability of the role to contribute to desired business outcomes.

The logical PM sequence for this line of reasoning is:

  1. Optimize the role’s capacity to contribute: enable those in the role to be efficient and effective (information systems are in sync, work flows are properly paced and prioritized, feedback systems are useful, etc.)
  2. Optimize the use of people in the role: establish a conducive social system context (effective supportive management, effective access to adjacent support roles, the ability to personally and professionally benefit from socializing is supported, etc.)

The key underlying points of understanding are that there are two concurrent systems that have be synchronized and made effective: business process and social process systems.

There is a PM component in each concurrent system. The PM component provides us with the feedback necessary to be great at what we do.

Effective system process feedback touches us potentially at 4 levels:

  • our inputs: the quality of what we contribute to success including our behaviours, intelligence, interest and energy (along with capital, raw resources, etc.)
  • our throughputs: how well we optimize flows, pacing, priorities, shifting  realities and efficient/effective use of inputs
  • our outputs: did we get the results we sought at the effort we wanted to?
  • our outcomes: at the end of the day did what we do and achieve make the desired difference?

The reader will note the above feedback points also apply to effectively running any process such as a chemical refinery, operating an airline as well as any other human oriented endeavour.

I will rap up with a bit of an unfair comment about many HR PM systems.

  • Many PM systems that are connected to pay for performance give short shrift to inputs/efforts. Yet it is our behaviours that lead to results, these are our “leading indicators’ of likely future success. If we want to improve results, we are often well advised with changing how we get them.  This is well recognized in such work as music, sports, emergency response, military, sales, etc.
  • Many PM systems do not look at outcomes, they believe looking at results is good enough. I find this potentially highly dangerous, let alone misleading (in terms of desired performance). I will elaborate more below.

Most of us will agree that we live and exist in a universe of uncertainty and risk. What does this mean for PM? Everything!

Almost all PM efforts are oriented to achieving future results and benefits. We make the best plans we know to achieve these. We do our very best to do the right things the right at the right time to get there. AND, we often find that as we get into our PM journey, we are in the wrong place at the right time (or vice versa). This is the impact of uncertainty & risk.

So how do we succeed in such a universe? We focus lots on the efforts and most on the outcomes. By always doing the navigation work (what feedback and milestones review do for us) we know whether we are making progress or drifting.  navigation work falls within the throughput work. So results from this PM perspective are of informational use only. Results are interesting and if used properly extremely useful, but not what it is all about.

So if I were to summarize my concerns about much PM work that I have participated in and observed, I would say it assumes an orderly mechanistic universe where looking at effort products as the end point of success.

There are obviously implications to how we would approach designing recognition, rewards and compensation if we were to move to a PM approach that considered role performance and a universe of uncertainty & risk.



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About 123stilllearning456

As a management consultant I am passionately interested in talent management and risk/uncertainty issues. In the area of talent management I propose that we seek strategies that look beyond the staffing/employee centric frames of reference. I have been frustrated at the "closing down on possibilities" by these more conventional staffing/employee centric approaches. I have been impressed where people have found systematic solutions to their talent management issues by going beyond the conventional approaches. In the area of risk and uncertainty, I am interested in making this topic relevant to more normal decision making situations. My conceptual foundation is to use the micro-economist's fixed/variable cost theme. I also think it is important to look at these issues for people through their emotional and psychological lens. As a premise I think risk and uncertainty only exist where there is a person who cares about possible events and its consequences. Hence, risk and uncertainty are social based concepts (no sentience, no risk and uncertainty). A major influence on my thinking in this area is Nassim Taleb of "Black Swan" fame. This BLOG provides me with an opportunity to express my thoughts on topics that interest me. As this is an online diary, content is more important to me than polish. I apologize if this distracts from readers' enjoyment and learning. Still I find this a useful way to live up to my namesake, learn more from others and hopefully provoke creative thoughts and ideas in others.
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