Is performance management an art or a science ?

I have been asked this question multiple times in my career. Is managing performance an art or a science ? I would say both. While some aspects of it is a science, other aspects could be an art.

Lets look at every aspect of performance management process. If we take goal setting as the first step, then it is definitely a science where you can link organisational and functional goals to individuals and make them measurable. Many wonder if all goals are measurable. I believe so and it depends on how you set them.

Then if we move to mid term review of performance, it is both a science and an art. Without doubt, the review of performance metrics is a science. But the way we conduct the review is definitely an art.

If we then move to self appraisal, it is also both a science and an art. The ability to introspect and present your performance based on data and metrics is a science but the ability to communicate the same during a dialogue process is an art.

If we move to annual performance review – it is again a hybrid of science and art. We need to be objective and fair in assessment based on data and metrics and hence it is definitely a science. But our ability to have a dialogue with the Appraisee and present it to a performance review group is possibly an art.

Development planning and potential assessment could again be a combination of art and science. While planning has to be scientific, the ability to communicate and enforce the plan is positively an art.

Last but not the least is the feedback diagoue. This is more of an art than a science. While feedback again has to be fair and objective, it is our ability to make it an inspiring dialogue , which enhances its effectiveness. Hence, it is more of an art than a science.

Now one may ask what is difference between science and art in a performance management process. Science is logic, while art is to make the process inspirational. Science makes it fair and objective through use of appropriate data and metrics. Art is our ability to have an open and inspiring dialogue where we can tell the truth without demotivating an employee.

While it may be easier to write on the art and science of performance appraisals, it may be more difficult to practise it. After spending almost four decades practising performance management processes, I can easily state that I am yet to master this art of science.

The day we realise that it is is combination of art and science, we may become more effective as appraisees and appraisers. It is almost like the interview process. Even if a potential employee is not selected, he or she should feel that they just had the best experience of their lives and would definitely love to join this organisation.

As in the photo above, most of us behave like the lion, especially when we play the role of the manager of the appraisee. 

Similarly both the appraisee and the appraiser should feel that they not only enjoyed the performance management process but also felt that is objective, fair and inspirational. This possibly comes from diligent preparation and authentic skills in conversations.

Lets try this year and make a beginning.

S Ramesh Shankar

3rd May 2021

10 thoughts on “Is performance management an art or a science ?

  1. Nicely expressed Ramesh. A few observations…..(1) “Art + Science” …or possibly…..”HeART + Science”. 🤔 ? (2) If the focus of the review process is on Outcomes / Deliverables then it is rightly “Performance Management”. However if the central focus of the review process is on the Individual, then it could be “Potential Maximization”. (3) I prefer “Feed-Forward” rather than “Feed-Back”. 🙏


  2. Very insightful. I do subscribe to the views expressed that it is both science and art. The proportion and degree of application of these two components would largely be case specific but both must be present . Hope this point is well appreciated by one and all since the increasing tendency is to go only by numerical measurements and not giving enough emphasis on the ‘how’ component of the process and absence of timely feedback for course correction . This type of approach runs the risk of making the performance management a half-baked product. A great read indeed . 🙏

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Very well said Sir. This question may never get old. As you say, ‘diligent preparation and authentic skills in conversations’ hold the key. Performance management therefore, much like medical, may well be more of an applied science and its practice an art.

    Liked by 1 person

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