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Performance management and employee engagement: Two sides of the same coin?

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Performance management and employee engagement are often treated very differently as HR responsibilities. Understandable as they feel like almost polar opposites, particularly if you have a traditional mindset when it comes to HR.

But highly engaged employees consistently outperform their less engaged colleagues in all measures, including productivity.

With a clear positive link between them, it makes sense that a successful approach to performance management should be one that takes employee engagement into account.

Why performance management and engagement are treated differently

Despite the fact that we’re about to make the case for why these two approaches should be linked, performance management and employee engagement differ in some key respects that have a lot to do with the goals each approach originates from.

Performance management: The goal of performance management is to improve individual performance and overall productivity. This traditionally takes the form of an assessment that highlights ways that the employee can improve, and ideally, their personal strengths too.

Employee engagement: Engagement is the employee’s sense of commitment and attachment to their job, their colleagues, and the business as a whole, including its goals. Employee engagement uses ongoing, two-way feedback that emphasises the needs and motivations of employees, rather than just their output. While performance management is about making employees be more productive, a byproduct of high engagement is the actual motivation for employees to strive for better performance.

But, despite their differences performance management and employee engagement are arguably two sides of the same coin. A Harvard Business Review study found over 90% of business leaders agreed that engaged employees generally performed better, and that engagement is critical to business success, with 75% agreeing strongly. 69% agreed that, without improving employee engagement, it would be difficult to improve overall performance.

How does performance management encourage employee development?

Outdated methods like annual performance reviews are still something of a business boogeyman. This means that, conceptually, performance management suffers from a major image problem. 80% of employees and 68% of managers don’t believe in the effectiveness of your typical performance review.

But, when it’s done right, performance management forms a key part of any effective employee policy. It just requires a shift in approach, from being purely assessment based, to being more feedback-driven.

Vibe surveyed organisations across 157 countries, and found that 83% of employees appreciate feedback, whether it’s positive or negative. 96% believe that getting regular feedback is a good thing. But roughly a third have to wait over three months to get feedback from a manager.

It’s not performance management that employees hate. In fact, long-term engagement depends on our continuing to learn, grow, and be challenged by our work. What employees dislike is being sat down and criticised, especially if they feel it’s undeserved. A common problem with annual performance reviews is that managers may only recall recent events, meaning they could fail to take past accomplishments into account.

Performance management should be just as much about highlighting personal strengths and achievements, just as much as it’s about finding ways to improve. 63% of employees in Vibe’s study reported that they didn’t receive enough praise from their manager, with over 70% being praised less than once a week, despite recognition programs being so beneficial for engagement that they reduce voluntary turnover by almost a third.

How to combine engagement and performance management

  • Check in with employees regularly: The most important aspect of regular communication is consistency. Employee check-ins don’t need to take much time at all, and can enable you to exchange feedback and respond to problems in a much timelier manner. Plus, by having an ongoing feedback process, both you and the employee will have a much more solid idea of what to expect from performance review meetings, which helps make them a lot less daunting.

  • Use recognition and 360° feedback: The fact that so many employees in Vine’s study weren’t getting enough praise is quite telling. But another finding of theirs that we found particularly interesting is that almost two thirds of employees want more feedback from their colleagues. Implementing 360° feedback and recognition platforms gives employees the tools to help manage their performance together, and praise each other’s hard work. This helps to build social bonds that play a key role in engagement.

  • Discuss personal growth and career goals: When it’s time to discuss ways to improve, it’s important to address them as opportunities for growth, rather than flaws to be corrected. Showing employees that their career development matters to you is a great way of inspiring loyalty and cutting turnover. If they want to advance in the company, you can establish a shared understanding of the skills they need to get there, and how they can obtain them.

  • Support workplace education: Workplace education initiatives are extremely useful, whether they’re training courses, employee mentorships or anything else. It’s one thing to be able to help your employees set practical goals for personal development. It’s another entirely if you can directly help them to achieve those goals.

  • Take a strengths-based approach: One of the best things for engagement is when our strengths are recognised and put to good use. It makes you feel valuable, which helps you form an attachment to your organisation. A good way to cut out the punitive feeling of some performance review methods is to focus on developing our employee’s strongest areas.

Those are just some of the ways you can turn performance management and employee engagement into a united front. Ultimately, employee engagement’s biggest strength is its people-centric approach, based around support and understanding. By contrast, performance management’s biggest flaw is that it can sometimes focus on results at the cost of the individual.

Engagement’s positive impact on things like productivity shows that performance management initiatives stand to be more successful if they take a leaf from the employee engagement playbook, and support people as individuals with their own goals and needs.

Download our 30-page HRDs guide to employee engagement to learn more about the links between engagement and performance. You’ll benefit from actionable insights and tips, the latest HR thinking and expert views from around the globe.