Consultant Interview: Ken Han of Metaplan
In 2016, the Performance Magazine editorial team interviewed Ken Han, CEO/Co-founder of Metaplan in China, for the “Performance Management in 2015” report. His thoughts and views on Performance Management are detailed below.
”If managers are not qualified to also be performance consultants, they are not going to be very good performance managers.”
- Which are the 2015 key trends in Performance Management, from your point of view?
First of all, I would like to start by saying that I very much like The KPI Institute. I like the idea of this institute and I have benefited greatly from using information provided by your organization, on your websites and I am very grateful for it. I believe it is a good resource for consultants and leaders who can see the value of managing performance or that wish to improve the way they manage performance. It gives them a platform for them to undertake conversations with individuals who already have some expertise in this field.
Your websites also offer a massive library for performance managers to use and check if their KPIs are right and I think that is extraordinary.
Now, moving on to your question, in the projects that I have been involved this year, I noticed there is a change in performance management. Upon discussing with some other consultants, we have noticed a trend we called data-driven and focused on details. Data-driven means that they are using some systems to collect data, for example the time spent selling something, the time spent analyzing the needs of customers and engaging in meaningful dialogue with them.
They rely on some particular systems to capture that data, not just for reporting. Traditionally, sales people report how much time they spend talking things out with clients.
When it comes to focusing on details, it comes down to behavioral changes, not just concentrating on the results.
These trends have kind of become the premier way of dealing with matters related to performance management. Consultants and experts wish to educate companies, employers and employees on developing better results, by paying attention to these two aspects.In China, most multinationals have already set in place sound systems for PMS, they have the best mechanisms to help managers evaluate their performance at least once per annum or twice a year. These evaluations involve, among others, talking to supervisors about performance appraisal systems, but as in-depth as they are, they still do not maximize the ability to offer employees plans for performance improvements regarding career developments. So by shifting focus on details and data-driven systems, they offer a lot more information to their managers and reinforce their role as leaders and administrators, instead of relying on a third party professional team to manage their system.
- What are your thoughts on the integration of Performance Management at organizational, departmental and employee level?
I would have to evaluate the benefits of this particular idea, as many companies in China that have tried doing this have failed and my managers also do not see the value of doing this. Such an effort would require a very high skill or knowledge cap, which many individuals do not yet have and it would be much more suitable for them to focus on the details of each level in particular, rather than grouping them up together.
Now, if we take each level in particular, at the organizational level in general, I think managers are doing very well. Afterwards, at the departmental level, I think fairness can be quite a topic of discussion. And what I mean by that is when a company benchmarks data received from different departments, it is quite hard to measure project workload and involvement, as each department is bench-marked on different aspects of the respective project.
Regarding the employee level, most individuals know performance management is part of their work life, so they just follow the flow of things. If it’s efficient, they are happy about it; if it’s a long and arduous process, they will be worried about it not being efficient enough.
- Which will be the major changes in managing performance, in the future?
According to current realities, I do not think there will be any major changes in managing performance. The only thing I can see is the fact that here in China, given the current economic status, the country will become more data-driven, results-driven and more rational.
What this might entail, from an employee’s point of view, is the idea that managers have suddenly become crueler towards low-performers. That is the only major change I can see.
- What aspects of Performance Management should be explored more through research?
One aspect that should be very much highlighted is managing performance at the management level. Most managers just focus on sales numbers and don’t think they need other methodologies of evaluating performance. They do not understand the definition of performance management and as a result, they do not see the proper criteria for performance management.
The other aspect I would like to highlight is part of performance improvement. If a manager is not a qualified performance consultant, they are not going to be very good performance managers. They will be able to simply do their daily tasks and not the entirety for what that process requires. This type of knowledge has to be integrated into their mission and responsibility as a manager.
- Which organizations would you recommend to be looked at, due to their particular approach to managing performance, and their subsequent results?
Very good examples are the private sector companies, specifically those that are not necessarily multinationals, because they work with funds directly, so it is easier for a manager of a small, medium or even large – but not necessarily multinational level, company to manage its assets properly and motivate managers to try out new things.
Hengdian, a company which I am now writing a research paper on, has become China’s largest studio by integrating various performance management elements in its development.
- What Performance Management question would you like to have answered by researchers?
I have asked numerous company founders and CEOs multiple questions relating to performance management, but if I would have to highlight one, then it would be about integrating performance management systems in other mechanisms, such as company culture, leadership pipeline or succession planning.
- Which are main challenges of Performance Management in practice, today?
The main challenges lie in the practice and expertise of line managers.
- What should be improved in the use of Performance Management tools and processes?
I would like to see the system be made more practical and connected. When most people look at how a performance management system is structured, it looks isolated. The linkage to markets, customers especially, even internal ones, there is no feedback. You just manage your performance but you have no idea why, the “why” is missing. Why are we managing and measuring performance in this way? Why do you need to reach that particular number or description of performance?
And to add to this, there is no sure link between these two, management and measurement. Most executives see these two as being isolated and furthermore, they consider them to be the true way of doing performance management, in such isolation of one another. So this way, they lose out on the benefit that such a link brings, which is constant feedback from customers, from the market.
- What would you consider as a best practice in Performance Management?
Well, this is a tricky question, because as a consultant, I always consider that my clients could do better. From the point of view of some clients, they start a performance management plan right from the point of goal-setting and they follow through with it, paying more attention to details and finally can give others a more realistic review of using such a system, from the evidence they have collected over time, precisely because they started using such a system early on. That might be an example of best practice.
- Which aspects of Performance Management should be emphasized during educational programs?
Well, this relates to the previous question regarding integrating performance at different levels. My take on this topic would be that the focus should go again on managers and the requirement that they should start fulfilling multiple roles, as part of their education regarding performance management.
- Which limits need to be surpassed in order to achieve higher levels of proficiency in Performance Management, among practitioners?
If managers pay too much attention to short term gains, they will lose out on whatever expertise they have gained, associated with performance management.
- What is your opinion on the emerging trend of measuring performance outside working hours?
It is a great trend and if there are accurate tools, which offer realistic measurements of real-time data, it will prove a great boon to both employee and employer, as managers will be able to focus on the intricacies of his worker’s character and behavior. This is important, from my point of view, because how you perform outside work will reflect how you perform during work hours.
12.1. Do you think this last aspect mentioned, the relationship between behavior at and outside work, is a stable one? Does it always stay the same? Or is it merely an individual trait, having to do more with each and every one of us, and not so much the tools we use to measure our performance?
Yes, I think it is quite a stable relationship. And it is a beneficial one for both company and employee, due to the following facts:
– as far as the company is concerned, it develops a greater understanding of what performance means
– now, from the employee perspective, he ends up better comprehending the rationality behind performance and thus will reach performance goals much, much easier.
This creates a balance between the two.
- What personal performance measurement tools do you use?
I have designed many performance management tools, for my company or other companies. For example, I will use something resembling an energy bar and at the end of the day, when you are sitting in your cubicle, your self-score will evaluate your energy level, at that particular moment. Afterwards, before you leave the office, you re-measure your energy level at that moment. This very simple tool makes it so that employees pay more attention to their energy levels.
Consultant specific question
- What are the processes and tools you look at, in order to differentiate a successful performance management system, from a superficial one?
I look at the chain value system, inside the organization and as I previously specified, the management of the performance management expertise and willingness of line managers.