The Value of Continuous Performance Improvement

In firms today, there are few leaders that do not see the value in performance management (PM) and there is intense focus on creating a process that will effectively engage and motivate the team.  The desire to improve the value of time and effective outcomes are ever-increasing to find the best business strategy.  And while the value, need and desire are strong, the obstacles within firms still exist.  Often, individuals in a position to drive the performance management initiatives cringe when the topic is raised.  The cries can be heard, “I don’t have time”, “I don’t know what to talk about”, “this is not making any difference in results”.  This feeling can be changed.

Forward thinking firms are taking steps to successfully address this negative view of performance management. They are implementing innovative PM solutions that ensure the results that the firm and the team member desire, and that means a continuous and consistent communication system, not an annual event.  Frequently when PM is mentioned, people think of the employee performance appraisal or review. Performance management, however, involves so much more. Focusing only on an annual appraisal form leads to misunderstanding and under appreciation of the benefits of PM.  Let’s look at 8 steps to developing a continuous system that will drive true results in PM:

  1. Communicate and understand purpose and value of process: Insure that everyone understands that the reason for the PM system is to improve productivity and measure individual performance.  Accountability for doing what you say you will do is an essential business best practice.  Insuring that everyone in the firm understands why this process is in place is the best first step.
  2. Set goals effectively: Get SMART when you are developing goals, or helping others set goals, and make sure the goals will directly contribute to the firm’s ultimate success.  When I mention SMART, I am describing how to communicate every goal – Specific, Measureable, Attainable, Realistic and Timely.  Then, can you or your team member describe how that goal will help the firm achieve their goals? I encourage you to develop training around goal setting, both from the employee and the supervisors point of view.
  3. Begin with performance planning: This is a lot of work, but every team member should have a plan for what they need to do to be successful in their job.  That starts with a job description and a performance plan that includes their goals.  Some people feel that the value is in the goals and the written documents, but the REAL value is in the conversations you will have.  Conversations don’t have to be long, but they do need to be intentional and well thought through.
  4. Ensure an ongoing process: When an audience at a recent profession conference was asked how often they held a performance conversation with their team, the answers were literally all over the board.  Yearly, twice a year, quarterly, monthly and of course the horrible answer of never.   Whatever your firm decides to do, be consistent and be prepared.  The key to a great process is finding one that will be followed by everyone and will bring about significant results for the firm.  Some of the steps in your process might include goal setting, performance planning, feedback, coaching and training.
  5. Gather information from a number of sources: Performance is not in the eye of “one” beholder.  Gather information from mentors, supervisors, engagement leaders and task force champions.  Performance should not be a linear view, but a global one.
  6. Document, document, document: You have heard this in the past, but it is astounding how many people fail to document the conversations that they have with their team members.  It is essential when individuals are struggling in their jobs, but it is also important for those that are superstars.  Looking back on accomplishments and accountability is important to engaging the workforce.  Individuals feel appreciation when you can show them where they are succeeding as well as areas that need improvement.  Documentation is the key to tracking what has happened in the past and what you expect in the future.
  7. Adequately prepare and train managers: This article could be stressing some managers and partners out.  It is not that they do not have the intelligence to follow the process or have the conversations needed to communicate effectively with their team, it is that they are unsure of what to say and how to say it.  Training is essential to ensure the appropriate outcomes.  Managers who feel adequately prepared to provide and receive feedback, deliver a performance evaluation and conduct a performance evaluation meeting will be a major contributor to a successfully functioning process.
  8. Evaluate the process and make it easy, efficient and effective to ensure participation: The process should be easy to follow and valuable to the participant.  Value does not come in the length of the forms or the hours spent in conversation, it comes from the ability of the individuals to grow in their career and bring value to the firm.


About the author

Sandra Wiley is the COO and Shareholder at Boomer Consulting, Inc.  She is ranked by Accounting Today as one of the 100 Most Influential People in Accounting as a result of her prominent role as an industry expert on HR and training as well as influence as a management and planning consultant. She is also a founding member of The CPA Consultant’s Alliance. Sandra has a passion for teaching the next generation leader and has developed the P3 Leadership Academy to elevate the top talent in firms throughout the country.  She also assists in building balanced teams, managing employee conflict and hiring staff.  She can be reached at