The best PAs transcend KPIs


Perhaps there was a time when key performance indicators for employees were useful but KPI-happy organisations that contrive dubious scorecards for every employee have rendered these measurements meaningless.

The purpose of KPIs and roundly despised performance reviews, according to one guide, is to “help employees know how they have been doing and what further development or training they need to do to improve”. The guide goes on: “Objectives give employees focus and appraisals make them feel that their good work is recognised. You can also discuss any weaknesses or problems and identify solutions together.”

Other than points for comedic value, such HR puffery deserves the scorn it attracts from disgruntled employees.

Happily, many organisations are now reconsidering the merits of performance reviews. Employees have long resented them as a time-wasting pro forma exercise whose only purpose is to confirm that there will be no pay rise next year.

Employees don’t want artificial ‘one-on-ones’ with their manager. They want the real thing: managers that communicate effectively and honestly with their staff; who encourage as well as provide feedback; who nurture, engage and motivate staff; who praise as well as counsel. Managers unable to provide this level of communication are the ones who should be sent on training courses.

Performance reviews are at their most ridiculous when applied to executive PAs for two excellent reasons. The first is that executives and their PAs spend so much time together: if a formal performance review is considered necessary, then that relationship is very likely in trouble.

The second is that at its most successful the relationship between executive and PA is almost organic: the fusing of two talented, confident and mutually loyal personalities into a dynamic partnership. There is only one KPI that matters here, and that is that each party knows that the partnership is either working or it is not.

Performance reviews fail because they are inherently artificial and inauthentic. In practice, if not by design, they have come to take the place of honest communication and natural workplace interactions. Performance reviews ostensibly represent empathy, trust and care, but they only mimic these attributes. For the real thing, look no further than the relationship between executive and PA.

Leo D’Angelo Fisher

Leo is a business journalist, author and commentator, and was former associate editor with BRW.

TWITTER @DAngeloFisher