Effective performance management lies at the heart of HR, but the body of knowledge on this crucial topic is far from settled. It is an area in which common practice is in flux, with a number of key established approaches being challenged over recent years. In our review of the best available evidence on performance management, 'Could do Better?', we set out the scientific research on what works and what doesn’t in goal setting and performance appraisal.

However, one area that has been lacking in high quality research concerns the effectiveness of a strengths-based approach in performance management – our review uncovered just one study testing the impact in a rigorous way, which was conducted in a Canadian private sector organisation.

Our organisational field trial helps address this gap, showing what difference strengths-based performance conversations can make in the UK public sector. Working with three UK government employers, we conducted a group randomised trial of an intervention to embed a strengths-based approach to performance management.

Our research shows that interventions promoting strengths-based performance conversations can have a measurable impact on what conversations take place between managers and their staff, and on the usefulness of one-to-one meetings for employees’ learning and development and performance. Specifically, we show that a one-off half-day training workshop for line managers has an impact on employee performance; and an impact on employee learning and development seems to require a more extensive, holistic intervention that includes further training, communication and practical guidance and a change in policy on performance management.

This report also provides an example of how robust, contextualised and useful research can be conducted into people management practices. HR and people development needs more research of this nature if it is to become a truly evidence based profession.

Download the Exec summary, Report, and Appendix 1: methodology below:

Video: Changing trends in performance management

In this video, Jonny Gifford, Senior Adviser for Organisational Behaviour at the CIPD, explores the changing trends in performance management over recent years.

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