Performance management programs tend to evoke strong (and often negative) feelings from employees and employers alike. This is because many organizations continue to rely on outdated practices, such as annual reviews, that hinder rather than help employees grow and fail to achieve the business results that senior management desires.
The good news is that your business doesn’t have to stay stuck in ineffective and outdated practices. Forward-looking HR leaders who recognize the need for change can get buy-in from senior leaders and implement new performance management processes that employees actually value and want to participate in. Here’s how we approached it.
Step 1: Take the Time to Understand What Your Workforce Actually Wants from Performance Management
A performance management program can either help or hinder your workforce. However, before you can make any effective changes to current your processes and tools, you need to understand what isn’t working and why. You also need to take the time to evaluate what your employees want out of a performance management program.
During this evaluation, there’s nothing more important than talking to your people. Your employees and managers likely have some strong opinions that they’ll be more than happy to share with you, you might be surprised how many of them crave an improved process.
At my company, Kindred Group, we held a voluntary survey on our performance management program that generated a 78% response rate! Some of the key learnings we gleaned were that our employees are motivated when the performance management process delivers value to their professional lives, and that employees are demotivated by evaluations that focus on past performance. Insights like these helped us validate the need for a performance management overhaul.
The next step is to convey your findings to decision makers who can sponsor and drive change in your organization. Share your internal findings as well as evidence-based research from experts that shows the impact that an improved performance process can have on business results.
Step 2: Make the Performance Management Process Continuous
Employers want their employees to be happy. But happiness isn’t necessarily what people want from their employers. Instead, employees want to feel motivated, and understand that their work matters and why. A performance management experience that delivers value to employees should focus on increasing motivation. Motivation will drive staff to work more efficiently, with greater levels of collaboration, creativity, and commitment—all of which has a positive impact on the bottom line.
It’s impossible to increase employee motivation with an annual review process. If you only talk about goals at the top of the year by the time you revisit them, they’re likely invalid. Employees will probably consider such feedback irrelevant and the process a waste of time. To drive motivation, a performance management process must include frequent, ongoing conversations between employees and managers so that goals, progress and personal achievement remain relevant and top-of-mind.
The content of these conversations is just as important as the frequency. Motivation is tied to a future-focused outlook and is better managed and measured through frequent conversations that focus on developmental opportunities. Managers must authentically engage with employees about their career success, goal achievement, and alignment of their work to the organization’s top priorities. Coincidentally, that’s exactly what employees want. They want to talk about both their challenges and wins, and they crave feedback. This gives the organization and managers the ability to understand where employees are performing well and how managers can support them in areas that need improvement.
To be successful, these frequent conversations should be “lightweight” and include future-oriented questions for employees such as: What motivates you? What’s helping you? What do you need? And HR can support this by coaching managers in giving more productive, proactive feedback, as well as asking the right questions.
Step 3: Train Managers on the Process, and Put the Tools in Place to Measure Progress
Managers are critical to the success of your organization’s performance management program. They play an outsized role in motivating, engaging, and developing staff. The cliché that “people leave managers not companies” is borne out by research showing that managers account for 70% of the variance in engagement among employees. This makes it critical to ensure managers are trained to give and receive effective feedback and are coached in the elements of a continuous process.
Managers also need professional development opportunities. Most companies fail to provide regular supervisory and management training, yet in many ways this is one of the most powerful tools you have. Take time to meet with managers and train them on your talent management practices so that everyone feels comfortable having frequent, lightweight conversations. Helping managers be better managers by having better quality and more frequent conversations with their teams is at the core of the increases in engagement and performance improvements I’ve seen in our own program.
Finally, having the right technology in place to support continuous performance management is essential. You need HR Technology designed specifically to support managers and the organization in a continuous process. We chose the Betterworks platform to manage our continuous performance process, document the results, and help measure its effectiveness. This helps eliminate the administrative burden associated with your program while enabling you to continually improve the process based on actionable data.
Transforming an ineffective performance management program into one employees love is no small undertaking. It requires sweeping changes that take a lot of time and effort—but the results are worth it. Making this transition can pay off huge for your business. By deploying a continuous process that is inherently valuable to employees, you wind up with a motivated, engaged workforce that will stay with your organization and be ready to tackle today’s goals and tomorrow’s challenges.