As a vendor of performance management software for the last 14 years, we speak to dozens of HR pros every day to discuss their performance review pains and challenges. No matter how it’s worded, we have found that ALL headaches are caused by deficiencies in one of 3 categories – the 3 main P’s of performance management: Purpose, People and Process.
These vital aspects that comprise your performance management strategy can make or break this business process for your entire company, and spoil it for years to come. The good news is that there just might be an easier fix than you think. We often see great processes and forms, but the content or intent is missing, or the right approach, but something as small as a poorly worded rating scale, or vague list of competencies turns users off entirely.
Whether you are looking to update and modernize your appraisal forms and methods, want to rebuild your performance strategy completely, or are just curious as to what aspects of evaluations you could be optimizing, this post is for you.
One of the biggest challenges we see with rolling out a successful performance management strategy throughout an organization is the disconnect between the plan and what the organization is looking to gain from it. Legacy processes often leave HR and your workforce questioning if they are simply going through the motions and doing it just to do it. Time is money for businesses, and every minute spent on performance management tasks and activities should ultimately equate to value for the business and everyone involved.
When designing or re-designing your performance management plan, take a step back and ask “What’s the purpose?”
- What value do you want your employees and managers to extract at every stage? What’s in it for them?
- What value should the business expect and what will be the performance indicators?
- What key metrics are you looking to collect and analyze for decision-making?
- What content should be included in any forms or system: Goals? Values? Development Plans? Skills? etc.
- What regulations or regulatory bodies (if applicable) are in place (like accreditation requirements or union standards) that might dictate some of the format?
- What cultural or organizational values or drivers should be incorporated into the design and why?
- What bottlenecks or issues are you looking to diagnose or overcome with a new strategy?
Narrowing your company’s performance management’s purpose will help when designing or updating your strategy and content and will ensure the value is not only easy to convey, but will also be perceived by all involved.
Performance management starts and ends with people. Period. Who is involved, how much they are involved, and why they are involved can make a giant difference as to whether or not employees and managers get on board and stay on board for their own benefit. HR might have a vision of a long-term performance management strategy in mind or in place, but unless people are considered and factored in, it will remain an unrealized pipe-dream.
Here are some important people aspects that should be considered:
Get support from the top
Company leaders should not only support HR’s performance management vision and processes, they should outwardly champion it. Like any other company initiative, process, or expectation, leadership buy-in is key to ensuring your well-oiled performance management engine keeps running. In his Harvard Business Review article entitled, “The Hard Side of Change,” author Harold L. Sirkin notes that if employees don’t see that the company’s leadership is backing a project, they’re unlikely to change. Involve your company’s leadership team in the performance management planning. Give them a say in how the process will work, and share useful metrics that will fuel their ability to lead the company. Ensure expectations are clear on their follow-through and commitment, and reinforce regularly.
Ask employees to self-assess
If you aren’t already involving employees in the process, we recommend doing just that! Giving employees a voice and chance to share their perspective shifts the onus away from managers and onto employees to participate in a more balanced two-way conversation. Having employees self-asses also enables managers to better understand the employee’s thoughts and views prior to any meetings. We recommend letting employees update their goals in real-time, allow them to comment on achievements and development needs, and allow them to rate their own competencies and skills and provide examples to support their self-ratings.
Involve more voices with 360° feedback
The effect of an employee’s day-to-day performance isn’t restricted to the confines of the employee-manager relationship – so why should reviews be? Employees often work with multiple managers or teams to accomplish their goals. Reviews that incorporate manager-only input risk leaving out a giant piece of the performance-picture. When you think of the people who should be involved in the process, think beyond managers and second-level supervisors, to company-wide, multi-rater peer input. This can be in the form of informal feedback in the form of an email, a survey, or if you want to get really sophisticated, allowing employees and managers to request formal 360° input on their competencies and/or goals. The idea is to create a culture where employees know that their daily behaviors and actions are being recognized by managers and factored into their evaluation. As an added bonus, input from others helps managers provide more accurate reviews and much better comments as they often uncover observations they would have missed!
Train your workforce on providing effective feedback
Most often, getting the right people involved is only the first hurdle – you also have to make sure they are equipped with the tools to ensure they are effective participants. Even the best performance review process can be ruined in the eyes of employees if managers aren’t providing the right feedback or if 360° reviewers aren’t focusing on behaviors over opinions. We recommend communicating with your workforce on the purpose behind feedback and sharing tips and expectations for what the feedback should focus on and when it should be given.
The last “P” is “Process” and how the performance management process works and looks at any stage of the year or cycle. There is no question that traditional once-a-year appraisals are nowhere near enough to give employees the input they need to develop, or to ensure organizational performance goals stay on track from day-to-day. Many organizations are redesigning their process to incorporate more check-ins and touch-points for managers and employees so that their process is more of an ongoing conversation about goals progress and employee feedback. This sounds great and makes sense in theory but the reality is that every organization should design their own processes that factor in their unique circumstances and needs.
How a company’s performance management process should work depends on the previous two Ps, Purpose & People, and two other main factors:
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- What your organization currently has in place for performance management
- Your company’s culture
Let’s discuss a very common scenario: If a company has a tenured workforce of managers that are used to an annual 25-minute appraisals every January, it is almost impossible to introduce formal monthly or even quarterly check-ins without some backlash. We suggest that clients plan a transition strategy from where they are now to where they would like to be and ensure its workforce knows the trajectory and what will be expected of them. For companies looking to evolve from annual appraisals to a more continuous performance management process, we suggest phasing it in gradually. Start with a mid-year check-in along with informal feedback and performance journals, then move to quarterly and then monthly reviews.
For companies who operate around long-term projects, annual appraisals might not even make sense, instead, a company might choose ad-hoc project evaluations with 30-60-90 day check-ins for new hires.
For new companies or those growing quickly with feedback-hungry millennial and Gen-Z employees, a swift tear down and build-up of a completely new and ongoing performance management process might be the best strategy and welcomed by all with open arms.
Similarly, larger or more complex organizations might need several processes to meet the needs of individual locations or divisions. The point is that your company’s process, should be a reflection of your company and its goals, and not the reflection of what might be used in other organizations.