Resistance to Performance Management

Overcoming Roadblocks to Performance Management

One of the biggest challenges to any company initiative is getting buy-in from managers and employees who are critical of change. In previous posts, we’ve focused on succession planning and how to bring CEOs, senior managers, and employees on-board. While the main ideas of those posts relate to performance management, changes to performance management systems are especially challenging. This is because of resistance to performance management, both from leaders providing feedback and direct reports receiving the ratings.

Resistance to Performance Management

The challenges of performance appraisals can be so great that industry titans like Adobe[1] and General Electric[2] have eliminated traditional performance reviews altogether. However, effective performance management is not the same as performance appraisal. Rather, performance management focuses on employee development and aligning individual goals with those of the company. Despite its benefits, a move from traditional performance appraisal to performance management can be difficult. Ultimately, having the answers you need to address employee concerns is key to success.

Common Concerns about Performance Management and How to Address Them

In order to win over hearts and minds when implementing a performance management system, it’s crucial that managers and employees understand why and how the process is being implemented. Below are some of the most common concerns about performance management and tips on how to address them.

1. Management Perceives that Performance Management Adds Little Value to the Company

Many managers show resistance to performance management because they believe that performance assessments add little value to the company. Most of the time, they’re right. Managers are often already stretched thin and have multiple priorities vying for their attention. Asking them to spend time filling out annual performance reviews for their employees can feel like creating paperwork for little-to-no benefit. This is especially the case in small companies where managers have many roles and responsibilities.

To address these concerns, be open with information about the differences between the current system and the new approach. Emphasize that a move to performance management from traditional assessments will be beneficial, and that leaders’ feedback for their high-potential direct reports matters. Additionally, stress that their leadership role is the key part of the development pipeline that will add more value to the company.

2. Lack of Clarity Regarding the Performance Management System

For both employees and managers, there is often confusion about the purpose of the performance management system. Many such systems lack focus. One set of ratings may be used for promotion decisions, remedial action, and protection against legal challenges[3]. This lack of focus is frustrating to managers because they have to provide feedback to their direct reports that identifies areas for improvement, but doesn’t open them up to reprimands. This can also create anxiety for any employees who can’t focus on their development while believing that negative ratings could affect their advancement in the company.

Successful performance management requires that its main objective be decided early, and that procedures are designed to achieve that objective. To get the support of your workforce, design your performance management system around a main company goal. For example, a company-wide objective to improve succession planning can set up performance management focused on developing employees to eventually take on key roles in the organization. 

3. Unsupportive Work Environment

Most companies have established procedures that managers and employees are used to. So, big changes to company-wide systems, like performance management, can be overwhelming. Consequently, strong structures must be in place to support individuals while they adapt.

Before introducing the new system, encourage communication between those most affected by the change, such as managers and employees, and those leading the initiative, like executives. Communication is always important, but a strong effort to improve it can create more trust in the initiative and its leaders. Another way to lessen resistance to performance management is to provide leaders with the training they need to give feedback that is in line with the objectives of the new system. This shows that the company is willing to invest resources in performance management, and that it cares about the quality of its feedback.

How SIGMA Can Help

At SIGMA, we want to help your company prepare for the future. Our experienced succession planning consultants can help you integrate performance management into a simple succession planning process Visit our Launch Series page to discover how we can deliver your personalized Succession Plan in just 30 days. We also offer long-term consulting services to help you navigate on-going succession planning functions, such as performance management. Contact us for more information on our succession planning succession planning offerings.

resistance to performance management


[1] Baer, D. (2014, April 10). Why Adobe abolished their annual performance review and you should, too. Business Insider.

[2] Nisen, M. (2015, August 13). Why GE had to kill its annual performance reviews after more than three decades. Quartz.

[3] Society of Human Resource Management (2017). Performance management that makes a difference: An evidence-based approach. Science-to-Practice Series.

About the Author

Sharon Van Duynhoven

Office Manager

Sharon brings our tests and assessments from the development stage to marketable product. She ensures quality control at every step of a project, edits technical documents and manuals, and artistically enhances reports and resources. She also manages contracts with clients across the globe and answers technical questions.