I recently read a tweet that said, "Why are some organizations still doing annual performance reviews instead of modernizing the process?" This comment made it sound as if the "organization" itself was in charge of performance management. But the organization, as a whole, cannot make this decision. It has to start somewhere within the organization.
Who Holds the Key to Evolving Performance Management?
It starts with HR. We are the owners and architects of performance management in our organizations. HR has the power to evolve performance management into a system that makes sense for today's workplace. Improving performance management should be a priority because it touches everyone. That dedication to ongoing, open performance management means that forward-thinking organizations are moving away from the systems and tools that restrict managers in giving timely, effective feedback to their direct reports.
The System Architects: Employees, Managers, Senior Leaders and HR
Most performance management processes fulfill HR's checklist: ratings for pay decisions, documentation, proof that the manager had at least one conversation about performance, etc.). But let's step back and ask ourselves: Why should the system be built around the needs of a few; in this case, HR?
A fundamental building block in redesigning performance management is shifting focus from the wants and needs of HR (e.g. we need ratings to make pay decisions, documentation for the file, etc.) to a system designed for the greater good of the entire organization.
Employees outnumber managers, senior leaders and HR. So how can we put the interest of our largest stakeholder group first? Start by thinking like a non-HR employee. What type of system could HR introduce that might energize employees?
3 Keys to Reimagining Performance Management
As you start to take on all the behind-the-scenes legwork, developing your revamped performance management strategy (you’re making sure to include mid-year check-ins, right?), it’s important to make sure that your goals are still aligned. Whether your goal is simply to implement ongoing performance conversations or several strategies at once, here are a few key strategies to keep in mind:
1. Positioning and branding matter
“It’s not what you said, it’s how you said it.” Let’s face it – we’ve all heard that line at some point in our lives. Terrible message delivery causes even engaged employees to shut down, tune out or get annoyed. You need to consider your audience before you announce new process changes. Ask yourself: Who is the best person to deliver the message? What is the best way to deliver a company-wide update – via a video recording, memo or in-person town hall meeting? What are some potential challenges or pushback you could experience?
People get frustrated with ever-changing forms, processes, competencies and rating schemes; they've seen these tweaks before and haven’t experienced any substantive change that improved their experience with the process. Avoid leading with, "We are implementing a new performance management system." You might as well cue the crickets because no one, except for HR, will be excited about this.
2. Collaborate with key stakeholders
HR may be the only department getting excited about these changes but that doesn’t mean that you should revert back to siloed behavior as you develop your internal communications strategy. Mark Pihl, President and COO of Web Industries, entrusted his head of HR, Kathy Arena, with modernizing the company’s performance management system.
Kathy and Mark collaborated to find a new communications approach, including key stakeholder buy-in and branding. Web Industries is a 100 percent employee-owned company, promoting a culture of ownership behavior, which increases engagement and boosts measurable performance metrics. They’re encouraged to consider their career at Web as more than just a job. Their program, Career Pathways, encourages all employees to engage, elevate and excel.
Psst! Did you know that you can make pay decisions without ratings? Your organization surely has a process, like a performance improvement plan, for the low number of people whose performance needs documentation for legal purposes. No need to saddle 90 percent of your employees with a system designed for problem performers.
Want what they’ve got? I don’t blame you. Need some help with your messaging? I’ve got you covered…
Sample Messaging Directed to All Employees:
We are shifting the time and energy we used to spend on reviewing past performance to increase the frequency and quality of dialogue between you and your manager. By conferring with your manager more frequently through a variety of conversation opportunities, you will both be set up for success for ongoing, two-way, actionable coaching conversations that enable you to:
- Discuss what is going well
- Voice an interest in gaining new skills and experiences, and in sharing ideas for growth and career development
- Hear about what is working now (your good work and positive impact)
- Get clear direction from your manager about how to be even more effective in your role
- Reconfirm priorities and expectations, and check-in on progress
- Provide insights to your manager:
- Now: What is working and appreciated?
- Future: What can the manager do to provide even more support or help?
We will provide the training, process and tools to hold these conversations. Please stay tuned for more details.
3. Provide resources and support
A manager’s transition from performance evaluator to performance coach can now begin! Moving away from annual reviews to the ongoing conversation model involves more than introducing a new name, form or process. Expect to support your managers as they transition by providing training and tools that will help them assess an employee's current performance, identify and re-direct off-target performance, and reinforce good performance. These skills do not come naturally but they can be learned!
So what’s the difference between performance coaching and evaluating past performance? I’m so glad you asked:
Performance coaches keep the past in the past. They focus on moving forward by articulating what the employee can do to become more effective. This isn’t a review of past performance so there’s no need to cite past shortcomings. When an employee finds himself or herself off-target performance or has missed expectations, address the issue at the time (this way you can reference the issue, because it just happened). Adopt a growth mindset: assume, until you know otherwise, that this individual can adjust and become an even better version of themselves.
Modern Performance Management Starts With HR
Modernizing performance management starts with HR. Our goal must be to design a system in the best interest of all employees, while still improving and tracking employee performance, and enabling conversations between managers and employees that drive and align performance to propel the organization forward.
This can be a tall order for an organization still using traditional performance management strategies. Change won’t happen overnight but, by building momentum on the three key steps, you will start to see shifting mindsets and revamped communications between managers and employees. Remember that managers need to transition from the traditional role of judge and evaluator to performance coach while resetting employee expectations to match their evolving manager-employee relationship.
We, the people in HR, own the performance management process. We are ideally positioned to reimagine the process. What an amazing opportunity to enact real change for the good of everyone in our organizations.
What have you done in your organization to modernize performance management? Please share your successes, ask questions or share your comments.