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Performance management and human resource development

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Article Sections

  1. Performance management
  2. Training and career development
  3. References

By Margaret Adolphus

Performance management

Performance management is about setting clear and measurable objectives for work, and is an important managerial and human resource tool. A well-run performance management system will provide staff with clear objectives for their job, and plenty of opportunities for feedback and discussion with their supervisor. The objectives will be clearly linked with the strategic priorities of the organization.

The most well-known tool is the dreaded annual appraisal; however, many organizations now take a more structured approach. According to Chan (2006: p. 144):

"Libraries that are concerned with improving organizational effectiveness, creating nimble organizations and enhancing employee performance and productivity are adopting a more structured performance management process based on the use of core competencies for staff."

Performance management comprises three sets of interrelated activities, all of which are linked into organizational objectives (Chan, 2006; McNeil, 2004):

  1. Planning: at this stage, job responsibilities should be defined, as well as goals and expectations based on company requirements. The main tool for this will be the job description.
  2. Coaching: monitoring performance on an informal basis, e.g. by weekly meetings, providing feedback, coaching and development as necessary.
  3. Performance review: a more formal review, based on the appraisal. This is linked with recognizing and rewarding superior performance, dealing with performance which is below standard, and setting goals and training for the following year.

The job description

The job description is the first step to managing performance because it defines expectations (McNeil, 2004). It is the document which tells the new (and prospective) employee what the job entails, and the measure whereby performance can be judged. A good job description should have sufficient detail so that the main responsibilities are clear, and should also define the knowledge, skills and abilities needed to carry out the task.

A job description should have a brief purpose statement, describing what the job is about, the key tasks, and the activities by task. Many job descriptions also include key reporting relationships, as well as key skills and competences required for the job, although the latter may also be in the form of a person specification (usually a separate document).

The following extracts are from a job description for a community librarian in the Scottish town of Aberdeen. Note how the postholder’s duties are clearly described, and therefore provide effective guidelines.

Job description

Job purpose: To assist in the provision and delivery of an efficient, high quality and customer focused library and information service.

Key tasks:

  • Assist the reader services librarian to manage the provision and delivery of reader services.
  • Play a key role in the recruitment, management and development of staff for reader services.
  • Provide, maintain and promote library resources for reader services.
  • Ensure the operation of routines and procedures relevant to the service.
  • Contribute to library and information service development, neighbourhood working and effective partnerships.


Some of the activities relating to the last key task:

  • Promote library and information services through talks, active participation in reader development initiatives and neighbourhood events.
  • Plan, organize and participate in activities for all client groups, including school, playgroup and nursery visits, book groups, workshops, ICT and other user education sessions.
  • Promote and participate in local and national and literacy and numeracy initiatives.
  • Promote family involvement in early years literacy e.g. bookstart project.
  • Actively contribute to neighbourhood and partnership meetings and participate in working parties.

Assessing performance informally

Many organizations tend to review performance only when it goes wrong, or at the annual appraisal. However, having ongoing (perhaps weekly) meetings with a supervisor can be a helpful way of reviewing scheduled work, dealing with problems such as overload, underperformance, sorting out queries, plus receiving mentoring or coaching. This frequent content can also nip problems in the bud, and prevent them becoming major issues.

The performance review

Unlike informal performance assessment, this involves a formal meeting between the individual and his or her immediate superior. It should:

  • relate to the employee's job description and any agreed objectives,
  • include objectives for the coming year,
  • discuss training and development plans,
  • be documented, signed and agreed by both parties.

Quite a lot of organizations now offer 360o feedback, where subordinates and co-workers also comment on one another's performance. The overall objective, however, should be to determine whether someone is fulfilling, falling short or exceeding expectations.


According to McNeil (2004), salary review has previously been linked with performance evaluation, but recent financial constraints in higher education (and presumably elsewhere) have made that difficult. Other ways need to be found of rewarding people, for example, learning new skills, perhaps through a training course, or a new assignment.


Many jobs express the skills and behaviour required in terms of competences. Competences should (Chan, 2004: p. 146):

  • describe a cluster of knowledge, skills, abilities, motivations, beliefs, values and interests,
  • relate to a significant part of the job,
  • indicate effective/superior performance,
  • can be measured/observed against accepted standards,
  • can be linked to strategic direction,
  • can be improved with training and development.

Chan (2006: p. 150) carried out research into the core competences of Canadian public libraries, most of which had competence-based performance management systems. They found that six of the respondents had the same 11 core competences which all employees were required to show. They were:

  • customer service
  • interpersonal skills
  • communication skills
  • analytical skills
  • accountability
  • technological competence
  • planning and organizing skills
  • knowledge of the organization
  • creativity/innovation
  • leadership.

The competences became standards which were used in recruitment, and in assessing training needs.

It is interesting to compare the above list with Dennye Heye’s list of the seven skills of the highly effective information professional. Heye is Shell’s global knowledge manager, and is interviewed elsewhere on this site (see

He also lists leadership and creativity, persuasiveness, and the ability to give good presentations as interpersonal and communication skills. He puts more emphasis on the ability to understand organizational politics however, prioritizing "seeing the bigger picture", and linking service provision with organizational objectives ("Check that all parts of your service add value, and are not just there for historical reasons"), and also lists time management.

What Heye shares with Canadian libraries, however, is a belief in the importance of soft skills and behaviour. According to Chan (2006), competences are often considered not sufficiently rigorous for performance management, not satisfying the need to stand up in a court of law. They are extensively used by libraries, however, and it is difficult not to see their benefit in situations where human resource management is used positively, and not just as a safeguard.