Performance Management Is Out

When I stepped off the stage at a conference last year about Customer Success, two people came up to me and asked me why Showpad called the team responsible for helping customers reach their business goals Customer Success “Coaches” instead of “Managers”, the latter being the industry standard.

Manager suggests that we are solely in charge of our customers’ success; Coach implies that it’s a partnership to achieve mutually beneficial outcomes,” I (probably) replied. As with most things I know, I can’t take credit for the idea (kudos to Antoine Valentone for introducing me), but watching the two incessantly nod felt great.

What’s in a name?

I’m sure we didn’t change the exploding niche’s chosen naming convention for the role, but you get what I’m saying. It’s like going to the gym: a fitness coach can help you and push you, but can’t do it for you (otherwise getting that beach body would be too easy.) Moreover, it’s not about coping with what’s there, but about developing it.

As a consequence, I find “Management” to be an ill-fitting title for the work required of most leaders today — especially when it comes to performance — to the point I’m not even sure why we keep using it. Keeping and developing successful team members is more than ever a collaborative, coachlike effort.

The collaboration formula


Like a Customer Success Coach, leaders should help their people achieve mutual goals and align with the company and team’s vision. This needs cooperation, trust, iteration, and frequent conversation. Speaking to a fitness coach once a year or copying their objectives won’t do anyone any good either.

Goal setting research shows that, when set collaboratively, employees tend to find goals more motivating (Locke & Latham, 2002) and joining forces also safeguards their relevancy, fairness, etc. It has to be obvious that this requires frequent contact and a specific type of relationship that increases engagement.

So what if I don’t?

Without a coaching experience and focus on development, employee engagement drops dramatically (especially in Millenials) and … it’s a costly thing. Gallup estimates the cost of disengaged employees to be between $960 billion and $1.2 trillion a year in the US alone (Harter, 2017).

Millenials are now the largest living generation (Fry, 2016) and at the same time the most likely to be disengaged — in fact 71% are (Gallup, 2016). Companies won’t survive the coming decades with a disgruntled workforce, so let’s agree traditional performance “management” is out.

Execs have to consider this regardless of priorities in strategy, misalignments in organizational structure, issues with processes, or skills their current leadership pool might lack. Everyone needs to subscribe to the paradigm shift from “managing” to “coaching” for everything else to decently fall into place.

Taking ownership


To make sure there’s no baby boomer leader going “to hell with this Kumbaya crap,” I want to underline the responsibility of coachees. While managers need to think and act differently, they should demand curiosity, coachability, and drive in return; otherwise they will end up on the next season of Supernanny.

If people don’t put in the work at the gym, despite their coach’s best efforts, they won’t achieve their fitness goals as well right? Both leaders and reports need to invest the time and effort to get the returns (you might want to outline this from the first interview and even in your job ads.) That is the psychological contract.


The world of work has changed and companies need more agility to respond. Short of changing their title, managers will have to learn how to become coaches and develop that relationship with their employees, who in turn need to bring their A game to get to mutual success up and down the organization.

How to get there, what kind of roadblocks there are, whether leaders of today have the required skills, etc., is material for another discussion. If we can just agree today that a culture of continuous feedback and coaching (versus performance “management”) is the way forward, I’m happy and you can hit that “Like” button ;).

Works Cited

Locke, E. A., & Latham, G. P. (2002). Building a practically useful theory of goal setting and task motivation: A 35-year odyssey. American Psychologist, 57, 705-717.

Harter, J. (2017). Failed Performance Management: The Fix. Washington, D.C.: Gallup.

Fry, R. (2016). Millennials overtake Baby Boomers as America’s largest generation. Washington, DC: Pew Research Center.

Gallup. (2016). How Millenials Want to Work and Live. Washington, D.C.: Gallup.