Most HR Data is Bad Data – A Response


Marcus Buckingham wrote an article published in the February 9, 2015 issue of Harvard Business Review titled "Most HR Data is Bad Data". He asks the question, "If you were my manager and you watched my performance for an entire year, how accurate do you think your ratings of me would be on attributes such as my “promotability” or “potential?” 

What Marcus Buckingham is saying is that no one can rate another person and therefore rating systems are of no use.  He states that "The research record reveals that neither you nor any of your peers are reliable raters of anyone. And as a result, virtually all of our people data is fatally flawed." He goes on to cite research conducted over the last 15 years and documented in the Journal of Applied Psychology and Personnel Psychology in which it was found that ratings done were more reflective of the rater than of the person being rated.  " Bottom line: when we look at a rating we think it reveals something about the ratee, but it doesn’t, not really. Instead it reveals a lot about the rater."

Marcus Buckingham, like many academicians and theoreticians, over shoots the mark.  He is trying, through research and studies to predict future performance in abstract terms.  Meaning that he is looking at the more esoteric attributes of employees. Many companies have fallen into this trap thinking they are more advanced or sophisticated and are molding employees in the image of the "founder" or some other fictitious profile. 

They think they should be able to foretell if a person will be successful beyond what the person is currently doing. While such endeavor would not only be nice, it would be miraculous. If someone could devise a prognosticating system to do this, that person would become wealthy selling it to companies.

The problem is the focus. The studies Mr. Buckingham cites focus on factors like "promotability", "potential", "competency", "strategic thinking", "adaptability", "assertiveness", "motivation", "creativity", "initiative", etc.  These factors are subjective and yes, rating them or teaching someone else to rate them is difficult if not impossible.

Effective performance management systems focus on results using factors that can be measured and rated.  For example, "productivity", "accuracy/quality", "job knowledge/skills", "planning", "communication", "problem solving", "teamwork", and "people management" are Performance Metrics that can be observed.  For productivity, did the employee get his/her duties/responsibilities completed in the time frame given? Did he/she escalate issues properly and timely? Did the employee seek additional work when done with regular work? Did the employee demonstrate a sense of urgency in accomplishing work?  All of the above Performance Metrics can be used to communicate expectations to employees. Employees can be coached to achieve success with these metrics. Managers can be trained to rate employees' results in each of these metrics.

The key is to keep it simple and focus on results and achievements, not abstruse and subjective factors.

The next question should be, "then what does a company use to help determine promotions and rewards?" The best predictor of future performance is past achievement. If an employee has achieved sound results in the past, then provide the opportunity to take on more.  This is not fool proof, but it is more sound than using factors with unintelligible definitions, subjective measurement, and unproven value.

There are three primary actions steps in an effective Employee Performance Management System.

·         Communicate Expectations - set performance goals (what you want the employee to do) and set performance metrics/competencies (how you want employees to do their jobs)

·         Coach for Success - daily observation of results with appropriate feedback and documentation

·         Recognize Results - fair, objective, timely evaluation


In three basic steps, employee performance management is made simple.  As Leonardo da Vinci said, "Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication."


There are practitioners of performance management who focus all or almost all on coaching.  While coaching is critical, it is not everything that is needed to successfully manage performance. Coach for Success means the frequent interaction between the manager and the employee. This is where the manager observes actions, sees achievements, and sees areas needing improvement.  The manager should be continually providing feedback to the employee so that the employee can make changes in order to achieve the desired results.  If an employee is "surprised" at year end by his/her performance rating, the manager has failed to properly coach the employee. Year end is too late for the employee to make changes.


A point of irritation or frustration to managers and employees is that at year end, it is difficult to remember everything that occurred during the year. Assessments often are superficial and focused on the last couple or few months. Perfecting Employee Performance has a feature called PEPtalk. It is a 24/7/365 continuous coaching tool for managers and employees to be in constant communication about progress toward goal achievement. It is mobile-enabled communication between manager and employee providing an archived coaching/performance record as empirical backup for performance appraisals and which eliminates surprises for both managers and employees. PEPtalk is the reigning tech-based coaching tool on the planet. Recognizing the employee’s results is streamlined using PEP’s automated online self-evaluation and online manager evaluation. With PEPtalk providing a record of coaching communication between employee and manager, completing the evaluation is simple.


Performance measured improves performance. Performance measured and reported, quickens improvement.


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