I have three topics I would love to hear some thoughts and opinions on.

#1. In my industry/organization, the standard turnover for entry-level staff is 18-24 months. It has been suggested that we acknowledge to these staff that we recognize it's unlikely they'll stay longer than 18-24 months and tell them up front what's in it for them if they'll stay an additional year. My gut reaction is that this isn't a great start to the relationship. I think it's setting the bar low for expectations. Thoughts?

#2. My organization is moving to using a matrix system for determining merit increases. HR will rank staff based on performance scores. The staff with higher scores will receive a higher percentage increase. In the past, this was completely left to the discretion of the vice presidents. I'm interested in any advice/lessons learned from anyone else who uses this type of system.

#3. We evaluate staff on pre-determined competencies on performance reviews. I believe Mark and Mike are not fans of competencies. I'm currently reading "First, Break All the Rules" and the authors don't seem to like competencies either. I can't change this organizationally, but am looking for advice on the best way to manage my staff within our required performance management processes.

Thank you so much for your input!

sholden's picture

Thanks for the tough questions. I don't have much experience with #2 and #3 but I do think you are on the right track on #1 -- I'd think that performance and commitment would be low taking this track. - Steve

jhack's picture


What industry are you in? I have worked in food service, where the typical employee was working their way through school. Once they had their degree, they made a career move. In software, turnover is also very high, but for different reasons. In this industry, you can significantly improve retention by being a good manager. Is it reasonable to expect people to stay if they're treated well?

I've worked in performance systems like the one you describe, except that the manager scored performance along very specific guidelines (defined by HR). The key to helping your people is to regularly identify and document the things they do (behaviors) which reflect the criteria in the reviews. This will allow you to say to HR, "Glen handled this customer situation superbly back in October," etc.

I suspect that discretion resulted in problems.

Best way to manage your staff is to share with them all the competencies and criteria up front. Let them know how they will be measured, and let them know you will document how they meet the criteria. Then, do your one-on-ones, give feedback, coach, delegate, and document. You can still do quarterly reviews.


WillDuke's picture

I always like everything John says. :)

#1 Why would you tell someone you only expect them for 18 months? I don't see the win there? I would instead say that additional incentives come into play at x months. I agree with you that people usually perform to expectations. If you expect them to leave, they'll understand. They'll go.

#2 The biggest danger here is the validity and accuracy of the matrix scoring system. If you're giving compensation for how they perform, they'll perform exactly as the tests ask them to. That might not be what you really want. People have a tendency to get creative and manipulate systems to their own advantage. That being said, it's only fair to make sure that your team is very aware of the system so they do have an opportunity to perform well on it.

#3 I haven't read that book yet. I'm not exactly sure what you mean by "pre-determined competencies." It doe seem appropriate to evaluate staff by performance reviews though. I need more information to respond to this concern.

jhack's picture

Likewise, Will!

Good point on manipulating the system. You'll have to watch for people making bad decisions overall to improve their personal numbers.


cwcollin's picture terms of their day to day project work or will you have to gather feedback from others to assess their performance?

If it is the latter then you will have to ensure that you get adequate enough information on the performance of each person to to be able to make a sound judgement as to whether or not they have achieved a competency.

I wholeheartedly agree Will's suggestion about setting the expectations up front about the system so that they understand what is expected of them. As much as HR tries you cannot drive all of the subjectiveness out of the performance evaluation system. To that end, it is best to try and make sure that eveyone is on the same page as to what is being measured early in the cycle.

Ask your directs up front about their questions and then make sure that you take anything you can't answer to your leadership/HR.....SOON!!

WillDuke's picture

Here's a novel thought. Get their input on building the matrices. Wow, imagine that! What would happen if you had their buy-in up front? What happens if they can impact the system? Maybe 18-24 months becomes a distant memory now that your average is 36-48.

What do you really have to risk? 18-24 months isn't long. Be BOLD!

douglase's picture

With regards to #1 you may find what methods you are using to attact people could be part of the issue. For example if you advertise a help desk role as a gateway into the organisation people will expect to move to other areas. Where as if you adverstise a help desk role with one of the key responsibilities of building a relationship with customers, you may find that you get a different kind of applicant. In the interview/when they start, you may want to show them a draft learning and development plan that may suit them, that spans 36-48 months. This way they are able to see a clear path in their future.

Also look at your rewards, recognition and appreciation methods/focus. I can't remember the name of the report but those are amongst the top reason that people stay in a job. Also after 18 months.. how do you keep them interested in their job?


Mark's picture


1. Whomever is suggesting you talk about normal turnover is wrong and short-sighted. The turnover you are experiencing is a function of management, not of the industry or the candidates hired (notwithstanding that hires ARE a reflection of management).

Retention beyond the standard can be achieved with good management. Don't tell people they're going to leave and there's nothing you can do about it.

2. HR ranking people makes my skin crawl. That's not "matrix", that's centralization. Sounds like your HR VP got an early win with the boss. Not good, unfortunately. My recommendation is to use our process for prepping reviews, and bury HR with great reviews and supporting data for your folks. If they're going to play the game this way, you can still win it.

3. Ignore competencies until it's time for reviews, and then with all your data, shoehorn the review's language into the competency model. Smart managers in competency systems do it all the time.


Dani Martin's picture

Thanks, Mark. Again, you confirm my thought process and conclusions. You hit the nail on the head -- it is indeed "centralization" presented as a way to remove the subjectivity in the review/merit process. Shouldn't we instead be teaching managers how to manage professionally? Ah, well.

Regarding your advice on competencies, that's what I've been doing for the last 4 years. Glad to know I'm on track. It's so helpful to have a place to check myself.

As always, thanks!

cwcollin's picture

Last year was the first year I followed the MT performance review recs. I went through the usually steps that HR lays out for us ( Our matrix system looks much like the one you describe ). But in addition, I prepared a bunch of reports/performance data to hand off to my manager as well. For the good led to very short discussions to get my recommendations through since no other managers could point tot the same evidence for their people.......[b]but it also helped me be more critical about what I was going to ask for[/b]. When I couldn't come up with the backing to support a raise it showed itself amongst all the other data.

stephenbooth_uk's picture

Could I possibly have some more information on your #3? I'm not clear on what you mean but it sounds like it could be similar to something that came up in a meeting today.

[Apologies for the long intro/background but I couldn't find a way around it and have cut it down as much as I could]

The business unit I'm in is to be restructured in the next few months. Our primary purpose is to provide project management and resources (i.e. people) to Business Transformation programmes and the projects within them. Demand for people and the skills those people will need is going to change over time. As much as we can we want to try to satisfy those demands with the staff we have (cross-training and developing if need be) where possible, using consultants where needed (hiring staff on permanent or fixed term contracts where a skill will be needed for a longer period) and minimising redundancies and other staff losses as best we can.

As most of the staff are on public sector (NJC) terms and conditions and (due to legislation around TUPE (Transfer of Undertakings, Protection of Employment) and Two Tier Workforce Code) directly employed staff have virtually identical conditions, we are tied to a fixed grading system where each role has a pay grade band that everyone in that role is within and is paid at fixed spinal points.

As people gain more skills (and so are able to generate more value) they will expect to be paid more and we'll have to pay more to be able to retain them. HR and the head of the business unit are talking about skills based bars within the grade bands linked to portfolios of experience (I suggested that O3s and coaching would be an excellent way to handle and maintain these portfolios, the HR officer seemed quite against the idea) so a person at one spinal point advances to the next by demonstrating that they have a particular skill. In some cases this would be by using it in their work, in some it may be gain a particular certification. So, a person at point C may need to gain PRINCE2 Practitioner status (by passing an exam) to get to point D and then successfully manage a project of a certain scale and complexity to get to point E.

Does that sound like what you're referring to?

I do have a number of concerns, mainly that it would be very easy for an unethical manager to stifle the progression of a person they disliked whilst accelerating that of someone they did like and it may (unless alternates are provided at each step) funnel people into a suboptimal career path leaving, say, people who are quite capable of achieving point E languishing at C because they have real problems with exams so fail to get their PRINCE2 practitioner certificate.


Dani Martin's picture

Stephen -- to answer your question, no, that's now how my organization uses competencies. We have universal competencies that are expected of all employees as well as more role specific. Most people would probably consider these "soft skills." Staff performance in their competencies account for 25% of their performance score.

To help clarify, I've included the comptencies for my role and how my organization defines "meeting expectations" for each. I hope this helps!

ADHERES TO ACS VALUES – Consistently adheres and visibly demonstrates the Staff Values.
ADAPTABILITY – Maintains high productivity and a positive attitude with changes within the work environment.
COMMUNICATION – Demonstrates effective verbal and written skills using various styles to convey message; listens effectively.
RESULTS ORIENTATION – Focuses on what is important and end result while still giving appropriate attention to detail and process.
SERVICE ORIENTATION – Responds quickly and thoroughly as well as treating “customers” as number one priority.
TEAM WORK – Works cooperatively with all members of a team while achieving team goal.
TECHNICAL EXPERTISE – Demonstrates knowledge and skill in area of expertise.
SELF DEVELOPMENT – Proactively seeks professional development.

CHANGE MANAGEMENT – Facilitates the change management cycle to support large organizational changes.
COACHING STAFF – Consistently provides staff with immediate feedback and suggestions for improvement relative to job performance.
CONFLICT RESOLUTION (T) – Assertively addresses pertinent conflicts fairly, diplomatically and achieves a win-win resolution.
FORWARD THINKING – Recognizes how immediate actions impact future results.
GROUP PROCESS – Facilitates a group towards common goals, objectively and diplomatically.
INFLUENCE – Develops and presents persuasive arguments. Leads others to see a perspective they would not have seen on their own. Gets others to “rally for the cause.”
PEOPLE LEADERSHIP – Motivates, Inspires, coaches, and guides staff toward success.
SELLING – Creates a value proposition and clearly articulates the benefits. Formulates a compelling story of how ACS can serve the individual’s or organization’s needs. Garners support (financial, time and other resources) and enthusiasm for the ACS mission. Can close the sell and obtain a firm commitment

stephenbooth_uk's picture



That looks a lot like what we term a person spec (enough like one that I could copy and paste that into the appropriate form and it would probably go through without so much as a blink), basically "If you ain't got these you won't get within spitting distance of the job."


jhack's picture

Minor clarification: I was referring to food service in college. I did not mean to imply that turnover was "normal", but very, very few graduates stayed on to work in the dish room after they received their engineering degrees. So we had guaranteed turnover.

My point was that you need to understand your organization's dynamics as part of your retention plan.


danieloc's picture

[quote="Dani ACS"]

#3. We evaluate staff on pre-determined competencies on performance reviews. I believe Mark and Mike are not fans of competencies.[/quote]

Can someone point me to more information on the pros/cons of competencies? We are currently investigating publishing a set of competencies and expected behaviours for different grade levels (junior to senior) for our dept. (we don't have pre-defined HR ones).

I'd like to make sure I get a full picture before we decide.


Mark's picture

I can only seem to come up with cons at the moment.

I really don't like them...particularly when implemented by HR.


sbockh01's picture

Can you provide a bit more detail on the issues with compentencies? This seems to be standard practices in HR or L & D organizations. I would like to understand some of the pitfalls before I go down this path.



sbockh01's picture

Is there a cast or another forum post that goes into more detail on why compentencies are not necessary the best thing? My company is going through this process right now, and would like to better understand the pros and cons.