Authors Michael Armstrong and Angela Baron
Publisher IPD (01752 202301)
Price £18.95
ISBN 085292 727 4
According to management guru Tom Peters, most employees are “motivated, energetic, committed, enthusiastic and loyal – except for the eight hours they work for you”. Meanwhile, Allan Leighton, Asda’s chief executive, recently told the Financial Times: “If [employees] don’t perform, they are a liability to the organisation.”

Responsibility for employees’ performance naturally lies with managers. While Leighton admits to occasionally firing people, he regards employees’ underperformance as his own failure; either he recruited the wrong person or he has failed to train them properly. His preference is to “zap” (praise) rather than “sap”.

The latest publication in the IPD’s Developing Practice series, Performance Management: The New Realities is intended to “illuminate how approaches to appraisal have evolved and to identify current best practice in performance management”.

Thanks to its knowledgeable, clear style and extensive information compiled from 550 organisations, the book provides a definitive contribution to the literature. The emphasis throughout is on giving grounded, practical advice. Navigation is facilitated by a concise, but comprehensive, “plan” of the contents.

Performance Management is a resource that specialist and line managers alike, as well as people studying for professional qualifications, can refer to for definitions, benchmarks and guidance on this important and complex subject. The text benefits from a foundation in recent empirical research, carried out in conjunction with David Guest and Zella King of Birkbeck College, London.

Michael Armstrong and Angela Baron pose the central question: how should organisations, teams, managers and individuals manage their performance in order to achieve success? Reading their book, I concluded that it would be naive to assume that performance can be successfully managed by anyone other than the person concerned.

Ultimately, we are the only ones with control over our own faculties and emotions. The best advice to those aspiring to lead organisations effectively is to concentrate on creating the conditions in which people will elect to give the best of themselves voluntarily.

The authors have done a masterly job of assembling a wealth of thought and practice, enabling us to reach such a judgment. But they also indicate the means by which managers and their HR advisers can translate understanding into businesslike action. But a major problem is that even where senior managers adopt more professional HRM techniques, their rhetoric often lacks conviction. They may, for instance, have acted because they did not want to be seen to be out of touch with current fashions.

Armstrong and Baron conclude that “organisations such as the ones covered by our research have moved on”. The new realities in the book’s title refer to the fact that “conceptually, performance management is significantly different from previous approaches, although in practice the term has often simply replaced ‘performance appraisal’, just as ‘human resource management’ has frequently been substituted for ‘personnel management’ without any discernible change in approach”.

Underlining this point, they reveal that it is still possible to unearth appraisal practices in some organisations that are based on the discredited “trait” rating systems popular in the 1920s and 30s – in which employees are assessed against personality criteria that range between “inspiring” and “repellent”.

Creating an effective performance management climate is never easy, and a systematic approach is essential. “Old wine in new bottles” or not, performance management seems here to stay. This new book will help to set the agenda for how it develops.

Stephen Perkins
Director, Strategic Remuneration Research Centre