How CAN HR contribute to making performance management work?
In point form:
HR can still be effective in providing a central information system where documentation of performance, forms, etc, can be stored, and accessed easily from a central location. That works. It shouldn't be the paper police officer. That doesn't work.
As with most functions HR departments carry out, HR departments are best suited to advise and teach, and that is something HR people can learn to do, provided they understand their own lack of power. Both teaching and advising, whether of executives, mid-managers, supervisors, and even employees can result in powerful results it's part of an overall strategy to improve performance management across the enterprise.
Properly trained HR staff should be involved in helping managers solve problems – personnel problems, difficult employee problems, training problems, and so forth.
In pursuit of effective problem solving, HR should be enabling managers to get things done, that they feel they need to manage effectively. Not only does that mean helping, but it also means “getting out of the way”, and/or removing barriers and hassles.
HR should be providing managers with the tools to do the job. That doesn't mean insisting on what works best for the convenience of HR. It means offering a range of tools (help with planning, DECENT evaluation forms and tools, guidelines (not rules) for dealing with disciplinary issues). While too many options tends to confuse people,enabling managers to use what makes sense to them for improving performance is far better than deciding FOR managers, how they should be improving performance. Exit, universal, lock-stepped performance management processes.
In some very few situations, where HR is better connected to important issues such as law suit prevention, EEOC complaints, or equity issues, HR is the department best suited (do to their understanding of complex issues) to advise, even pressure managers, to conform to laws and practices that, if ignored, could put the company at risk.
If You Are in HR...
For HR professionals to make a difference and demonstrably contribute to the health of the organization, it's necessary to serve managers and employees, and not a desire to make HR related tasks easier. Enable, rather than try to control things over which you have no authority
In case it's not immediately obvious, when it comes to performance management, executive, managers, and employees are the HR customers. HR does not dictate what must be done isolated from what the organization needs to improve performance. It helps. It sometimes explains. It teaches. It provides tools.
Quite simply, this is the ONLY way it can work.