Performance Management is Nonsense: Stop Meaningless Appraisal in Schools

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The Head of Accenture, Pierre Nanterme has said: “We are not sure that spending all that time in performance management has been yielding such a great outcome.” Many companies are abandoning the process saying that it is time consuming and has the opposite effect to the desired one, instead of motivating employees it encourages disengagement and restricts people’s ability to improve. According to the Independent: ‘research has shown that even employees who get positive reviews experience negative effects from the process.’

Some people, however, seem to do well from performance management, they approach it with great enthusiasm, the type of enthusiasm that breeds resentment in their colleagues, as reported in the Independent:

“Employees that do best in performance management systems tend to be the employees that are the most narcissistic and self-promoting,” said Brian Kropp, the HR practice leader for CEB. “Those aren’t necessarily the employees you need to be the best organization going forward.”

The hours spent trying to justify how you have fulfilled targets, often targets you have completely forgotten about during the year and only recall them during reviews or appraisals should ring alarm bells, clearly this is having little effect. Yet schools embrace this idea to help them justify performance related pay increases and other such ways of dividing and ruling their staff.

The whole process of a hierarchical management appraisal system can be a power play by which managers can show off their superiority to their mere underlings, in ‘How People Evaluate Others in Organizations, edited by Manuel London, it states: “Although it is implicitly assumed that the ratings measure the performance of the ratee, most of what is being measured by the ratings is the unique rating tendencies of the rater. Thus ratings reveal more about the rater than they do about the ratee.” These ‘idiosyncratic rater effects’ can tell us a lot about the prejudices of those doing the judging and their preconceptions about the person in front of them.

Nanterme said: “The art of leadership is not to spend your time measuring, evaluating… It’s all about selecting the person. And if you believe you selected the right person, then you give that person the freedom, the authority, the delegation to innovate and to lead with some very simple measure.” But what if you think the person in front of you is ‘the wrong person’, then you use the whole system to justify your view, ‘See, I told you all along she was a wrong un’

Staff need to be given the freedom to grow and I don’t mean that old management trick of giving them enough rope to hang themselves, freedom should be about nurturing and building strong, supportive relationships throughout the school, and encouraging ‘openness’, no closed classrooms, no big event reviews, just conversations between professionals, encourage the informal ‘professionalism’ that can drive dynamic organisations rather than sterile formal procedures that can do so much to tick a box as the dynamism grinds to a halt… Er, sorry, as the opportunity to reflect on practise… gets in the way of doing it.

It is not just staff who are subjected to such nonsense, in classrooms up and down the country children are subjected to third rate performance management targets and appraisals, taking a huge amount of lesson time. Big data, give us lots of data, is the cry! Managers justifying their pay scale chasing teachers for DATA, MORE DATA! Instead of teaching and learning, a bureaucratic monstrosity in the name of improving performance is inflicted on pupils preparing them for the 21st century skill of wasting time in pointless form filling. Here is what every teacher should do to resist this peculiar pastime:

  • Stop setting target grades for your children.
  • Stop setting meaningless target statements.
  • Stop children from wasting their time reviewing the targets that you have set them or they have set themselves.

Instead teachers should:

  • Spend the time saved by teaching, supporting and nurturing their pupils so that they do better in the day to day.

These simple steps might annoy a line manager or two but they’ll probably help your children do better than they would wasting their time on the second rate managerialism of performance management appraisals that even big businesses like Accenture, Gap, Deloitte, Microsoft, and a number of other companies, where this nonsense began, are abandoning.

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28 thoughts on “Performance Management is Nonsense: Stop Meaningless Appraisal in Schools

  1. Leah K Stewart

    In my few years in sales/corporate I quickly realised that the KPI’s are nonsense so ignored them and created my own funnel based on serving the people my job said I was there to serve. This went so well that management backed off and let me do my own thing. When they looked at the KPI’s mine were through the roof compared with others so I had to watch as my colleagues were hit for not hitting the same numbers. This was not motivational for them, or me, especially as I knew I wasn’t trying to hit those figures. So then I asked to train newbies and I said to them; ignore the KPI’s, this is my system, this is why I do it, you can start this way but over time you’ll develop your own system of keeping track that works for you and that’s great. My trainees became the top performers, with no need to be managed. Then management wanted my training to be packaged in a way that if I ‘got ran over by a bus’ (their words) the company could keep going. So I wrote a training manual and left them to follow it with another newbie. I was given time to sit with her for one afternoon a few weeks after she started. She was already so stressed about the KPI’s. I said there was little I could do now, and she won’t last long. Within 6 months she’d cracked and left feeling pretty hopeless about herself. Was heartbreaking. Schools; don’t go down this route. It’s not worth it!

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  2. Paul

    Agree almost entirely with your comments. However, teachers refusing to set targets, provide data, etc. are likely to find themselves facing disciplinary procedures. These inevitably conclude with the union rep suggesting some kind of compromise agreement.

    Cheers

    Paul

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  3. The Quirky Teacher

    We’re constantly having to set targets for children. They have to be in their books, in their personal journals, put on the server, sent to SLT and agreed with parents at parents’ evenings. It takes ages to do just the laminating, never mind writing each in a personalised way. It’s mandatory; part of the ‘let’s encourage children to be independent learners’ thing.

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  4. Katharine Birbalsingh

    Wonderful piece! I so totally agree. I had PM meetings at the end of the year with staff and asked ‘Are you happy?’ ‘What can we do to support you better?’ I hope the chat gave them space to talk/bond with management. No targets. No PRP. No bizarre pretend discussion where everyone in the room is trying to guess at saying the right thing. Ugh. I can’t bear that. No targets for kids at Michaela either. Why burden staff with that nonsense when it makes no difference to pupil outcomes? Trust staff to look after the pupils and it will happen. No professional should be insulted with targets, unless of course, they have demonstrated that they are not very good at being a professional… Of course we have to get our system past Ofsted and that might be difficult, given that they are all about targets…

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    1. Martin Robinson Post author

      Yes, trust and the ability to have robust exchanges of view and supportive conversations, an ethos where openness, honesty and ‘saying what you mean’ rather than the evasive word play trying to ensure the target game is played and won…

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  5. teachwell

    Also those targets are deliberately used against people. The last time I was set them, I challenged why we all had the same second target (convenient that). I was told in front of my year group partner that I didn’t have anything to worry about!! Great – so evidently he did, his face fell and the manager didn’t even notice. More to the point, when writing my targets he used his own one as a template. It’s funny because his second target was far simpler to achieve than the one given to other teachers (he was still a full time teacher at that point). It’s cooked and crooked. Heads can already sack teachers if they are significantly underperforming and may need to be more careful when hiring in the first place.

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  6. Kevin Moody

    We decided to not call it Performance Management but Professional Development and have teaching and learning as the main focus . Also we ask middle leaders to oversee this process . Provide support to help individual teachers improve their practice is the way forward .

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  7. Raj Unsworth

    Love you’re approach Katherine Birbalsingh, don’t mind admitting I’m a fan BUT not all school leaders are like you. You have vision, drive, ‘can do’ attitude, confidence, strong leadership…..not convinced your approach would work in all existing schools. Seen the mayhem that ensues in schools with poor leadership, lack of basic structures for kids and staff etc.

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      1. Raj Unsworth

        Absolutely, schools like Katherine’s will do well, delivering for their students. They are not a cause for concern, The problem is those currently failing their students. Methods cannot make up for poor leadership, sooner or later they will be found out.

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  8. Julia Whyte

    As a former HOD I dreaded all this. For the most part I was more than satisfied with the overall performance of our department. We all had something different to offer, we were good at exchanging ideas at meetings etc. and if one is to go by results, ours were consistently very high. If they dipped, it was in line withI found the paperwork involved absolutely awful and time consuming and felt we could all do with the time to do other things. I certainly did not use it as a stick to beat anyone with.

    My concern when I was a HOD was that I never felt that I had all the answers anyway. Who was I to sit in judgement over others? I was able to see from individual break down of results, rate of complaints from pupils and parents whether or not things were going well ( and they were).

    I have seen terrible undermining of very good young teachers by HODs who themselves were a bit lacking and I came to the conclusion. that we should really all be learning from each other.

    Performance management can often be a bully’s charter.

    So glad it’s all over now as I retired two years ago!

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  9. Ruth Golding

    Interesting discussion. I was introduced to the work WM Deming on NPQH and the red head game which shows targets to be random things that are open to so many factors and deviations that achieving them is impossible and a lots of the time based on luck or factors out of an individual’s control.

    The head of the school I was at refused to set targets, and focused solely on ensuring all the teachers were better teachers each year. He retired two years ago, I wonder how he would have find the current target obsessed climate.

    I agree we need to move away from PM and make it PD where the focus is teaching and learning. peeformance is definitely linked to capability to do the job and there are procedures for that. Developing practice is a professional duty and supported by meaningful meetings.

    I will be waiting for the day that target stickers, labelling of students and their teachers is a thing of the past in schools.

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  10. The Barista

    Hmm, so I agree in the main with you here Martin but with some caveats.
    I think the term performance management comes quite loaded. Especially since they have their roots in corporate talk and have somehow wangled their way into the educational leadership narrative. As many have already mentioned a lot of this comes down to the leadership present in schools and what the buy in is from teachers (and students)

    Personally I think with the amount of pressure that schools do have to achieve targets (whether we like it or not) targets and goals are going to be part of the toolkit we have to drive measure leadership and improvement. This is an external pressure that I don’t think can be simply dismissed by saying we don’t like performance management, or whatever label we give it.

    On the flip side I have worked with teachers and students on programmes and initiatives that improve their personal development. For example with teachers rather than just setting a cursory figure, I have seen SLT and HODS who have sat down and had discussions about what was attainable. Looking at the cohorts and their achievements to date. Constantly tweeking and appraising how teachers are best engaging their students, managing behaviour and promoting a whole, not just exam based, approach to learning.

    With students who have not been stretching their thinking we have worked on programmes where they have set themselves targets of what they can achieve in terms of attainment, attendance and attitude. Students have been coached about what is within their reach and encouraged and motivated to aspire to those goals. In an incredibly competitive world for when they leave this has been something which has worked in their favour.

    Again I don’t think the way many performance management schemes are currently run encourage positive reactions, but I do think they have their place if it is seen as inclusive approach which helps the schools, students and teachers as a whole, rather than a tickbox for OFTSED, DFE or the SLT’s ego.

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  11. steveadcock81

    Thanks Martin, enjoyed this. It’s certainly easier to set targets and judge people them against them rather than try to understand and support the actual work that colleagues do. Had a similar conversation with a journalist friend of mine recently – every article written at his paper is analysed for hits, shares, likes etc, with very little interest in the actual quality of the piece.

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