At BetterWorks, we partner with companies that are consistently innovating in performance and employee engagement. One company, Opera Solutions, developed a novel approach to their performance review and promotion process in order to increase transparency and rigor in individual goal-setting and emphasize the importance of ongoing professional development.

I spoke with Tim Bridges, head of Solution Delivery and Human Resources at Opera, about how they now approach performance and how BetterWorks supports their process.

Ingrid: How did Opera’s promotion review process work in the past?

Tim: In Opera’s traditional review process, each employee was discussed by a review committee, who heard testimony regarding performance from the employee’s managers. Managers would nominate members of their team for promotion during these meetings, and  the review committee would make a final yes/no decision based upon the evidence presented on behalf of the employee. The process tended to only focus on an employee’s performance at a particular point in time, and since the end result of the process was simply a promotion decision, it didn’t lend itself to ongoing development. Our decision to overhaul the performance review process was largely in response to feedback from employees that the existing process was too opaque, and that the feedback provided to employees did not provide enough tactical direction on how to grow performance.

Ingrid: What were your main goals as you designed a new process for Opera?

Tim: As I researched performance reviews and what other companies do, I had three goals for Opera’s new program: first, the process should be forward-looking. Employees should understand “what do I need to do next”, not just “what did I do last month.” Second, I wanted a transparent process so employees who were not promoted could understand where they fell short and what they could do to be successful during subsequent evaluations. And third, I wanted managers to take on increased responsibility for cultivating development in their direct reports.

Ingrid: What is the “development plan” approach you’ve taken?

Tim: Each employee at Opera now has a development plan “template” based on their job role, as dictated by the functional leaders in the company. This is essentially a collection of core competencies that an individual must acquire, master, and demonstrate in order to be eligible for promotion. Employees then work in partnership with their managers to outline their goals and the tactical steps they will take to improve their performance within each of the required core competencies. Progress is updated continuously. If an employee and manager mutually agree that performance warrants a promotion, the manager will submit a promotion application – of which the development plan is a key component – on the employee’s behalf, for review by the evaluation committee.

Ingrid: What are some of the benefits you’ve seen from the development plans?

Tim: As an employee, since you sit with your manager and review the progress against your development plan regularly, you have more objective insight into how you’re doing; you now have transparency. Since your manager works with you to create, and must sign off on, your development plan, you have a very clear picture of the ground you must cover to advance to the next role; essentially, the manager agrees that your achievement of the plan will lead to you being considered for promotion. In turn, managers are evaluated on the quality of their direct reports’ development plans, as well as progress against their goals, reinforcing the importance of their role in developing their employees.

Ingrid: How did you set up the development plans in BetterWorks?

Tim: We created template OKRs for each functional group to be the standard development plan templates, and then cloned each OKR for the relevant employees. Employees added contributing key results to show how they’ll acquire, master and demonstrate the required core competencies. Managers and employees review the plan (and progress) in a quarterly Conversation, which is also conducted in BetterWorks.

Ingrid: How do you see the program continuing in the future?

Tim: This first phase is driven by Human Resources – creating the development plans templates and launching the program. HR will do a once-yearly review of all development plans to monitor progress, and ensure parity of development plans created across manager-employee pairs, and across different functions within the organization. Ultimately, the process is driven by employees empowered to steer their own development.

More and more companies are following a similar path to Opera and moving to continuous performance management. This transformation provides ongoing, forward-looking development and transparency to employees and managers alike. At BetterWorks, we provide the solution to help make this vision a reality.