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Gaining altitude on global performance

management processes: a multilevel analysis

Allen D. Engle, Sr., Marion Festing & Peter J. Dowling

To cite this article: Allen D. Engle, Sr., Marion Festing & Peter J. Dowling (2015) Gaining altitude
on global performance management processes: a multilevel analysis, The International Journal of
Human Resource Management, 26:15, 1955-1964, DOI: 10.1080/09585192.2015.1041761

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The International Journal of Human Resource Management, 2015
Vol. 26, No. 15, 1955–1964,

Gaining altitude on global performance management processes:

a multilevel analysis
Allen D. Engle, Sr.a*, Marion Festingb and Peter J. Dowlingc
Department of Management, Marketing and International Business, Eastern Kentucky University,
KY, USA; bChair of International Human Resource Management and Intercultural Leadership,
ESCP Europe, Berlin, Germany; cDepartment of Management, Faculty of Business, Economics and
Law, LaTrobe University, Victoria, Australia
This conceptual review of global performance management (GPM) focuses on how
individual performance results are aggregated in multinational enterprises. The authors
propose a four-level vertical framework of the uses, metrics, systems and processes
at the (1) individual, (2) local – regional, (3) strategic business unit and (4) global
(corporate) levels. Based on a review of limited extant empirical literature and
interviews with selected European human resource planning practitioners, the authors
present a four-stage transformation framework. Individual GPM results are envisioned
to be transformed via four processes, described as (1) ‘funneling’ of selective
individuals to the attention of actors at the next vertical level in the firm, (2) ‘summation’
of individual performance metrics to the next vertical level, (3) ‘conversion’ of
individual metrics into a different form of metric altogether before being forwarded to
the next vertical level and (4) ‘sharpening’ or recalibration of macro-level firm strategic
performance metrics as a consequence of how well individual and subunit performance
targets are met. The paper concludes with a discussion of what qualities an effective
GPM might have, namely the creation of a balanced but essentially centralized,
strategically customized, bundled system of IHRM practices that combines culture and
Keywords: global performance management; multinational enterprises; strategic
performance appraisal

In today’s competitive and globalized environment, multinational enterprises (MNEs)
need to manage the performance of their managers. International human resource
management (IHRM) practices are an important device in this context. ‘A very important
pillar within HRM is performance management (PM), because it ties together
organizational and individual performance by adjusting respective objectives and
designing appropriate evaluation and rewards systems across business units and national
boundaries’ (Festing & Knappert, 2014, p. 332; see also Evans, Pucik, & Björkman, 2011).
When the focus is on cross-border dimensions of PM, we speak about global performance
management (GPM). This is usually the case in MNEs.
While many conceptions of GPM focus on the way organizational goals are
transformed into individual goals (Varma, Budhwar, & McCusker, 2015), this conceptual
review of GPM takes a different approach by focusing on how individual performance
results are systematically aggregated in large, diverse MNEs. The authors propose a four-
level vertical framework of the uses, metrics, systems and processes at four levels
(1. individual; 2. local – regional; 3. strategic business unit; and 4. global corporate) and

*Corresponding author. Email:

q 2015 Taylor & Francis

1956 A.D. Engle, Sr. et al.

suggest appropriate GPM processes which can be used at each stage. Therefore, the main
contribution of this paper is a new encompassing framework which considers GPM results,
transforming them by using specific processes such as funneling, summation, conversion
and sharpening. These transformations lead to strategic actions and initiate further
revisions to GPM processes and systems.
The paper is structured as follows. First, we review the literature by discussing to
what extent GPM is strategic. Second, we propose a new four-stage GPM transformation
process. Third, we discuss this concept using various geographical levels before we discuss
the framework and examine its limitations. A conclusion section considers the implications
for future research and practice in GPM.

Global performance management

GPM has recently become a topic of increasing theoretical and empirical research interest
to IHRM scholars (Caligiuri, 2006; Cascio, 2012; Varma, Budhwar, & DeNisi, 2008).
Researchers have alternately focused on the expatriate experience (Lazarova & Thomas,
2012), cross-cultural or comparative studies (Bailey & Fletcher, 2008; Festing & Knappert,
2014; Festing, Knappert, Dowling, & Engle, 2012) and the complexities of managing and
coordinating GPM for MNEs (Bjorkman, Barner-Rasmussen, Ehrnrooth, & Makela,
2009). Alternative frameworks have been suggested to more systematically illuminate and
assist ongoing empirical investigations (Claus & Briscoe, 2009; Engle, Dowling, &
Festing, 2008).
Engle, Festing, and Dowling (2014) have articulated a proposed four-stage process
model of GPM that envisions (1) strategic GPM content decisions; (2) GPM design and
roll out; (3) GPM operations in-country and (4) systems evaluation. Their literature review
of empirical research related to GPM in the IHRM literature from 2002 to 2013 indicates a
paucity in research at the fourth stage of their model. Although some empirical research
exists on issues related to content, design and operations (notably cross-cultural effects),
there is very little empirical research to describe how MNEs aggregate GPM results and
how these results are used to alter or effect MNE strategic activities. There appears to be a
focus in the research literature on the evaluation of individual employees, but not on firm
level evaluation or using GPM results to assess MNE effectiveness. Many practitioners
and researchers informally suggested to the authors that all too often the results are filed
away never to be seen again – like the Ark of the Covenant at the end of the film ‘Raiders
of the Lost Ark.’ The lack of conceptual and empirical – descriptive research on the
strategic consequences of GPM reports and issues related to this set of vertical linkages is
very evident and is the starting point of this conceptual work.

Key processes in GPM

This paper focuses on GPM systems and processes as they occur in MNEs, postulating a
four-level framework from ‘local’ micro processes, purposes and performance metrics/
measures, to ‘global’ macro processes, purposes and performance metrics/measures.
There have been several calls for this form of multiple-level analysis in IHRM (Weller &
Gerhart, 2012; Wright & McMahan, 2011). Based on a review of the limited extant
empirical literature and interviews with selected European talent and human resource
planning practitioners, the authors present a preliminary four-stage framework which is
transformed via four processes, described as (1) ‘funneling’ of selective individuals to
the attention of actors at the next vertical level in the firm, (2) ‘summation’ of individual
The International Journal of Human Resource Management 1957

Figure 1. Gaining altitude on GPM.

performance metrics to the next vertical level, (3) ‘conversion’ of individual metrics into
a different form of metric altogether before being forwarded to the next vertical level
and (4) ‘sharpening’ or recalibration of macro level firm strategic performance metrics
as a consequence of how well individual and subunit performance targets are met
(see Figure 1).

Interviews with a number of practitioners and consultants lead to the view that some
MNEs emphasize the holistic, personal talent aspect of the GPM system through a series of
talent tournaments. From this initial process, the top performers move on from a local
talent pool to a regional, division or global talent pool. Using this approach, the strategy is
to identify and move high performance employees to increasingly challenging work
assignments so that their abilities and experience can be more effectively utilized in the
MNE. The GPM results allow the talented individual to ‘bubble up’ to more challenging
positions in the MNE. To the extent that GPM systems are perceived by employees to be
accurate and valid, high performers may be more committed to continue to engage with
such a system (Kwon, Bae, & Lawler, 2010).
The link between this form of strategy of aggregation and the rapid increase in talent
management systems is a topic that warrants further research. Empirical evidence suggests
that some national institutional systems as well as firms of different sizes may be more
interested in funneling than others. A recent review of talent management practices
suggests that small- and medium-sized German firms may ‘choose a more inclusive
approach to Talent Management and target all or most employees, in contrast to large
1958 A.D. Engle, Sr. et al.

MNEs where a more elitist approach is favored’ (Festing, Schaefer, & Scullion, 2013,
p. 1872). The latter describes the funneling that occurs in MNEs and is supported by GPM.
It is an important measure to retain talent in the organization. This short analysis shows
that it makes sense to explicitly consider context variables, not only in talent management
(Collings & Mellahi, 2009) but also when GPM is concerned. While this is recognized
with respect to cultures (Festing et al., 2012; Festing & Knappert, 2014), other context-
variables are under-researched.

Under summation systems, an extensive set of uniform performance metrics (often referred
to as ‘balanced scorecard’ systems) are captured and may be organized and presented at
plant, division, national, regional or SBU level using an advanced, software-based decision
support system and network. The key characteristic here is the use of common performance
metrics throughout the MNE. The vocabulary of performance may have more or less
emphasis as the aggregated GPM results move up the firm, or vary depending on the specific
purpose of the inquiry (reward feedback and justification, assessment of employee
satisfaction and commitment, career planning, etc.), but the essential vocabulary of
performance is constant (Corporate Leadership Council, 2003, 2012).
Much time is spent in MNEs creating a broad, integrated and consistent ‘scorecard’ or
‘dashboard’ that provides information on personal competencies, job performance and
goals or targets achieved. Metrics should capture the past (financial performance), but also
present performance-in-process and the personal and professional self-development
investments that are thought to be linked with future performance. Beyond dollars, Euros
or Yuan, metrics must capture the more intangible aspects of performance such as
customer service orientation, embracing MNE culture and values and a capacity to
proactively act to support dynamic strategic initiatives. Engle et al. (2008) classify the
appraisal criteria into input, process, and output criteria which need to be chosen according
to the firm’s strategy. As has been shown by Festing, Knappert, and Kornau (2015),
output-oriented performance appraisal criteria are commonly applied across national

The conversion approach is typified by the translation of operational level GPM results
into differing forms of performance information. In this way, it is the opposite of the
summation approach. At each level in the movement of performance information, an
assessing group will take the results from the lower level and recast them (e.g. alter the
performance dimensions, scales and levels) into a new set of performance variables more
appropriate to that group’s immediate purposes. By the time the results reach the global
level, the individual performance results may be unrecognizable and presented exclusively
in terms of the vocabulary of strategic intent; functional value chain excellence, R&D
capacity or progress to goals, or product awareness penetration for upwardly mobile
potential customers in particular markets of importance to the MNE (Dossi & Patelli,
2010). Gimbert, Bisbe, and Mendoza (2010) draw an interesting distinction between the
terminology used in strategic performance measurement systems (SPMS) and
performance measurement systems in their research on 349 medium and small Spanish
firms. At the micro level, one vocabulary of performance is presented as commonly shared
and understood. At the more macro level, a very different measurement system
(performance dimensions, descriptor levels and weights) is applied.
The International Journal of Human Resource Management 1959

A four-tier human capital development framework developed by Cantrell, Benton,

Laudal, and Thomas (2006) was developed from an investigation into SAP America’s
approach to strategic performance metrics. Tier four consisted of 13 human capital
processes (‘competency management, rewards and recognition, career development,
performance appraisal, human capital strategy, succession planning, learning manage-
ment, recruiting, knowledge management, workforce planning, workplace design and
human capital infrastructure’). Tier three consisted of seven human capital capabilities
(‘leadership capability, workforce performance, employee engagement, employee
adaptability, ability to change, talent management and human capital efficiency’). Tier
two consisted of four key performance drivers (‘productivity, quality, innovation and
customers’) and Tier one consisted of four ‘illustrative business measures’ for business
results (‘revenue growth, return on equity, total returns to shareholders and future value’)
(Cantrell et al., 2006, p. 45). Of significance is the conversion of performance metrics as
one moves up the four tiers. The configuration and definitions of performance dimensions
systematically vary in the movement from the micro level to the macro level.

This approach is the most sophisticated and, not surprisingly, most interesting. A four-
stage routine is envisioned. First, corporate level indicators of strategic intent are designed
and delivered to operational level units. Second, units modify these performance
dimensions to capture local conditions and priorities and subsequent revisions are
approved by corporate officers (Regnér & Edman, 2014). Third, performance systems go
into operation and results are captured and reported through the multilevel system. Finally,
results are used to modify both strategic direction and expected goals as well as to modify
(i.e. sharpen) the local performance metrics in the light of system results evaluation. The
strategy sharpens (and modifies) the GPM system which in turn acts as feedback and
sharpens (and modifies) the strategic configuration of the MNE. For an example of how
GPM results can be used to assess the impact of gender on GPM systems characteristics,
a most useful strategically linked piece of information, see Festing et al. (2014).
Shipton, Budhwar, and Crawshaw (2012) refer to ‘organizational change capacity’
(pp. 780 –781) repeating Judge et al.’s definition (2009, p. 1739) of the ‘dynamic resource
bundle comprised of effective human capital at varying levels of the business, with
cultural predispositions toward innovation and accountability and organizational systems
that facilitate organizational change and transformation.’ This capacity is said to be critical
for continued performance and firm effectiveness in highly dynamic global environments
in the developing world. In this article, we may see an only slightly differing, more
general, perspective on the nexus between an HR system (GPM) and timely and rational
MNE strategic transformation that makes up the ‘sharpening’ form of gaining altitude.
Kolehmainen (2010) presents an example of SPMS at DynComp, a global
telecommunications firm, as one component in a ‘dynamic strategic alignment system’.
As per the four-stage ‘sharpening’ model above, macro-level strategic intentions are
converted into individual level ‘action plans’ and then used in a combined and
decentralized, heavily delegated process. Variety and flexibility in targeting are at a
premium. Although the DynComp case does not provide any significant evidence of major
modifications in strategic direction or intent, the capacity for alteration is present in the
‘value framework’ emphasis on flexibility. The decision to invest in such an advanced,
central and complex form of making GPM results available for strategic purposes may be
contingent on firm size, number of employees, institutional heritage and having relatively
1960 A.D. Engle, Sr. et al.

advanced HRM systems (i.e. GPM) – factors which may be independent of having a
formal HRM strategy (Doving & Nordhaug, 2010).

Combination approaches and building multilevel vocabularies

The conversion process envisioned in Figure 1 can be replicated at each of the four levels
(local, regional, strategic business unit and global) in combination (see Figure 2). Harris,
Craig, and Light (2011, p. 6) have developed a six-step ‘ladder of analytical HR
applications’ which encompasses many of the issues presented in the four approaches
presented above. On the first and lowest rung, ‘employee databases’ can be used to
aggregate individual results. On the second rung, ‘critical talent management,’ on the
third rung, ‘focus HR investments’ and on the fourth rung ‘customize EVP’ differing
capabilities can be used to funnel talented employees. On the final two rungs ‘workforce
planning’ and ‘talent supply chain,’ the conversion process between employee databases
and strategic decision processes become more interactive and dynamic, similar to our
discussion of ‘conversion’ and ‘sharpening.’
In preparing this initial assessment of a multilevel analysis of the evaluation of GPM
output, we found that literature related to the micro-level conceptualizations, models and
performance metrics being developed by IHRM researchers, and practitioners had a more
or less common approach to the area of GPM. Variations exist, that is only healthy in a
new academic field, but the basic vocabulary of GPM shares a HR/OB point of origin.
A contrasting body of literature related to macro-level conceptualizations, models and
firm-level performance/effectiveness metrics is also being developed by global strategy
researchers and practitioners (Harris et al., 2011; Kolehmainen, 2010). A comparison of
these micro- and macro-level models is incomplete at this time, but even the most casual

Figure 2. Multiple levels of assessment.

The International Journal of Human Resource Management 1961

reviewer will note that the macro literature is of a differing form, with a differing
methodologies, models, favored theories, syntax and vocabulary, and, not surprisingly,
comes from a very differing academic point of origin – in a sense, this research is looking
at these issues and problems from a higher altitude which presents a more macro view.
Some 20 plus years after a call for more strategic IHRM, many SIHRM researchers are not
aware of the business models, logic and forms of macro-level strategic management
theorizing (Dossi & Patelli, 2010). More cross-discipline reading is an essential first step
in any effort to speed multilevel research efforts and fit pieces of the puzzle originating
from differing altitudes.

Discussion and limitations of the suggested framework

It is quite proper to insist that in order to be more practically relevant and have an impact
on constituencies outside of the academy that IHRM must be strategically linked (DeCieri
& Dowling, 2012; Huselid & Becker, 2011). But clarifying what we mean by a strategic
IHRM practice, process or system is problematic. If strategic IHRM may be seen as a
bundle of practices, then by separating out an individual practice (in this case GPM), we
may be able to focus our modeling and empirical research on one strand of the bundle.
Otherwise, the danger is that we become lost in the complex and interactive bundle and
lose our way. This preliminary framework is a starting point in uncovering a strategic
practice critical to MNEs. By seeking a broader sense of the strategic uses of GPM
systems – by ‘gaining altitude’ on the topic area – we may learn more about the links
between bundles of HRM practices and strategic purposes.
The paper concludes with a prescriptive discussion of what qualities an effective GPM
framework might have, namely the creation of a balanced but essentially centralized,
strategically customized, bundled system of IHRM practices that combines culture and
technology. We repeat Lawler’s call for:
(1) the parsimonious use of performance dimensions, weights and levels that at their
core are thoroughly understood and widely shared across the organization;
(2) some local interpretation that is permitted to fit with national legislation or cultural
Adding dimensions for local conditions may appear useful and accommodating in the
short term, but it needs to be recognized that as the number of dimensions grows, the
clarity of communication dims. Local interpretations on more and more performance
dimensions become fraught with potential conflict. These four qualities must be combined
with an integrated human resource information system software platform as the center of a
strategic yet flexible web of people, processes and decisions (Biron, Farndale, & Paauwe,
2011; Lawler, Benson, & McDermott, 2012). Such a framework has implications for
research and practice.

Implications for future research

As this framework has been newly developed, it needs further elaboration. Measures need
to be developed in order to empirically investigate the new framework in various contexts.
Issues related to the usefulness of the full set of alternative forms of aggregation
(funneling, summation, conversion and sharpening) need to be empirically assessed.
Cross-functional research groups (i.e. teams of micro-oriented IHRM researchers and
macro-oriented Global Strategy researchers) may be able to start at their traditional level
1962 A.D. Engle, Sr. et al.

of analysis and, working together, develop research designs and uncover research sites that
allow them to span across the disciplinary divides and hopefully to ‘meet in the middle’
(Cheng, Birkinshaw, Lessard, & Thomas, 2014).

Implications for practice

Practitioners are more generally aware of the interplay between locally embedded
personal career issues and longer-term corporate level evaluative assessment exercises
than academics may be. This discontinuous back and forth between immediate local
necessity and long term corporate accountability is an entrenched part of professional life
in the modern MNE (Bartlett & Beamish, 2014; Evans et al., 2011). What these
practitioners may lack (and a potential advantage of the proposed framework) is a means
of systematically framing and tracking this pendulum of dual responsibilities.
By incorporating some customized version of this framework into their planning practices
and periodic checklists, global practitioners may be able find a more useful balance
between personal local use and longer-term firm-level uses of a GPM – a ‘golden mean’
(Aristotle, 2013) between short-term utility and long-term effectiveness. From the
perspective of executives at corporate headquarters, this framework can be used to set part
of an agenda for periodic integrative meetings – both live and virtual – between local
subsidiary managers, regional mentors, functional and product executives and corporate

Disclosure statement
No potential conflict of interest was reported by the authors.

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