Expert Advice: Performance management in scaling companies


When a company grows from something small into something big, there are a range of challenges that come along for the ride. Performance management, culture and managing talent are just a few such challenges, but important to get to grips with.

But what is performance management? Quite simply, it’s the structure or method used by a company to maintain or improve their workforce standards, so the company can ultimately achieve their goals.

It can be difficult to balance, because if your performance management or performance appraisal method isn’t working, not only will your employees be unlikely to be performing at their best, but they may even choose to work elsewhere.

But who better to hear from than those who’ve gone through the growing pains, to become industry leaders? This month, we held roundtable discussions on performance management and purpose for C-suite professional peers of the Future Fifty cohort, the UK’s most successful late-stage tech companies.

Collecting key takeaways from those working at the top of UK tech, we spoke to Lorraine Metcalf, Chief Talent Officer at ZPG Ltd (formerly Zoopla), Kim Stringer, HR consultant, formerly HR Director at Funding Circle, and Luke Lang, CMO at Crowdcube.

Bring purpose to the forefront, it’s not just a marketing exercise

Kim Stringer, former HRD of Funding Circle told us “Often, tech companies move so quickly that yearly or quarterly performance reviews just don’t cut it. Things move too fast. Because things can change so quickly, it’s really important to have everything hang on a steady purpose, something that is more constant. I think the best way to achieve this is to use a competency rooted framework, based around the company values. Ensuring everyone is aligned with the company’s purpose, values and overall roadmap keeps everyone pulling in the same direction.”Luke Lang, CMO at Crowdcube agreed saying “A major myth when creating a company purpose is that it’s a marketing exercise with minimal impact on financial performance. This couldn’t be further from the truth with evidence showing that a strong purpose is good for growth and profits. Creating a strong brand requires developing a meaningful brand personality that will communicate your purpose and feed your company culture.”

Don’t lose sight of the bigger picture

Lorraine Metcalf, Chief Talent Officer at ZPG Ltd, told us “I think there’s a massive amount of talk about performance management and we often lose sight of what we are trying to achieve from the process. Work through all the latest ideas that are published and then think about what’s right for your company and colleagues and implement what’s relevant.”

As your company grows, let your staff do the same

Kim Stringer said “Teams growing quickly can be a big problem for scaling companies. New employees are often super engaged while others who have been there longer might have lost their mojo. A flat structure can be great in the early days of a company, but after about two years people start to consider their career and what they want to achieve next.In the tech industry people are so passionate to grow and learn, so personal development is a really important thing to consider. Build in a progression framework as your company scales – that way people can grow and progress and you will retain your staff.When staff see the company growing, they also want to see themselves growing personally. It’s another place where alignment comes into play.”

Set expectations

Kim Stringer “Often in exit interviews I will hear employees complaining that they didn’t know what was expected of them. They might feel they have worked hard and made great progress but their manager has not fed that back to them or given a performance review – they haven’t sat down together and gone through it. Setting people’s expectations, whether that be around innovation or behaviour, is vital. It’s transparent and it avoids difficult conversations. Performance management allows you to be clear with employees on what is expected, and it will lead to increased engagement and job satisfaction.”

Think like product teams do

Lorraine Metcalf: “Test, learn and improve processes constantly for our colleagues. If it isn’t working or achieving what you need, then stop doing it and refine. Get input from the people who are using the process, if they own it they will be more bought in to making it work and it will be all the better for their input.”

Don’t get tripped up by thinking you’re fine without it

Kim Stringer thinks “the biggest misconception when it comes to performance management comes from companies who are convinced they don’t need it. It’s something everyone hates doing and if your company is small and tight-knit, you might feel like it won’t be relevant or useful.It’s a common mistake and, as a company scales, it’s something that can quickly become a big issue. As a company grows, so does the headcount. People can become complacent, teams become misaligned, subcultures grow and resentments can develop. Building in a solid performance management structure before you think you need it means you can sidestep these issues and make the scaling transition a lot smoother.”

On the bookshelf

Even the experts require expert advice and wisdom. We asked ours to recommend some books that helped them get to where they are today.

Lorraine Metcalf: “Abolishing Performance Appraisals – Why They Backfire and What to Do Instead by Tom Coens and Mary Jenkins. The key thing I learned was there’s no magic answer that anyone seems to have and we should keep investigating, getting feedback, refining and improving.”Luke Lang: “Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose by Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh really brought the power of having a higher purpose to life for me. From paying new employees $2,000 to quit Zappos to making company culture your No.1 priority it is an eye-opening and thought provoking read of how purpose can be a key driver of success.”Kim Stringer: “A book that I always recommend to people and businesses going through this fast stage, is ‘What Got You Here Won’t Get You There’ by Marshall Goldsmith. It helps first-time managers or first-time heads of department with their personal development. People who have reached a certain stage in their careers have developed certain skills to get them there. This book helps them realise they now need to develop different skills, to delegate, let go and allow their team to make and learn from their mistakes.Realising these things and letting yourself progress to the next stage helps drive businesses forward and allows them to grow. It is key to performance management.”

It’s clear from our experts that there is no one right way to manage performance. Getting it right will take time, perhaps a little trial and error, and a lot of listening. One thing that is clear is that performance management and company culture are heavily intertwined. If you’re interested in learning more, why not take our free online course on how to use company culture to retain talent or read our archive on company culture.