Understanding the Difference: Traditional vs. Agile Performance Management

A coach coaches in real-time during a game, reacting to their team’s performance and providing in-the-moment guidance to help the players improve and the team win. The coach doesn’t wait until the end of the season to start coaching. The same principle applies to performance reviews. The traditional method of performance management – waiting until the end of the year, or doing biannual reviews, simply doesn’t work.

There are a number of reasons why the traditional method is ineffective, which we’ll get into, and this has opened the door for a new solution: agile performance management. Let’s compare the two approaches:

Annual vs. Continuous Feedback

Two of the main issues with end-of-year reviews are a tendency toward recency bias on the part of the manager, and anxiety on the part of the employee. Managers tend to focus on the employee’s performance over the past few months rather than taking the entire evaluation period into account, which diminishes the usefulness of the review.

Agile performance management utilizes regular check-ins and 360-degree communication – managers provide constructive feedback to employees and vice versa, which strengthens the team as a whole. Regular feedback also makes end-of-year reviews and salary negotiations more effective, as both sides can reference data from throughout the year.

The traditional method of performance management simply doesn’t work. Click To Tweet

Evaluation vs. Development

Another striking difference between traditional and agile performance management is the ultimate goal of each method.

Traditionally, check-ins and feedback tend to focus on negatives – the employee’s weaknesses or where they fell short on certain projects or job functions. While intended as constructive criticism, the employee may feel they are being chastised.

In contrast, agile performance management prioritizes employee growth and development. Think of it as coaching, where wins are celebrated and losses provide teachable moments in real-time. Regular check-ins open the door for training, positive recognition, and consistent learning opportunities that drive growth.

Fixed vs. Flexible Goal-Setting

Goals have always been a key element of performance management. But traditional practices were rigid with setting goals. Often, the manager would dictate a goal to the employee and the employee was expected to accomplish that goal within a certain quarterly or annual timeframe. A lot can change in a year though. When unforeseen circumstances prevented the employee from accomplishing that goal, it was seen as a failure on their part.

Collaborative goal-setting gives the employee a sense of autonomy and accountability Click To Tweet

Agile performance management takes those changing circumstances into account. Because check-ins happen frequently, the employee and manager can touch base to change or adapt goals as needed. Collaborative goal-setting also gives the employee a sense of autonomy and accountability that will fuel them as they work to deliver.

Research shows companies who manage goals quarterly see 30% higher returns than companies who manage goals annually. This data perfectly captures the benefit of agile performance management. It’s a dynamic, collaborative process that moves at the speed of our world and sets employees up to grow and succeed.

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