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Performance Management Tools Should Go Beyond Measurement

A woman in glasses is sitting at a desk with a laptop.

​Technology has proven indispensable to improving performance management, by providing dashboards, analytics and an automated workflow.  

But as important as metrics and measurement are to inform performance, people managers need to be enabled to take actions to improve performance, provide recognition and boost engagement more effectively.   

Jeff Smith, head of product at performance management platform 15Five, talked with SHRM Online about how technology can provide the boost managers need to create more value from performance reviews.

SHRM Online: What are some of the specific ways technology has made performance management tools more meaningful and effective?

Smith: Performance management historically has been focused on measurement. Not as much on taking action and improving the outcomes HR is interested in—performance, engagement, retention. Employers may know that some people are engaged or disengaged, performing well or poorly, but what can they do about it? HR is stuck with countless options. There is a pile of recommendations out there on how to raise your percentage of top performers, how to raise your engagement score, how to raise your retention rate.  

But technology can organize all that performance data sitting in the human resource information system (HRIS) and provide coaching steps for managers to expand the influence of HR in the organization. How to conduct effective one-on-one meetings, for example. One-on-ones are often weak status updates, and not actually moving things forward. Technology can provide a certain structure about what topics should be discussed and the ability to track the conversations being had, the behaviors based on those conversations and the perceptions of whether the meetings are effective.      

HR leaders have the opportunity to look into what was a black box previously. Managers are often an asset that organizations do not get enough from in the performance management process because of a lack of clear expectations, a lack of enablement and a lack of the technology that will help improve managers at scale.

Technology can improve performance management from an operations perspective, but it can also have a humanizing effect as well, if set up properly. For example, a popular feature of 15Five is what we call our Best-Self Kickoff, a structured one-on-one that should be the first one-on-one a manager has with a direct report. It guides the conversation between managers and employees. You talk about personal things as well as things that will help improve performance, like how employees like to receive feedback. This is often something managers don't know about their people.

SHRM Online: What kind of data insights can be gleaned from performance management platforms?

Smith: There's a powerful concept called "thickening the data." Quantitative data is useful in telling you where to look, but qualitative data can thicken that with context and nuance. We advocate for the combination of both. For example, we offer an engagement survey that has evidence-supported questions, but then employees are asked to elaborate on those responses, thereby providing additional insight. You could find out that the lowest driver of engagement is leader availability, so then you can ask people about that and what can be done to take action on improving that measure.   

With generative artificial intelligence (GenAI) I can see that thickening happening at scale. A massive set of qualitative data could be summarized and turned into insights. Performance review ratings can be helpful operationally if designed properly, but should be supplemented with qualitative insight about the person, ideally pulled from a variety of sources and with checking bias in mind.

SHRM Online: Where do you see GenAI making an impact on performance management software?

Smith: There are several different use cases. What if you could have an executive coach in your pocket? That is compelling. GenAI can't replace human empathy—at least not yet—but it can be helpful. AI can also summarize and prioritize a massive set of comments between managers and employees.

First drafts are another area that we're seeing progress in. Let's say a manager is beginning a performance review period and has nine direct reports. It will take some time to write those out. Wouldn't it be nice to get a first draft of the reviews written based on things already documented about the individuals? It takes all the interactions the manager has had with the employee over the past 12 months and turns those into a perspective on where he's at regarding performance.

In the more far-off future, it is exciting to think about a manager bot and a direct report bot having the first conversation about performance before the humans get together to refine the conversation based on a review of what the bots discussed. Those are the kinds of things that get me excited about the future of this technology.


​An organization run by AI is not a futuristic concept. Such technology is already a part of many workplaces and will continue to shape the labor market and HR. Here's how employers and employees can successfully manage generative AI and other AI-powered systems.