Throughout my career I’ve been tasked with refreshing the performance culture in multiple, high-growth organizations. The business goals of this exercise included both boosting overall workforce performance and improving employee retention, and I have observed time and again the many benefits to both organizations and employees from more frequent performance-related conversations around development and check-ins to ensure employees’ goals are clearly linked to the overall business strategy. But despite the fact that I was always trying to introduce a continuous performance management process that focused on developing and engaging workers, consistently I would meet resistance from two fronts:

  • Employees viewed any performance programs as punitive with a focus on “what’s wrong.”
  • Managers were too often stuck in an old mindset of performance management is for underperformance rather than accelerating all employee performance.  

To overcome these issues, I recommend the following three strategies which can have a significant impact both on boosting the overall effectiveness of your performance management process, and specifically on reducing extremely costly attrition.

Words are powerful, and one of the first things I recommend when overhauling any performance management program is making sure that the language you use inspires motivation, rather than fear. For example, at Betterworks one of our customers has taken to calling theirs a “Performance Development System.”

1.  Use performance language and a future focus to motivate employees

Secondly, it’s critical that you pair this more positive language with an overall performance management program that emphasizes development, instead of being solely concerned with evaluating past performance.

This shift in outlook not only helps reduce employee fear and anxiety, it engages and motivates people because they feel the process is now more about them and their future development.

2.  Help your managers become better coaches

Investing time and resources into helping your managers develop and improve their skills is critically important to reducing attrition. Too often new managers are thrown into their roles without adequate training, and this relative lack of experience can cause big problems especially when it comes to coaching employees effectively. Managers have an outsized impact on the motivation of their direct reports, so it’s vital to teach them how to have productive conversations around performance so they can identify, develop and retain talented workers.

It’s critical that HR teams help their managers understand the type of discussions they need to have, when to follow-up effectively and how to document interactions. This includes giving them the training and tools they need to drive the process and provide transparency for everyone involved.

3.  Harness data and technology to communicate the business value of performance management

The more documented conversations everyone at your company has about performance means you’ll soon accumulate a trove of useful data. You can then use this to demonstrate the value and impact of your performance initiatives on the business as a whole and inform data-driven decision making about strategies and goals. At Betterworks, our platform enables our customers to capture data from their performance management programs to allow anyone in the business to get a clear picture of how their department, teams or individual employees are performing and developing.

HR as a customer service department for employees

HR is about serving the needs of your company’s managers and employees, and a high staff turnover rate is a sign that these needs are not being met. If your business only has backwards-looking annual reviews your performance process is about compliance, not employee acceleration and driving business results.

To fight this, it’s critical that we change attitudes towards performance management across the entire business by making our language more motivating, focusing on coaching and development for both employees and managers, and using technology and data to make the process more effective and transparent. The result will be a significant reduction in turnover, as well as a more engaged and productive workforce that drives your business into the future.

This article was originally published in Training Journal

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Continuous Performance Management, OKRs (Objectives and Key Results), Create a Feedback Culture