The Linkage Performance Management Conference Report

May We Recommend...

Conference Report - The Best of Performance Management Conference, Texas, 1999
By Robert Bacal

Since I was asked to do a preconference workshop and was present at the entire conference I thought it was worth doing a summary and present some observations about this Linkage conference While it began on September 29 it was preceded (almost integrated) with a similar conference on 360 degree feedback.

For reflections on the "state of performance management" you may want to take a look at a new article on our performance management site at this location. in the articles section. I'll comment on a few of the sessions, but if you did attend feel free to add your recollections of what you saw.

Size and Attendence:

According to Sherri Kangas, conference coordinator, attendence exceeded expectations for what is a new (and continuing effort) by Linkage, Inc. She estimated that over 260 people attended, included about 40 participants who were conference "walk-ups"(not pre-registered). Over the two main days, there were about 18 sessions of various sorts, and a number of preconference workshops.

The People That Came

Conferences are places to learn, but also great sites to network, shmooze, and perhaps more importantly, to get a feel for what people are interested in.. Some casual observations - that attendees were extremely focused on content, hungry for answers. While presenters generally weave humor into their content the reactions that occured in a number of sessions were...well tolerant of the humor, even appreciative but it was also clear that participants were NOT there to be entertained. It was as if attendees were saying "Ok, that joke was funny, we laughed for two seconds, and now let's get to it". (see the "State of Performance Management" article for more about this). Session questions also indicated a focus on problem-solving rather than theory.

Another observation, made by one of the exhibitors in the exhibit hall was: "Well, the biggest thing that jumps out is all the people dressed in black". In other words, it was a fairly formal conference, with quiet discussion, and a good number of people who were not there to learn how to conduct performance management with their staff, but came to learn about performance management SYSTEMS.

Also reflecting this task orientation, book sales were way beyond expectations. My own book, Performance Management - A Briefcase Book was sold out before the conference even started. Many other practical titles were also gobbled up quickly.

The Sessions:

Unfortunately, I missed a few of the keynotes, the most notable by Ed. Lawler entitled Effective Performance Management Systems: Guidelines to Ensure Success. However I did attend Dr. John Sullivan's "speed of .com Keynote called Building a Performance Culture, drawing from his work and experience with a number of hi-tech silicon valley companies.

John's presentation was rapid fire, thought provoking, and I suspect quite controversial in its focus on speed over quality, the need for making decisions even if they aren't the "right" ones, and the perspectives he shared about the need to get rid of low performers quickly and the need to keep the high performers. In my discussions with other attendees, I got the impression there was a sense that the focus on hi-tech company examples made it difficult for them to perceive the relevance of John's message to their own "less speedy" contexts.

For me, the most useful and thoughtful presentation was delivered by Jack Zigon. Measuring the Hard Stuff: Work Teams and Other Hard-to-Measure Work lived up to it's billing (often conference presentations don't). Jack walked the audience through a NUMBER of different methods of determining objectives or goals (he suggests using the terms interchangeably). Most enticing was a method to use BOTH team based and individual evaluation within the SAME system, therefore getting around the "one or the other" paradigm that some managers insist on.

Jack's presentation also matched the mood of the attendees. While Jack is an outstanding presenter, his focus is on content, not flash. A lot of information, and practical information went by and by the end of the hour or so, I think most of us had just reached saturation and wouldn't have been able to take in any more information. In a "conference world" where most presentations are long on sound-bytes and short on depth, Jack's work stood out because of it's content.

Finally I attended a keynote by Joe Bosch of Pizza Hut, entitled Performance Management at Tricon: using People Planning to Drive the Culture. Joe is personable, a clear presenter, and the content and model he presented (and implemented with success at Pizza Hut) looks useful, incorporating both traditional AND 360 feedback components.

As an aside, while the first day had a number of sessions, the second/last day consisted of presenters from major companies (Pizza Hut, Zurich, Los Alamos National Lab and Hallmark). I found this a nice structure moving from the more abstract to hearing how real companies have dealt with the real challenges of making large scale performance management work.

Random Notes and Conclusions

First some random notes:

Comments from participants suggested the most positively received presentations were those done more ön the fly rather than those that were structured out in advance. Specifically the sessions by Lawler and Dave Ulrich (Results Based...Leadersship...) were mentioned by other participants.

There were several attendees from Japan, certainly a credit to the reputation of Linkage, Inc.'s conferences. There were three people from Japan who attended my pre-conference seminar.

The exhibits area (where companies presented their "wares"), was dominated by companies involved in the performance management and appraisal software industry. (Is that where we are going, perhaps?). The exceptions were Cambria Consulting and Brady, the first a consulting firm with some software based solutions and Brady, who chose to present the model they developed in house and are now sharing with others in a commercial way.

To conclude, it appears that performance management is exhibiting a resurgence as more and more companies are looking to it as a critical competitive, value-added part of management. It also is a safe bet that people are very much confused about how to do it, since their as so many alternatives and options. Clearly, though people want answers (perhaps quick fixes) and want them fast.

Finally, Linkage should be congratulated for it's organization, the amenities provided and the professionalism they exhibited in all aspects of conference organization. As a presenter I was treated "above expectations" and as a participant again, also an "above expectations".

This was Linkage's first conference on this topic (it sets up a number of conference on other subjects every year). From talking to the Linkage's folks, their attention to what participants have to say via feedback and focus groups guarantees that the year 2000 version of the conference will be even better. It is scheduled for the end of October in Chicago.

Disclaimer: I am in no way associated with Linkage, Inc. While this piece is copyright Robert Bacal 1999, you may distribute it in any manner you deem appropriate.


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Bacal & Associates was founded in 1992 by consultant and book author, Robert Bacal. Robert's books on performance management and reviews have been published by McGraw-Hill. He is available for consultation, training and keynote speaking on performance and management at work.


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