What Is Agile Performance Management?

If you work for a technology company you’ve probably heard the term agile development flowing around your office. You know, those processes and meetings that the ‘techies’ are involved in. In my little tech bubble, I tend to forget that a large percentage of people have never heard of it.

Agile development is defined as an approach to “help teams respond to unpredictability through incremental, iterative work cadences and empirical feedback. Agile methodologies are an alternative to waterfall, or traditional sequential development.”

In other words: we suck as humans at predicting how long major projects take to accomplish, so it is a process of focusing on getting specific work done within digestible time frames (i.e. weekly) and a framework to ensure continuous feedback for improvement.

Everyone I know in the technology community uses it – no big surprise there, but it boggles my mind why these principles aren’t used more frequently to run companies.

Executives and HR leaders that are trying to drive improvements in performance and employee engagement have a lot to learn from this process.  In fact, it’s already happening. Several HR practices are shifting from annual to more real-time:

  • Employee engagement measurement is now ‘pulse’ based and happening more frequently than the annual survey
  • Employee recognition has moved from years of service to daily social recognition
  • Performance management, in its traditional sense, is getting blasted by what seems to be every media outlet for being too infrequent and invaluable (check out this Fast Company article about why annual performance management is going extinct).

Agile Performance Management

Why this shift? Because employees work in hours and days, not in quarters and years. Also, according to Deloitte, only 8% of enterprise companies believe that the traditional performance management process drivers business value.

So if you’re still stuck in annual processes, it’s time to rethink your approach if you want to beat your competition.

What is agile performance management anyways? 

The Human Capital Institute is one of the first to offer certification for Agile Performance Management. They describe it as a process of:

  • Setting goals
  • Helping managers coach individuals
  • Providing more continuous feedback, support, and growth or change (shifting the focus from annual evaluation and rankings to continuous feedback and development)
  • Being more collaborative, social, and faster-moving

The Fast Company article mentioned earlier reinforces these ideas:  “… the future of the workplace depends on how successful these companies become at building out new systems that incorporate frequent feedback, open communication, and coaching.”

Is your company creating quarterly goals that get put into a system and don’t get looked at until the quarter is completed to check off a few boxes?  If so, you’re not alone and need to start setting more frequent goals and ensuring there is a continuous feedback loop.

employee performance

How can I get started?

If we look at the structure from HCI for driving higher performance, here’s what I suggest you should be doing.

Set goals


  • Don’t just set goals, set frequent goals. Get into a weekly cadence of identifying top priorities for EVERY employee in your company. Set Top 5 Goals (or Top 3) each week. Make sure one of the goals is a personal goal to ensure focus on employee growth.
  • Always create the list in priority order and identify the TOP 1: the most important thing in that time period. This enforces focus.  A structure I’ve used in the past for Top 5s:
    • Goal #1 – the MOST important thing to do that week. The ‘Top 1’
    • Goal #2 & #3 – next most important goals to focus on this week
    • Goal #4 – a stretch goal to accomplish
    • Goal #5 – personal goal focused on personal or career development
  • Have employees set their own goals. They will have more ownership and be more accountable.
  • Each week, ensure that there is a follow-up and accountability for completing their Top 1 and communicate any additional wins.
Help managers coach individuals


  • Ensure there is a method of easily distributing Top Goals to managers for review and commentary to discuss or support them.
  • Give managers the tools to support conversations and understand corporate goals to tie individual goals to
  • Don’t accept excuses. There are weekly meetings in the agile process that takes hours of planning that managers are involved in. Your managers can take an hour each week to review goals and ensure alignment is there.
Provide more continuous feedback, support, and growth or change


  • Continuous feedback and support comes directly from managers. They are integral in helping employees perform and be engaged.
  • This feedback can happen electronically in allowing comments through a goal management tool, but conversations have the biggest impact.
  • Mandate 1-on-1 meetings with managers and employees to discuss performance and offer feedback to ensure professional and personal conversations are taking place.
Be more collaborative, social, and faster-moving


  • The only way to be more collaborative and social is if these goals are public and shared. Share them in a place where teams can access what each other are working on.
  • As an added bonus, allow for recognition to reinforce great performance


Why do these new practices work?

Think about the major drivers of employee performance and engagement:  communication, personal growth, direct relationships with the manager, and recognition. It makes sense why a new agile approach to working impacts all of these.

By setting frequent goals and establishing continuous feedback, it lends itself to better communication and alignment of what each employee is working on and how they’re contributing to the company’s goals and purpose.  Structure around this adds accountability to management to have frequent conversations that offers better communication.

So what are you doing to become more agile and drive higher performing teams and engaged employees in your organization?  Is it even a priority?  Interested in hearing your thoughts.




Author: Rob Catalano

Rob Catalano is passionate about helping companies succeed – by leveraging technology to make employees successful. With his unique experience in HR Technology as a founding employee at Achievers, Rob co-founded WorkTango – a platform that offers real-time employee insights and agile performance management that positively impacts alignment, accountability and engagement of employees. Rob has had the privilege to speak to in over 30 cities the past three years, and loves the opportunity to connect with passionate HR leaders across the globe. You can reach him at rob@worktango.io or @RobCatalano on twitter.

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