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4 Planning Mistakes That Derail a New Performance Management Program

By Rob Budzinski
August 18, 2023
6 minute read

This is the first of a two-part series on the common pitfalls in performance management planning and implementation, and how to avoid them.

Imagine you’re contemplating moving to a new geography. Before doing so, you’d consider issues like your short- and long-term goals, what you want to gain from the move, whether it makes sense to move now or wait for economic, career, or family reasons, and how you will gauge the success of your decision. You’d come up with your own list of needs, expectations, and risks rather than relying on a generic list you find online or what your friend did. Not thinking through such a consequential change in your lifestyle could have unintended and even harmful consequences, financial or otherwise. Yet, this is precisely what some organizations do when changing their performance management processes. These mistakes can derail a new performance management program before it gets off the ground.  

Having the right technology is essential, but it’s only half of the equation. The other half is doing the right planning beforehand to ensure you have the proper foundation and a smooth rollout and after launch to optimize your investment and achieve your intended goals. This is where having a partner with a dedicated professional services team can mean the difference between success and failure. 

Too little, too much, or just right

Many customers who adopt a new performance management process will rely on nothing more than generic training and implementation guides from their technology partner. We find these wholly inadequate because they don’t address the specific needs most mid-size and enterprise companies have when implementing a new workforce process across the organization. On the other end of the spectrum are companies that use consulting firms to design and implement new tools and processes like performance management. This is a great option, albeit one that can be very expensive.

In our view, a sensible middle ground involves working with a partner with a dedicated, continuous performance management technology and a professional services arm with expertise in program design, planning, implementation, and dedicated support to ensure long-term success.

Why does this matter?

Only 12% of companies that have achieved their transformation goals are able to sustain them for more than three years, according to a McKinsey Global Survey. Additionally, 42% of the potential financial benefit is lost during execution and post-transformation. Companies that can sustain gains from their transformation for more than three years, however, experience financial growth twice that of their peers. 

Clearly, investing in planning and program success is an up-front expenditure that will have significant payoffs.

In the first of this two-part article series, let’s look at the four common planning mistakes that companies that can derail the launch of a new performance management program and how to avoid them. (Next week, I’ll share three common mistakes that can harm your program’s implementation and long-term success and what to do instead.)

Mistake #1: Lacking or weak executive sponsorship

Acquiring a proactive sponsor who will rally the executive team to lead by example is critical to success. Lacking or weak executive sponsorship is the number one reason change management programs fail. Beyond “signing the check” and saying “put it in place,” a proactive executive sponsor will help drive the program’s overall success by conveying its importance and priority to company leaders and the broader organization. Employees take their cues from leadership. If those at the top are not advocating for it, employees are less likely to see the value of the initiative and will consider it as just another program being foisted upon them.

Communicate from the top 

With prompting from a proactive executive sponsor, company leaders can echo the value and expected outcomes of the investment and tie these to strategic business values. A steady drumbeat of communications is important here. Employees need to understand the new initiative and why it’s important so that when the performance management process launches, no one will be surprised, and employees will take it seriously. If leadership commits to being a part of the new process, it will also convey authenticity and build trust.

Mistake #2: Doing a pilot program with a limited number of employees

On the surface, a pilot may seem like a commonsense approach to test-driving a significant change initiative before deciding if and how to roll it out to the entire employee population. The problem is that small pilots with one hundred or even a few hundred people make the participants feel like guinea pigs in an experiment. They will not dedicate the time necessary to work with the new technology because they know the company is not 100 percent behind it and it may not be around in six months. This will skew the pilot test results. I have witnessed many failed pilots.

Develop the right program and roll it out in phases

If a big initiative, like a modern performance enablement process, comes from the top down and is well planned out, it can still be rolled out in phases if needed. Perhaps you start with a certain number of departments and introduce the program to additional functions on a rolling six-week schedule. Doing so can make the process more manageable for project leaders, allowing them to troubleshoot and adjust as necessary to make the rollout more streamlined for subsequent participants. This sends a far different message to employees than a six-month pilot with limited licenses to “test out” the process.

Mistake #3: Just automating your current performance management process

Transitioning from manual performance management processes, such as using spreadsheets and Word docs, to an automated process will not yield better results if you are automating a bad process. Often, manual processes were not well-thought-through to begin with. They can be onerous for HR, managers, and employees. Likewise, if you have an automated but cumbersome solution, the problem often requires a redesign to be effective.

Companies that have implemented off-the-shelf performance management modules as part of a larger HCM system often find these all-in-one systems of record get performance management wrong. They aren’t designed to inspire and engage employees and cultivate performance. Adoption and data quality in an automated system may suffer just as much if it requires too many steps, isn’t intuitive, and forces managers and employees to log into an application to manage performance rather than enabling employees to do so in the flow of work — in the applications they use every day. Do not mistake process automation for better performance management.

Think about the outcomes you want

It’s worthwhile to first think about what you want to accomplish and then find the technology that best suits your needs. Companies should think about their performance management processes holistically. The right performance management process, what we at Betterworks call “performance enablement,” has an outsized impact on a company. It not only improves performance but can also improve culture, sense of belonging, job satisfaction, career development, retention, and many other factors. Ask yourself, “What are we looking to change? What problems are we trying to solve? Is it attrition, lack of accountability or transparency, anemic engagement and productivity, a need for regular feedback, or something else? It may be multiple factors.

Mistake #4: Not thoroughly designing a program

Closely related to No. 3 above is a failure to design a performance enablement program that your users will actually like and use regularly. Companies need to understand what is broken with their current system, what success looks like for different stakeholder groups, and what the future state should be. 

My colleague Jamie Aitken, our VP of HR Transformation and a subject-matter expert in this area, wrote about this in How HR Leaders Can Design Better People Processes for the Future. HR leaders who often lead the charge tend to get bogged down in thinking about new processes and workflows. They fail to understand the user experience and make it the primary focus. Processes are designed for people. To put it simply, what pain points does Bob in Sales have with the current performance management process, where does he experience these, and how can you remove friction for him so that he uses the solution and sees the value of it?

Focus on design thinking 

Companies have an opportunity to engage in design thinking to understand what pain points users have — that is, what is broken with the current system — and what success looks like for different stakeholder groups when designing that future state. Talking with others at all levels of your organization also conveys empathy. It will generate stronger buy-in for your change management initiative because people will feel they’ve been heard and their needs considered.

A solid foundation for performance management

If you avoid these four mistakes, you are well on the way to setting yourself up for a successful performance enablement process. These actions may feel daunting to accomplish, but if you work with a partner with expertise in enterprise-level change management and program implementation, you will lighten your burden and have a far greater probability that your investment of time, people resources, and funds will yield a thriving workforce that is aligned with the organization’s strategic business goals.

To learn more about Betterworks solutions and professional services, visit

Rob Buzinski is the vice president of Professional Services at Betterworks. As an experienced client services leader and 20-plus-year veteran of the enterprise cloud services industry, Rob has worked with customers and prospects during all phases of their planning and implementation journey to drive business results and employee engagement. He has architected elegant end-to-end solutions to help customers achieve their short-and long-term goals and realize enduring business value.