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Designing Hiring Infrastructure to Withstand Employment Litigation Threats

In my experience, one of the biggest HR investments aside from payroll tends to be in performance management. This shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. After all, a poorly performing employee can be a significant drain on a company’s productivity and resources.

It follows, then, that a significant amount of time and money would be spent ensuring underperformers improve. The alternative, after all, would be undergoing a lengthy process of disciplinary measures before letting employees go. Then restarting a costly and time-consuming hiring process.

This makes sense. What doesn’t make sense is that there is little investment in preventing poor hiring decisions in the first place. In cases where performance management investment is high, hiring is treated almost as an afterthought.

Instead of investing in scientifically designed and validated selection tools, some employers use older and less accurate hiring methods, like unstructured interviews and instinct. Beyond failing to guarantee a quality hire, this also puts companies at risk of litigation for discrimination. Despite this risk, many companies stick with what they know rather than invest in scientifically-backed hiring methods.

Why? In many cases, it comes down to cost. If employers are skeptical about the effectiveness of data-driven pre-employment tests, then they’re likely to balk at the added upfront costs that can accompany them. Instead, they’ll opt to continue with business as usual.

Another Way to Look at Hiring

This mindset fails to look at the big picture. In reality, smarter hiring practices pay for themselves many times over. Quality pre-employment assessments and other strategic hiring tools can cut costs associated with poor performance, reduce the amount of training necessary for new employees, increase a company’s overall productivity, and shield businesses against employment litigation.

This last point is worth emphasizing because a poorly structured hiring infrastructure leaves companies vulnerable to employment litigation threats. Both the Uniform Guidelines on Employee Selection Procedures and existing court precedents lay out a clear road map for employers to follow if they want to prevent discrimination and avoid employment litigation. But to do so, companies need to develop a validated hiring process that focuses on requirements directly relevant to the job. This is only possible through hiring methods based on in-depth job analyses and objective assessments.

Protecting Yourself From Employment Litigation Threats

Companies should implement test development and validation services that can stand up to scrutiny and inform quality, holistic, and equitable hiring. By doing so, they prioritize hiring for excellence and create a pre-employment process that can handle any potential employment litigation.

With that in mind, here are four strategies to help employers improve their hiring practices and ensure they stay firmly on the right side of employment law.

1. Base your selection on a job analysis.

To ensure you’re making objective hiring decisions, define the qualifications that are necessary for a candidate to perform a job well. This requires an in-depth job analysis.

An accurate job analysis combines job observations with the insights of subject matter experts to identify which tasks, knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSAs) are critical for a position. From there, you can create a pre-employment process that will stand up to scrutiny.

Don’t forget to document every step of the test development and validation process—especially that of job analysis. This will provide you with the receipts necessary to prove the objectivity of your hiring decisions.

2. Create a validation report.

When making hiring decisions, every aspect of your decision-making should be tied directly to a critical KSA. Even more importantly, you’ll need to be able to provide evidence of this connection.

Create a validation report documenting the entire pre-employment development process, including who was involved and the data that served as the foundation of your hiring decisions.

3. Perform regular analysis of your selection tools.

No pre-employment test is going to be bulletproof, nor will any test be immune to the passage of time. That’s why it’s so important to analyze your pre-employment assessments regularly. The goal should be to determine whether any aspect of the process results in group performance differences, specifically with regard to gender or ethnicity.

If you see a clear adverse impact for one particular group, dig deeper to determine why that is. You’ll also want to uncover how to reduce this impact without compromising the overall validity of your testing. In this way, you can remove any inadvertent bias into your test development and validation process.

4. Prioritize assessments over intuition.

Even with a validated, data-backed pre-employment process, there’s always a chance that the human element of hiring can throw a wrench in the works. Too often, I’ve seen hiring managers decide that personal intuition is more accurate than the high-quality assessments.

Overruling data-driven results is a good way to open yourself up to charges of favoritism or discrimination. While there is always some room for personal opinion—especially when deciding between equally qualified candidates—the best way to ensure the integrity of the process is to focus on data.

Hiring shouldn’t be a guessing game. Companies everywhere now have access to the data and technology necessary for making smart hiring decisions every time. These decisions will ensure a better hiring track record and help companies reduce (or eliminate) bias or subjectivity in the hiring process.

The 5 Essential Traits of a Learning Organization

In a rapidly evolving digital world, human resources are the biggest asset for any organization. Thus, creating a culture of learning is essential to tap into the true potential of your employees and stoke their growth.

A “learning organization,” conceptualized by Peter Senge, empowers individuals to pursue their interests, nurtures innovation and creativity, and focuses on the vision of transformation. In other words, it is synonymous with freedom and collaborative thinking.

In short, by prioritizing the contributions of your employees, you can drive personal growth and manage workplace performance. More importantly, you can instill confidence in employees that their ideas are valued.

Find out more about the five essential traits of a learning organization and see how you can bring them into action.

A flat organizational structure

The process of cultivating a culture of learning starts with the symbolic erosion of a hierarchy.

Markedly, a hierarchical structure creates a fear of making mistakes, a habit of seeking permission, and a reluctance to pitch new ideas.

Unlike an organizational setup in traditional organizations, a learning organization works on collaboration and open communication. To nurture a level of interdependence, they naturally adopt a more horizontal organizational structure.

For example, transparency, autonomy, and confidence are some of the most foundational qualities required to build an organizational structure powered by change.

Plan of action

Here are some actionable ways for you to flatten the hierarchy in your organization:

  • An open-door policy of communication
  • A be-your-own-boss approach
  • Cross-functional meetings and remote training

Innovative problem-solving approach

Innovation and change are the only ways organizations can sustain themselves in the future.

Not only does a learning organization imbibe innovation and enable its employees to ideate with autonomy, but it also encourages you to think beyond the mainstream. From senior executives to interns, everybody ideates at the same level and are free to contribute with their out-of-box ideas for solving problems.

According to Peter Senge, a learning organization should challenge the assumptions and usual behaviors to learn, innovate, and change.

Plan of action

Implement these practices to promote innovative thinking in your team:

  • Conduct engaging brainstorming sessions
  • Encourage distraction-free deep work
  • Promote learning through blogs and training material
  • Focus on empathizing with the employees

Collaborative rather than a competitive learning environment

On the whole, a learning organization focuses on imparting knowledge in a collaborative environment.

Individuals work in a group to brainstorm to combine their diverse skills and expertise. Such differing opinions and ideas can create an enriching learning experience. Moreover, this collaborative knowledge-sharing framework builds trust and confidence among the employees to contribute more freely.

As a matter of fact, a peer learning approach also empowers the team to succeed and fail together and eliminates any rigid perceptions of the members.

Plan of action

Here are some ways you can cultivate greater collaboration in your team:

  • Hold open-for-all meetings and discussions
  • Implement and include knowledge sharing strategies in the day-to-day work culture
  • Use creative collaboration tools like Miro
  • Encourage cross-functional communication

People-oriented leadership

A lot rests on the kind of leadership present in an organization. Namely, a learning organization thrives on forward-thinking leadership.

More than any employee, the CXOs, managers, and top-level executives must show commitment to their people. These leaders also carry the force of change by giving the team a direction to move forward. Therefore, their approach towards their employees is important.

Furthermore, from identifying challenges to discussing the company’s shared vision, the top leadership is responsible for fostering a learning culture and motivating employees to follow suit.

Plan of action

Promote people-oriented leadership in your organization through these methods:

  • Interact with everyone on a more personal basis
  • Build relationships through consistent communication
  • Publish thoughts on key matters for your team

Mutually accepted vision

The fifth most essential trait of a learning organization is the vision it is striving to achieve.

A learning organization works with a collective identity and a shared vision. This vision can be either the management’s strategically planned goals or the employees’ shared objectives. In addition, it has to reflect the company culture and act as a guiding principle for the team.

Notably, the key differentiator between a traditional company’s vision and that of a learning organization is that the latter does not believe in putting the vision on the website or the office wall. In effect, a learning organization works toward and iterates on its vision as the company grows.

Plan of action

You can build a mutually accepted vision by encouraging employees to:

  • Share what matters to them
  • Visualize their future for the company

Conclusion

Creating a meaningful culture of learning is a crucial driver of business growth. Basically, as a learning organization, you can offer freethinking and team learning avenues—empowering your employees to maximize their potential.

In summary, a learning organization allows individuals to pursue their creativity and make mistakes without the fear of consequences. Because of this, in an increasingly competitive market, inculcating these values in your employees is bound to secure good results for your business goals.

Encourage communication and knowledge sharing. Also, shift the focus from your profits to your people–and witness the transformation of your organization.

Andrew Neel

Employee Burnout: How Leaders Can Help Right Now

I want you to look around at your employees — in person where possible, and on that Zoom call. Then, I want you to think about how they’re doing. 9 times out of 10, they’re at least a little burned out. One of the areas we’ve been focusing on a lot here at TalentCulture is employee wellness. What that means right now is we’re looking at an entire workforce that seems, well, exhausted. Employee burnout is on the rise. And chances are, dear reader, that may not be a surprise to you at all.

There are certainly many external factors playing a role in the growing wave of burned out employees. Those range from a scary economy to social turmoil. And from political upheavals to a terrifying health crisis. There are domestic factors: The disruptions and worries of parenting and caregiving through the pandemic. In addition, there are more pressures facing business and the workplace now than we’ve never seen before. Recently, Eagle Hill Consulting ran a survey of U.S employees. They discovered 45 percent reported suffering from burnout, whether they are essential workers or remote. 25 percent linked their stress to COVID-19 — and that was in April, when we were just weeks in.

By July, a study by FlexJobs and Mental Health America reported that 75% of employees were dealing with burnout at work.

For employees, it’s VUCA time. So what should leaders do?

It’s time to roll up our sleeves and take care of our people. And that doesn’t take grand gestures. We don’t need to invest in new software or major changes. There are simple strategies you can execute right now. Simple. But they may mean a lot:

Commit to Mental Health

The Eagle Hill study shows employees could use more help:

  • 36 percent feel their company is not taking action to combat employee burnout
  • A mere 20 percent feel they’re getting the mental and physical wellness resources they need

And in a July 2020 poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation, 53 percent of the adults surveyed reported that coronavirus-related stress and worries were eroding their mental health — up from 32 percent in March. 

A few months ago, I had a great conversation with a start up about how they’re supporting employees through COVID-19. Being young and lean, they had to optimize their offerings without rebuilding their entire benefits program. So they looked at their mental health benefits and made a tweak or two. It’s no secret that stress, anxiety and depression can wreak havoc on an employee’s ability to focus and work. So they provided remote employees access to professional counseling through tele-therapy. In short order, among all the benefits available to employees, tele-therapy became one the most utilized and popular programs.

Bringing the need for therapy out into the open took the taboo and the stigma away — at a time when many people need mental health support the most.

Improve What Already Exists

There’s an interesting pushback going on regarding flexibility and remote working. Some employers are still singing the “when we reopen” song. They are using it as a rationale for just letting their workforce get by. Again, I know a lot of companies are feeling the pandemic pinch. They may not have the spend for their wishlist of new HR technology right now. But the reality is we may ever get everyone back to the office — at least not in the same pre-pandemic way. After all, remote working and flexible schedules are enabling people to handle one of the hardest periods of time (barring wars, of course) this country has ever faced.

Given the importance of employee engagement, staving off burnout, and increasing performance and productivity why wouldn’t you maximize the best aspects of working remotely?

Perhaps you can’t invest in a new platform right now because the business environment has thrown off your plans. That’s a reality for many. People are already functioning and working remotely and have been for months. S0 chances are you don’t need more technology to get your people to work together better.

Focus on Weak Spots

So focus on those pesky weak spots. What’s causing friction? Where is trust the weakest? Around deliverables? Around hierarchies? Maybe around teams?

Have you crafted and shared a set of policies and expectations around how your people are supposed to work remotely? If not, do it now. Do some in-house remote training on best practices and etiquette. Be proactive about the problem of sexual harassment or bias showing up in virtual interactions. Write a set of simple policies around parenting and caregiving emergencies. 

Just as important, engineer some lightness into the workdays — because, in general, those days have gotten very long. Allot time for informal get-togethers and casual conversations. Find ways for employees to have a little fun. A giving challenge or a gratitude drive, for example. Or a meet-the-kids (or the pets) event.

Working remotely can’t all be about work all the time. Now that work has come home, let some of home come to work.

Ask People What They Need

Pandemic aside, employee burnout was alive and well in countless work cultures already — and the pandemic just compounded the problem. Blame hyper-tight production cycles, toxic levels of competition among coworkers and teams, and managers too spread thin to spend any time helping teams. The fact is a whole host of other subpar conditions existed before the pandemic hit. What I mean is this: Fundamentally, most organizations want to be great places to work. But things happen. Then came COVID-19, and that’s been a whole new level of “happen.”

The silver lining here is that now there’s no excuse for reaching out to employees to make sure they’re all right. Whether that’s a pulse survey, an informal check-in via text, or even a phone call — reach out. Burnout is often triggered when employees are completely tapped out — mentally, physically, emotionally — and feel like they’re not getting any acknowledgement or support. Extended periods of high stress, overly tight deadlines, disruptive shifts in the workflow — all can lead to the mounting frustration that can result in burnout.

The Best Way to Avoid Employee Burnout

The most important thing you can do to help your workforce avoid burnout? Find out how they are and where they are really struggling. It may be hard to do this individually and in confidence. So instead, solicit anonymous feedback and share the results in a way that doesn’t expose anyone, or anything. Further, share it with a transparent commitment to make things better. Then actually do it.  

None of these three strategies need fancy bells and whistles to get off the ground. All they really require is a heartfelt reality check. One that helps deals with the here and now. One that acknowledges that work during a pandemic — remote or not — is exposing our vulnerabilities as well as our strengths. 

A video conference hosted by the Wharton School of Business and U Penn focused on the prospect of getting back to “normal” whether for corporate and knowledge workers or for frontline and essential workers. Given everything, they determined that we’re not going to get there until November 2021. That’s more than a year away. So don’t be the employer remembered for overloading your people when life was already hard enough.

Don’t shelve employee wellness until all this is over. Work to improve your conditions for the present. Prevent the employee burnout happening now.

Bram Naus

A Proven Strategy for Performance Management: 360º Feedback

2020 is changing the way we work, without question. As the nature of the workplace transforms, performance management faces new challenges. We’ve seen many workforces undergo a rapid shift to remote. A Gartner survey of 229 HR leaders in April 2020 revealed that 81% of their employees had shifted to working remotely. The study noted that even post-pandemic, remote work will not only continue, but increase. At the same time, workforces with employees deemed “essential” face additional pressure and stress. That stress includes how to stay safe, let alone engaged. The onus is on managers to keep up. 

The fundamentals of effective, modern performance management haven’t changed: to build and maintain engagement, alignment, and growth. Feedback is critical in this process, as we know. One challenge now is how to measure performance and gather data as well as provide feedback in real time. Another challenge: Finding a system that connects the whole workforce and collects data over the long term. 

Empowered by a digital platform, 360º feedback is a proven way to meet these challenges. 360º should be part of your overall talent management strategy, whether your future plans include an on-site, remote, or blended workforce. To optimize its potential, here are three critical strategies:

Cover All Four Corners

The best way to get an accurate picture of how any individual is doing? Make sure you’re getting feedback from all four corners of the workforce. That includes the manager, peers, any direct reports, and others in the organization. 

Feedback on leaders should hew to this principle as well. It can be tough to get a clear picture of a leader’s effectiveness for a number of reasons. A digitally powered feedback program with built-in anonymity and uniform survey questions will certainly help overcome any reluctance to ‘speak freely’ about a leader. Asking for feedback on leaders as part of a customary cycle of feedback also helps. Rather than an exception to the rule, this makes it part of a normal process. And since leaders themselves can have difficulty with self-assessment, this reduces any undue stress.

Ask the Right Questions

If you don’t ask the right questions, you won’t get constructive or relevant feedback. Establish the key questions you need to ask. Tailor those questions to your industry, your market, and the nature of your own company. Make sure they are tied into the objectives of the process, as well as the nature of the role they’re meant to survey. 

There are two goals to keep in mind here, as well. First, ensure feedback can drive more self-understanding and better growth for the employee, and help managers provide an unvarnished but fair review that focuses on strengths as well as weaknesses. Second, design questions that engage participants to answer them. Don’t overload a survey with too many questions, or ask multiple questions on the same topics. It’s also a better practice to combine open-ended questions with multiple choice and rating questions. That way, participants can weigh in using their own words.

Provide Manager Training

Build in training and coaching for managers on how to best implement 360º Feedback so the process is set for success. That means getting clear on consistent terminology and guidelines. As Primalogik’s new ebook, Essential Performance Management Solutions for Today’s HR, points out, “T​o allow for fair comparisons of employees’ contributions, reviewers need to be using the same guidelines.” Guide managers on how to establish the right criteria and work with their employees to set individual as well as organizational objectives. Managers should also explain the process and its purpose. Specifically, they should clarify what employees should expect, and send periodic reminders and prompts over the feedback platform.   

Managers should also plan to conduct plenty of follow-up. That follow-up should include a one-on-one discussion with employees to review feedback. A plan for improving performance in any areas of concern should also be included. Beyond that, managers may also want to conduct regular, frequent check-ins with employees to make sure they’re on track and comfortable. A recent Workhuman study showed that regular check-ins are key drivers of engagement: 85% of the workers surveyed reported higher levels of engagement with weekly check-ins. Making growth an ongoing conversation may greatly improve the outcome: it’s easier to improve in small steps than all at once, and real-time feedback — coming from multiple directions — has a clarity to it that’s far more engaging. 

360º Feedback is Performance Management

360º Feedback is most effective when it’s part of an overall employer commitment to employee growth and development, and when it’s designed to show strengths and growth for everyone. When an organization is transparent about wanting to be the best it can be, and gives the workforce the means to participate fully, there’s a clear alignment. Employees feel a part of the process, not the recipients of it.

We’re all learning how to be better at using data and fully engage and communicate in the digital workplace. Digital feedback platforms keep us connected, providing a clear picture of performance grounded with multiple sources of feedback and data. It’s a powerful way to update performance management, and drive manager as well as team success.

 

This post is sponsored by Primalogik.

 

Photo: Drew Beamer

New Research Indicates Desire for Recognition, Feedback

In the past several months, many companies have modified their performance programs. From streamlining their review processes to running more frequent pulse surveys, organizations around the world are seeking to make changes that will ultimately boost employee performance and productivity.

Our company, Reflektive, sought to measure these changes with a performance management survey. In June we reached out to 445 HR professionals and business leaders, and 622 employees, to understand the current state of their performance programs. We compared these results to a similar survey we ran in 2018. Our 2020 Performance Management Benchmark Report uncovered meaningful performance management trends over the past two years, as well as insights into the current state of work.

Formal Processes of Performance Management Consistent Since 2018

A surprising observation was that the formal processes of performance management have not changed significantly over the last two years. Nearly half of reviews are run annually or less frequently. Forty-six percent of respondents use descriptive performance ratings, such as “meets expectations.” 

People Analytics Present Big Opportunity

The survey also found that only 50% of HR and business leaders are using people analytics to predict performance and turnover. What’s interesting is that most leaders believe that people analytics has become more important, however they’re still not utilizing this technology to inform strategic people decisions. This gap can really impact workforce planning, as organizations struggle to fill needs when employees depart.

Employees Desire More Communication and Transparency from Companies

The employee survey results revealed that workers seek more communication to stay informed and engaged at work. Nearly half of respondents desire more consistent communication from leadership, and 37% said more consistent communication was needed from colleagues. 

In a similar vein, we found that employees sought more transparency from their employers. Only 19% of employees believed that their organization was transparent about upward mobility. Twenty-one percent said their company was communicative about salary freezes, and the same percentage said that their org was transparent about potential pay cuts. Employees are cognizant of the pandemic’s economic toll, and would like their companies to be honest with them about the business impact.

Employees Seek More Feedback and Coaching for their Growth

Another interesting insight we uncovered was that employees want more from their performance programs. Specifically, they’re looking for increased coaching, dialogue and recognition from their managers. Since 2018, there’s been a 3.2X increase in the percentage of employees that desire recognition. We also observed a nearly 90% increase in the percentage of employees that desire formal feedback conversations monthly or more frequently.

A performance bright spot was the manager-employee relationship. Over 80% of employees surveyed said that they are having 1:1s with their managers. Additionally, 80% said that these meetings were productive. This data was really uplifting to me, since driving alignment and communication can be tricky when everyone is working remotely.

However, we did identify a major communication gap: only 20% of employees reported that they receive weekly feedback. So it appears that managers and employees are talking regularly about ongoing work and projects, but employees still aren’t receiving the coaching that they desire. This represents a huge opportunity for managers — they can benefit from training on how to ask important questions, and how to provide valuable feedback on a more regular basis. Performance management technology — including feedback prompts and 1:1 tools — can help drive productive coaching conversations too.

Getting Feedback Remains Challenging for Employees

One interesting discrepancy between leaders and employees was sentiment around initiating feedback conversations. Only 14% of HR professionals and business leaders felt that employees weren’t empowered to initiate feedback conversations. However, 30% of employees — or over 2X the percentage of leaders — felt that they weren’t empowered to request feedback. This discrepancy indicates that HR teams and leaders are overestimating employee comfort with feedback processes. Employee training on giving and receiving feedback, and an easy-to-use feedback tool, can help fill this gap.

Executives and Employees Remain Optimistic for the Future

While sentiment and outlooks are continuously evolving in 2020, both executives and employees remain optimistic about the future. Specifically, executives anticipate more investment in technology (35% of respondents) and more efforts to boost engagement and retain employees (29% of respondents). 

Employees anticipate that six months from now, it will be business as usual (34% of respondents). Additionally, 26% expect to have learned new skills, and 25% believe they’ll feel proud of their accomplishments. Despite the many headwinds that they’re facing, employees feel that they will come out of 2020 stronger and more prepared for the future.

As employees, HR teams, and executives navigate the ever-changing environment, agility and resilience will be crucial. The ability to work productively in different environments, and collaborate cross-functionally, will be highly valued. Companies that maintain engaged and productive workforces will be the success stories of 2020.

This post is sponsored by Reflektive.

Photo: Aleks Marinkovic

#WorkTrends: Aligning Around Performance Management: New Findings

Listen to the full conversation and see our questions for the upcoming #WorkTrends Twitter Chat. And don’t forget to subscribe to the podcast, so you don’t miss an episode.

How, where, and when we work may have changed, but there still needs to be a way to manage performance. But do employees want that right now? Amid the uncertainty, the answer is yes. Employees are yearning for continuous feedback, according to a 2020 performance management benchmark report by Reflektive, which surveyed over 1,000 HR practitioners, business leaders, and employees. And the feedback process is bolstering the relationship between managers and employers. 

I invited Jennifer Toton, Chief Marketing Officer at Reflektive to #WorkTrends to shed light on this benchmark study and dig into some of the trends it reveals. But as Jennifer pointed out, what was surprising was what didn’t change. The formal process of performance management and the number of reviews are still intact, but the way we give and receive feedback has really evolved. “We saw a 90% increase in employees who want more formal feedback conversations on a monthly or more frequent basis.”  

Also compelling, to me, is that even in these times, employees have retained a sense of optimism. Many believe that six months from the time of the survey, business will remain as usual. A quarter believed they would learn more skills. Another quarter said they would feel proud of the work they accomplished, and about a fifth said that they will feel more productive. “Our employees are resilient and they’re adapting to the change,” added Jennifer. 

Much is up to the managers, though. They must be transparent in their communication, said Jennifer, particularly around salary freezes and pay cuts, as honesty feeds trust. In addition, 80% of employees said they were having regular meetings with their managers, and that they found the format was not only positive, but productive. 

We covered a lot of ground in this discussion, so I encourage you to have a listen for yourself. Got feedback? Feel free to weigh in on Twitter or on LinkedIn. (And make sure to add the #WorkTrends hashtag so others in the TalentCulture community can follow along.)

 Twitter Chat Questions
Q1: Why do organizations struggle with performance management? #WorkTrends
Q2: What strategies can help improve performance management? #WorkTrends
Q3: How can leaders refocus performance management for better results?  #WorkTrends

Find Jennifer Toton on Linkedin and Twitter

This podcast is sponsored by Reflektive.

(Editor’s note: This month, we’re announcing upcoming changes to #WorkTrends podcasts and Twitter chats. To learn about these changes as they unfold, be sure to subscribe to our newsletter.)

Photo: Nick Fewings

How to Perfect the Skill of Listening

Coronavirus has changed the way American businesses operate, to say the least. And from work-from-home mandates to reopening strategies to locking down again in the face of virus spikes, it’s taken a toll on effective communication in the workplace. 

Communication is a two-way street. But it’s not just about what we say. As the old saying goes, we have two ears and one mouth — so we ought to be able to listen twice as much as we speak. Or consider the inverse, as Ken Blanchard says: “I often like to joke that if God had wanted us to talk more than listen, he would have given us two mouths.” 

But in reality we aren’t listening very well, and it’s not new news. The Harvard Business Review published a famous article way, way back in 1957 about a study of manufacturing executives in Chicago: it found that listening is a much neglected skill. Benchmark research found that the average listener remembers only about 25% of what they heard, and that number has been repeated in many posts on why we can’t listen, time and time again. Flash forward more than half a century and for all the work on refining and clarifying our message, the weakest point of how we communicate is what we actually hear. Compound that by the fact that so much of our work is happening online and remotely, and it makes the listening part of communication even harder.

But we need to be better listeners, especially now. To be able to actually listen, take in someone else’s points and retain the information is not only better for whatever work process is going on at the moment. It also builds far more trust, promotes empathy, and forges a work culture of engagement and exchange. You can’t tout transparency if there’s no emphasis on listening, either. So here’s a refresher with eight ways to improve your skill at listening now, including some tips that will greatly boost the quality of remote communication:

1. Allow for Silence

Give the person speaking time to pause and collect their own thoughts as they’re talking. Everyone talks with a different style and pace. Some get nervous when they’re talking and tend to need to slow down and clarify for themselves before saying an idea out loud. Some may be broaching a difficult topic and try to circle around it. Listening requires patience and slowing down our own rapid-fire internal thought process: we think faster than we speak. Don’t try to fill in the silences with your own interjections. Let the speaker have the room and the time to say what they need to say.

2. Repeat Back in Your Own Words

Don’t respond to the speaker with your thoughts right away. That’s the default setting for listening, but it’s far more effective to restate their thoughts in your own words. It cements the fact that you understood it — and if you didn’t, they can clarify. For example, start with “I hear you saying that …” and reiterate carefully. Not only do you demonstrate that you are actually listening, but the speaker will, in turn, be more receptive to your point of view knowing you understand theirs.

3. Ask Useful (and Relevant) Questions

Asking useful questions can help you better understand what the other person is saying. To encourage further discussion, make them open-ended prompts that give them the opportunity to further elaborate. Try asking, “What do you think we should do about this?” Asking questions is not about controlling the conversation or pushing back on someone’s perspective. It’s about understanding.

4. Work toward Empathy

We all fear being judged as we talk. Make a concerted effort to truly understand and acknowledge how the other person feels; to put yourself in their shoes. By carefully reiterating their feelings as you understand them, you build empathy and set them at ease.

5. Do a Recap 

We may listen, we may hear, but do we remember? One highly effective way to recall a conversation is to recap what was said. Restate the point of the discussion, and list the action steps each party is going to do in response. This doesn’t need to be word for word, just an overview. And let the person who spoke weigh in, so they’re comfortable with your summary. 

Remote communication has its own set of issues and conditions, including how people behave, multitask, and receive information; and how technology can suddenly go haywire at the worst possible time. These three final tips will help: 

6. Have a Backup Plan for the Tech

Always have a Plan B when it comes to remote meetings and discussions. If the tech you’re depending on happens to fail for whatever reason, you can pick up the thread without a mad scramble. Many of us know the frustration of a 15 minute video call that turns into an ordeal of pixelated video or frozen presentations. Having a backup plan prevents the goal — communication — from being hijacked by tech problems. 

7. Use Names in Remote Meetings

During an in-person meeting, there’s no doubt as to who is speaking or whom they’re speaking to. Online meetings aren’t as clear. Use names when addressing people, and encourage everyone to refer to themselves by name as well. And when you are discussing the points someone made, reiterate who said them to keep everyone on track. 

8. Take Your Time  

Video meetings allow us to see each other but not always discern the nonverbal subtleties that are part of communication. Tiny delays are nevertheless long enough to prevent how we perceive each other’s expressions. Eye contact is altogether different: if we really want to look at someone’s face, we need to stare at the camera, not their face. But people don’t just speak with words. Take the time to consider what’s being said rather than jump in with a response. If you’re not sure of the intent, ask. Virtual is not the same as in the same room. 

Communication is a fundamental part of who we are. At the workplace, it’s critical to be able to listen well, whatever context we’re in. Blanchard encourages all professionals to master the art of listening, but I’d take it one step further: it should be considered a skill, like any other, and we should all endeavor to practice it, especially in these times. A little understanding can go a long way in terms of collaboration, trust, and productivity.

Photo: Petri R

Continuous Listening: Moving Beyond Standard Practices

The second in a two-piece series on Continuous Listening. 

In Part One of my series on Continuous Listening, I looked at the flaws of taking a one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to an employee’s development. Continuous Listening and asking the right questions can play a key role in recognizing milestones along each employee’s individual journey, and evaluating their engagement. 

The second part of this series looks at how to move beyond standard practices in order to craft engaging, long-term, and productive employee journeys and ultimately business success for all — and use the Continuous Listening strategy to tackle the challenges now facing our industry. And it’s important to note the value of feedback, as it contributes to the roadmap aimed at improving the organization.  

Applying Continuous Listening strategies before exploring suggestions for decision-makers can greatly improve outcome, and help explore various ways to address a number of HR challenges:

  • HR’s employee insight is segmented. Information is siloed based on the different HR tools used in various milestones, each tool having its own task and interface. Sharing between existing application tools is usually complex and information tends to stay within the boundaries of departments. 
  • Insight is collected from a limited number of sources. This limits HR’s ability to see the big picture and creates a disjointed employee experience. For example, some collection tools are only focused on one feedback channel instead of a combination of direct, indirect and inferred channels. As a result, HR can miss the broader view. 
  • Not enough data types are gathered. HR teams can gather transactional data on existing processes thanks to tools such as applicant tracking systems, HRIS tools, and learning management systems. Who was hired? Into what department? When was the start date? With some advanced analytics, this information can be transformed into predictive models indicating who should be hired in the future. Though sophisticated, these systems miss the heart of the employee experience as they fail to tap into the thoughts and feelings that bind employees to their jobs. Transactional data will never provide insight about personal views and cannot answer questions like: “How engaged is the employee?” or “How loyal do they feel to the brand?” “Are they committed to the mission or just the paycheck?” “What are their long-term aspirations?” Thus, it makes sense to use tools that also focus on evaluative HR processes such as 360 feedback, performance reviews, training evaluations, and engagement surveys. 
  • Most data analyses do not address an employee’s evolution. Data is collected at specific intervals and analyzed with particular timestamps, but understanding how an employee’s data has evolved over time may offer a clearer perspective of the processes that this employee has gone through with the organization. This highlights effective HR interventions to reach higher employee engagement, retention, and success. 

Moving Forward 

Continuous Listening encourages multi-directional communication among employees, managers, administrators and executives. It is designed to work in conjunction with other listening tools deployed at milestones such as performance reviews, annual engagement surveys, training programs, and mentoring programs. With it, HR can compile a more comprehensive picture of the attitudes, feelings, and intentions of the workforce. 

Organizations that are serious about optimizing the engagement of their workforce should look beyond a one-size-fits-all approach, and instead pursue a measurement strategy that incorporates:

  • Gathering evaluative feedback during milestones.
  • Collecting data between events aligned on topics relevant to employees and business goals.
  • Integrating the milestones and Continuous Listening data with fluid, real-time feedback processes to gain a comprehensive and evolving picture of workforce issues. 

Solving a Turnover Problem

Continuous Listening can help solve problems feedback can’t handle alone. Take the example of a large software engineering firm in Silicon Valley: it was experiencing a 50% higher turnover rate among employees who had been there for three or four years. The traditional milestone approach using HRIS data flagged the increase in turnover, but failed to provide any meaningful insight as to its occurrence. An evaluative feedback survey, delivered annually, showed that no one in the cohort had been promoted to a managerial position in the past 18 months. The business unit had adjusted the promotion criteria, delaying qualification by another one or two years to ensure stronger competencies among those being promoted. 

A combination of HRIS data, annual survey results, and Continuous Listening surveys revealed that employees were outraged at the policy changes, and had started looking for jobs elsewhere. Additional results from Continuous Listening surveys illustrated the fact that the 50% who remained were given development experiences and discretionary time to work on special projects — i.e., meaningful incentives to stay despite the prospects of delayed promotion.

These approaches provided substantially different data that, when viewed independently, provided weak explanations for the turnover. But through a holistic strategy, the bigger picture became clear. Using Continuous Listening provided insights earlier, giving leaders the opportunity to intervene sooner.

Feedback Approach Information Uncovered Available Leadership Actions 
Transactional 

Annual Turnover Report from HRIS turnover data 

Turnover is 50% higher. Investigate by launching a survey or conducting interviews.Backfill positions with experienced hires.
Transactional & Evaluative 

Annual Turnover Report

Annual Turnover Survey

Turnover is 50% higher.No one in the 3 – 4 year cohort has been promoted due to a policy change. Create an internal marketing campaign to encourage employees to stay.Change the policy.

Provide incentives to stay.

Continuous Listening 

(Transactional & Evaluative)

Annual Turnover Report

Annual Turnover Survey

Continuous Listening Surveys

Turnover is 50% higher.No one in the 3 – 4 year cohort has been promoted due to a policy change.

After learning of the policy change, outraged employees started looking for other opportunities.

Explain why changes are necessary.Let employees know leaders hear their frustration.

Fund new development events. 

Provide discretionary time to those who stay to work on special projects.

Feedback Matters

Without Continuous Listening efforts and the adoption of innovative technologies, information gaps can grow, increasing risk and uncertainty for decision-makers and the company. Further, effective listening allows leaders to stay informed about workforce perspectives, and it encourages employees to communicate their needs, satisfaction, frustrations, and other points of view in a healthy way. 

The journey begins when HR professionals develop and implement a comprehensive listening strategy across the employee lifecycle. By listening to employees, HR will develop a continuously evolving stream of data to support critical business management decisions. Through understanding which questions to ask and which tools to employ, HR professionals may properly listen and respond to needs. Moving beyond the one-size-fits-all approach enables organizations to craft engaging, long-term, and productive employee journeys — ultimately predicting positive or negative changes before they are likely to occur, thus driving their business toward success.

 

Photo: PCM

Continuous Listening: How to Strengthen Employee Communication

This is the first in a two-piece guest series on Continuous Listening. 

Human Resources departments own many responsibilities that directly contribute to the overall success of a company. According to Sari Levine Wilde, managing vice president of Gartner, “The businesses that are successful today and in the future, will be those that win when it comes to talent…This means helping employees build critical skills and developing employees into leaders.”  One of the burning questions today is how we can achieve that mission. 

Howard Moskowitz, a psychologist in the field of psycho-physics and a renowned market researcher, was hired by PepsiCo to determine the optimal quantity of artificial sweetener for a Diet Pepsi product. He faced a similar challenge, as mentioned by author Malcolm Gladwell in his TED Talk. With the aim of maximizing sales, Moskowitz conducted empirical tests, which provided unexpected results. He examined the data and concluded that there was no such thing as a perfect Diet Pepsi! Due to the multitude of variations between human tastes, Moskowitz found that the best option to maximize the number of sales was by offering a collection of lower calorie flavors along the scale of taste. 

Returning to the HR dilemma, a one-size-fits-all approach to HR is guaranteed to overlook the needs of many employees. More specifically, each employee journey is unique and thus HR must find ways to observe, tune in, and adapt to address individual employees in a more personalized manner.

Disjointed Employee View and Continuous Listening

In order to understand employees and their level of engagement when it comes to business goals, HR must continually gather information by asking questions and listening to employee responses. These standard HR processes currently serve as milestone events for gathering data, but with so many aspects of the employee lifecycle to monitor, it can be difficult to build a comprehensive view of the culture, engagement, retention, and success of employees. The process of data collection is usually transactional, though sometimes there are opportunities to gather evaluative information as well. In this respect, many challenges that HR professionals are faced with when attempting to gather this comprehensive data can be addressed by a strategy known as Continuous Listening. 

Continuous Listening is a methodology grounded in the philosophy that feedback matters all the time — not just once a year during a performance review, or once a year during an engagement survey. Feedback matters even after employees leave an organization and unofficially serve as alumni ambassadors for your brand. It matters because every employee has a unique journey that begins with a handshake and a contract that says, “We will do this for each other.” 

HR organizations that begin gathering evaluative feedback from employees during such milestones will gain valuable insights that leaders can use to better manage the workforce. An added benefit is that once in place, this feedback process can gain further traction as employees witness leaders responding to their feedback. This reinforces more open lines of communication, which is a recipe for future success. For every milestone along the  employee journey milestones, here are some sample evaluative questions that HR should be asking in order to enrich the information that is later provided to company leaders: 

Employee Journey Milestones Sample Evaluative Question 
Recruiting Would your employees recommend your organization to their professional network? 
Onboarding Do your onboarding processes achieve the cultural immersion and integration you need? 
Development Is your development process providing the right knowledge and skills to drive successful employee outcomes in meeting the needs of tomorrow?
Performance Management Is the performance management process identifying, recognizing, and rewarding talent? 
Engagement How much do you really know about your employees’ experiences? Are your efforts encouraging or destroying employee goodwill, motivation, and engagement? How often do you measure employee engagement? Once every two years? Annually? Bi-annually?
Promotion & Career Growth Are you identifying employees with strong potential and directing them toward leadership positions? Is your leadership pipeline full enough to meet resource planning goals?
Compensation & Benefits Is your compensation and benefits plan competitive? Is the plan sufficient to keep high-value employees engaged?
Retention Do you know what motivates your employees’ decisions to stay and grow with your organization, and what motivates them to seek opportunities elsewhere? Are you systematically collecting the data needed to analyze and improve the employee experience from hire to retire? 

Feedback matters because whatever the expression, it contributes to the roadmap aimed at improving the overall organization. By implementing a Continuous Listening strategy, we can begin to explore how to best address specific HR challenges. For that, stay tuned for the second piece in this series. 

 

Human Performance Deserves More Than a Review

We know that people are happier and healthier when they know their work matters — and performance reviews can be a powerful tool to help us all know how we’re doing at work. But the performance management process in many organizations is broken. I think it’s time for a major change in how we think about performance reviews.

In a 2017 survey by Gallup, only 29 percent of employees strongly agreed that the performance reviews they receive are fair, which Gallup attributed in part to the relative infrequency of those reviews. Even though our organizations and the world around us are changing quickly, we’re not discussing our work in a meaningful way very often. About a quarter of employees said their performance was evaluated less than once a year, and 48 percent said they were reviewed only annually.

In the past few years, my team at Trakstar has heard from more and more companies looking for ways to improve their performance reviews. They often want to adjust what they measure, improve timing and invite participation from all levels of the organization.

A few simple adjustments can make a world of difference and relieve some of the pain sometimes associated with reviews, making them purposeful instead.

I’ve seen a few common roadblocks that make reviews challenging. Here’s my advice for moving beyond the roadblocks and building better performance reviews.

Focus on Two Big Questions

First, performance reviews too often focus on answering what happened, when they’d be more effective if they could address why things happened — and how to make those things better.

Once you’ve gotten to the bottom of why something happened, you can think through ways to change or pivot going forward.

The best reviews combine the questions “What have we learned?” and “What can we do differently in the future?”

Measure the 3 Factors That Drive Engagement

Engaged employees build inspired workplaces, and inspired companies grow faster than typical organizations. Performance management, when done correctly, can go a long way toward engaging your workforce and fostering that valuable environment of inspiration.

Employees are engaged when they have a sense of mastery, autonomy and purpose, as Dan Pink discusses in his book “Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us.

  • Mastery means they have the skills to do the job.
  • Autonomy allows them to control how they do their job.
  • Purpose means they feel like they are working toward something worthwhile.

The combination of the three elements creates the conditions for high engagement. But the problem is that most organizations don’t have a way to measure and understand engagement — along with mastery, autonomy and purpose — so they often realize too late when something’s amiss.

At Trakstar, we believe in engagement so much that we built a survey tool to empower managers to gather engagement feedback at regular intervals. “When managers have data, they can make adjustments or double down on the good.”

Keep Evolving

As technology advances over the next five to 10 years, the performance management industry will offer more tools that help companies better understand why things happen, what might happen next and what they can do to drive change and positive outcomes. The result will be better employee engagement, development and retention.

We’ll see performance management expand beyond the review — in front of it and alongside it. The growing companies of tomorrow have data about how to first recruit the best people, then how to measure their engagement, how to set performance goals and provide ongoing learning — allowing them to grow faster than those without insights.

This post is sponsored by Trakstar.

#WorkTrends: How to Help People Reach Their Full Potential at Work

We all demand love in some form in our personal lives, but we skimp on asking for it at work. Treating people as a commodity instead of focusing on relationships is a surefire path to burnout and low long-term productivity, says Jason Lauritsen, an author, entrepreneur, corporate HR leader and consultant.

In this episode of #WorkTrends, Lauritsen shares how performance management could be the key to unlocking major wins for employers and their employees, but only if everyone is treated right.

We also speak with Dr. Pamela Howze of the National Fund for Workforce Solutions to clear up misconceptions about apprenticeships, mentorship and how employers in a range of industries are embracing staff who don’t have a college degree.

Listen to the full conversation or read the recap below. Subscribe so you never miss an episode.

Work Is a Relationship, Not a Contract

Showing up every day, creating connections at the office and in the industry, and countless interpersonal interactions are part of the daily experiences of employees. These elements are part of what will drive an employee to higher performance and bigger contributions.

“I don’t believe that it’s a matter of opinion; I think it’s a matter of fact that work is a relationship for the employee,” Lauritsen says. “It’s things like feeling valued, and trust, and knowing someone at work cares about me, and feeling appreciated, and all those things. Those are relational constructs.”

Unfortunately, many workplaces are oriented to treat a job as a contract with the employee. This can be seen in job descriptions, policy manuals, performance appraisals and more.

“It’s all about making sure your organization is getting their money’s worth out of what the employee owes them,” Lauritsen says. Employees are seeking a healthy relationship, which motivates them to better performance. But as an employee, he says, “all I hear is compliance-driven messaging and have compliance-driven interactions. It’s like, no wonder engagement sucks. No wonder it feels gross.”

Relationships Are Work Too

Creating a positive relationship in the workplace requires a specific focus on love and valuing people, he says, and companies should invest in creating this skill set in their leadership.

“As a general rule we aren’t great at relationships,” Lauritsen says. “Look at divorce rates. Go look at how people are interacting with each other in social media. Look at the national discourse and the decline of trust and all this. We’re not doing a good job of helping people learn how to be in a relationship with one another. You come into the workplace and the stakes are higher. There’s money involved now. It just amplifies how much we suck at relationships.”

His biggest piece of advice to determine how to adjust to this type of thinking is to look at interactions through the lens of a personal relationship. Ask yourself how an interaction, training or another approach would go over if you used it on someone you cared about in your personal life.

“If it would hurt the relationship then you probably should stop doing that to employees too. Figure out how to do it in a way that builds a relationship,” Lauritsen says.

Everything Is About Performance

Improving the relationship with employees will require companies and HR professionals to reframe their approach to engagement and performance, Lauritsen says.

“Employee engagement is the fuel to unlock better performance,” he says. That connection is extremely important, and “framing employee experience and employee-engagement in context of performance is really critical. Let’s be honest, executives don’t really care about engagement. They care about performance.”

To keep the relationship beneficial, both employee and employer must understand their roles and the overarching need for that relationship. Performance is the organizational imperative driving the relationship. “Without the performance imperative, you don’t need to exist,” he says. “We have to produce a product or a service that is of value to someone else. … That’s the lifeblood. That’s the oxygen, the blood, the whatever that keeps the organization alive. Everything is about performance.”

And a Little Bit of Controversy

Lauritsen stirs the pot toward the end of our conversation when he says that the 360-degree review, the way it is commonly done today, is “the most harmful HR practice ever invented.” When this extensive pile of feedback is dropped on someone, and it contains a negative comment or concern, everyone is a suspect. “It’s like the mole, you know? You’ve got to sort out who the mole is,” he says. “It’s just a terrible, awful, trust-killing exercise that I think needs to be rethought and redone.”

He also shared some chief reasons why The Motley Fool gets employee love and respect just right. It’s worth a listen.

Resources Mentioned in This Episode

Let’s continue the conversation. Join us on Twitter (#WorkTrends) for our weekly chat on Wednesdays at 1:30 p.m. Eastern, 10:30 a.m. Pacific, or anywhere in the world you are joining from to discuss this topic and more.

The Future of Performance Management

How could you get better at your job? What does your manager think about your performance this month? And what are your ideas about how your organization could do things differently?

For as much money as companies spend on performance management, most employees still couldn’t quickly answer those simple questions. When you only hear feedback once a year at a performance review, it’s hard to know where you stand and how you could continuously improve.

But a new wave of HR tech innovators are working on changing that. At HR Transform, I led a conversation with one of those trailblazers. Rajeev Behera is CEO of Reflektive, a real-time performance-management platform. We talked about why employee engagement is so low, how performance management is changing and how we can reframe engagement outside of HR to include everyone in the process.

Why Engagement Is so Low

We’ve all seen the depressing studies about low employee engagement. Gallup reports that 85% of employees worldwide are not engaged or are actively disengaged in their work. Behera says low engagement is the result of a divide between companies and employees. The two groups aren’t aligned on incentives. In other words, the company wants one thing, and they think they know what employees want, but employees want something different.

Before Behera started Reflektive, he was a game designer. While he certainly knew a lot about his role and his relationships, he didn’t know much about “engagement.” “Engagement isn’t very well-known outside of HR,” he says. Most people don’t think about engagement at all, or if they do, it’s an HR issue.

“We need to make engagement a more accessible term that’s relatable outside of HR,” he says. When you expose managers to their team’s real-time engagement numbers, and empower them to act on that, you turn engagement into a priority.

How to Rethink the Performance-Management Process

Here’s how Behera thinks about the performance-management status quo: Everyone has an annual review, with goals set from the top down. Goals are set at the company level, and then cascade down to every employee. “That’s very theoretical,” he says. That kind of top-down goal-setting sounds good when executive leaders are talking about how to get the most out of their employees. But in the end, “it falls flat in practice,” he says.

Reflektive surveyed leaders and their employees, and found that while 94% of leaders thought the performance-management process was working, only 35% of employees agreed. “Employees just don’t get enough out of it,” he says.

Behera says it’s all about employee expectations. Younger workers have grown up constantly sharing on social media and getting immediate feedback from the people they interact with. Then they report to work, and that steady stream of feedback cuts off. “They don’t get that feedback anymore, and they feel like they’re doing something wrong,” he says. “Eighty percent of employees told us they want more feedback.”

So companies like Reflektive are pushing for more continuous, real-time feedback and performance management. Behera suggests a combination of quarterly conversations, planned check-ins and real-time feedback on the fly.

Planning more frequent conversations gives employees the feedback they crave, and it opens the door for them to share their ideas and feedback for the company. Behera says those conversations are crucial: “Fifty percent of employees say they feel uncomfortable bringing up issues about the company’s overall strategy with their managers. We need to find ways to facilitate those uncomfortable conversations and signal to employees and managers that it’s okay to talk about that stuff.”

“There’s a big shift happening in HR processes, and it’s fun to be driving that changing behavior,” he says. “We get to see this big change happening at organizations, and it touches everybody. Performance management goes outside HR. Everyone touches it.”

The Future of HR Tech

In his role as an HR-tech leader, Behera is focused on providing more personalized experiences. He sees a future where feedback will be more accessible. Instead of locking away feedback in a clunky performance-management system you only see once a year, what if feedback was easy to see every day?

“How do you get people more engaged in the feedback process? The key is accessibility,” he says.

5 Proven Ways to Make Employees Never Want to Leave

Recruiting the right employees is a time-consuming and important process. Hiring the right people is critical to the organization achieving its goals. But what happens when a new hire shows up for work? How can you make sure your star candidate becomes a happy, dedicated employee who never wants to leave?

I’ve learned five keys to meeting new employees’ expectations and keeping them engaged on the job.

“How Can I Help” Leadership

Command and control is old-school; servant leadership is the new school of management. To improve retention, throw out old dictatorial practices and focus on how leaders help employees achieve their goals. Rather than tell people what to do, the servant leader looks for ways to remove obstacles that prevent people from succeeding.

As an executive servant leader, I dedicated at least 50 percent of my time each week meeting with people to understand how they did their job and what they needed to achieve their goals more effectively. I always took notes and made a point of following up to report on what actions I had taken as a result of their input.

In addition, every month I held “bear pit” sessions where I invited key employees from various functions to come together and “have at me.” They asked bold questions and I answered, unaccompanied by my support staff. To say that these sessions were grueling would be an understatement but I quickly learned how people were feeling in my organization and what was needed to enhance their engagement.

Regular Performance Feedback

Everyone wants to improve, and if employees don’t get constructive performance assessment on a frequent basis, they feel abandoned by the organization. They have no idea what they need to do to improve and as a result feel that no one really cares about helping them do a better job. Employees who don’t get feedback leave for an organization that has employee performance management hardwired into its culture. Show your people that preparing employees for future opportunities is a priority for leadership.

I held each of my direct reports accountable for conducting regular performance reviews with their reports; it was a key element in their performance plan and their annual bonus depended on how well they carried out the task.

Career Development Plans

Every employee needs a specific plan for how they’ll learn new skills and get exposure to new opportunities. Leaders are responsible for making sure every employee has a detailed career plan, including potential lateral moves that could enhance their long-term potential.

One way I measured a leader’s effectiveness: looking at how many of their employees moved around to new positions in the organization in order to expose them to new challenges. The effective leaders made it a priority to proactively move their people around; the mediocre ones never did and as a result had short tenure in my organization.

A Personalized Culture of Engagement

A culture isn’t created by corporate programs. It’s defined by everyday personalized acts of leadership. No two people can be engaged in the same way, hence the problem with a single engagement program that is forced to fit all individuals. Instead, a leader can create a personalized culture based on how they interact with each employee every day.

My calendar was full of one-on-one conversations with individuals in my organization. Those conversations made it fairly easy to understand how I could help them identify more strongly with the goals of the organization.

Fair Compensation

The most obvious way to retain employees is to satisfy their basic needs: pay and benefits. Without those fundamentals, it’s difficult to attract people through the recruitment process and to hold them if they take a position with you. You must be at least comparable to your competitors to play the game.

Standout organizations with incredible retention rates invest heavily to both discover individuals who align with their vision and values and to build a culture that encourages them to stay. The leader who wants to retain loyal employees makes it an everyday priority. Focus on these five practices and not only will your retention rates improve, your peers will look at you as the organization to watch in the field.

Performance Management: It’s Not a Product, It’s a Partnership  

For winter, here’s a cold-weather metaphor any homeowner can relate to. But it’s a model that, as you’ll see, has to do with any major shift in a big system. Imagine you’ve finally made the plunge and opted to spend a whole lot to invest in a brand new heating system for your house. It’s super high tech: state of the art, energy efficient, entirely customized to your needs, with digital thermostats and a cognitive design that will not only remember your heating needs but anticipate them. You can control it from your smartphone and, theoretically, coach family and guests on how to use it. The installer walks you through it all, and it seems incredibly simple. And then the installer leaves.

And you realize you haven’t a clue how to use it.

What do you do?

You call the installer. Come back and show me again. Or my family will be furious with me, because I made them give up the old furnace that may have clunked and roared, but it worked.

Workforces are not heating systems. But as with any other essential part of the infrastructure, you can’t make a massive, systemic change to how you manage the workforce and then let it run itself. What we’ve also found is that in terms of performance management, 88% of companies want to rethink how they do it, according to a 2015 study by Deloitte. But of those, only 8–12% stopped relying on performance reviews.

Here’s one simple reason: they don’t get enough help. To revise one of the very foundations of an organization — one that blends culture with process and strategy with system, and has an impact on the single most valuable asset, people —  there should be a partnership guiding the change. Just as we set expectations for our employees, it’s time to set them for our consultants as well. What do we need to drive successful change? Here are five key behaviors companies can ask for:

  1. Don’t just hold our hand. Inspire us. This is one instance where handholding is not just appropriate, it’s necessary. No matter how sophisticated an organization’s knowledge of the software, or how savvy the HR team is, there are going to be gaps in that intelligence. It’s not just about software and tech issues, either. It’s about the very role performance management can take as a driver of organizational success. You want a consultant who sees the role of performance management as a catalyst, not a punishment, to enable employers to grow and thrive. It’s part technician, part coach.
  2. Don’t make it too complicated.  There are too many instances of plug and play applications that are not fully utilized due to poor support and overcomplicated mechanics — yes, and that can adversely affect both successful ROI and next steps. A badly conceived change could cancel out the value of future initiatives. Innovation only drives innovation when it works. Not only do we need dedicated human beings as well as chatbots to help troubleshoot, there should also be a point when a complicated problem is handled back on the consulting end, freeing HR to go back to its other tasks.
  3. Craft alignment with the customer. I recently wrote about the need to revise the foundational culture underpinning how companies manage performance: “Without the engagement and alignment of our workforce, all the big plans in the world won’t amount to much.”  The same can be said of a support system. If a company has committed to changing its performance management, it’s made the cultural shift. But without the engagement and alignment of the provider / consultant from which it’s sourcing its new performance management system, that cultural shift won’t amount to much. The new system may not function smoothly or seam into the existing organizational culture, and may drive disengagement and resentment among the workforce.
  4. Partner, don’t just provide. The tremendous shifts transforming the world of work point back to the same need again and again for teamwork not just within organizations, but outside of them. Success depends on positive collaboration — working together to facilitate the change, initiate the change, train the change, and then maintain the change. Innovative companies will not only customize the software and elements like the dashboard or the portal, they also tailor the entire process, managing not just the moment of change, but the continuum from initial adoption to fully integrated use.
  5. Act a bit like a startup. There’s a recent, compelling article on organizational change by friend and colleague Josh Levine. He breaks organizational culture into 5 Ps: package, potential, people, purpose, and perception. It’s also an apt way to look at how an organization handles a profound change such as a new performance management system. Just how the system works — what’s in the package has to be clear: its platforms, check-ins, surveys, self-assessments, and more — so employees know what to expect. But they also should see the merits and potential — for instance, if management is going to be based on motivation instead of separation (as happens in stack rankings and badly designed peer reviews), or performance reviews are going to happen more often and with less stress involved and more flexibility.

Presenting the potential is up to the people involved, and may be more effective when it’s conveyed by those who created the system. They don’t need to sell it anymore, whereas the organization may feel compelled to pitch it to the workforce to facilitate a smoother adoption. And is the workforce given the chance to really see the purpose of this new model from their own point of view? It’s as critical to manage perceptions as it is to carefully manage change — but to do that transparently and authentically. That needs to come from both provider and purchaser.

We talk a whole lot about the need to change our performance management systems, and how they’re already changing for the better. We focus on how best to engage rather than evaluate, how to use feedback to empower, how to stop treating employees like numbers whose performance simply checks off desired boxes. The specifics of a system can vary widely. But the bottom line should be a sustained, agile, responsive and scalable partnership.

This article was sponsored by Reflektive.  All opinions are that of TalentCulture and Meghan M. Biro.

The Best Performance Management Puts Humans First

It’s one thing to decide to revise your performance management approach. It’s another thing to successfully re-engineer the mindset that embraces the change — and then manage that transformation across the organization. Too often, performance management is still stuck in an old framework that conflates human performance and business performance as one. If there’s anything we know now — illuminated by revealing data — it’s that humans must come first.

Why intentions get derailed

Yes: our business or organization is only as good as its people: to a certain extent, that’s true. But confusing how we measure what people do and how the organization is doing often results in our people feeling devalued and their efforts overlooked. We know what happens next. While many companies say they want to change how they evaluate performance, 9 out of 10 still use numerical performance scores to not only to rank employees but also determine compensation. A recent HR strategy roundtable focused on plans versus reality: Most organizations average a mere two hours a year on performance management per employee. Meanwhile, half (48%) of employees surveyed in a recent study felt that a performance review helped them improve their performance.

Without the engagement and alignment of our workforce, all the big plans in the world won’t amount to much. The organization is likely too busy spinning its wheels to just sustain a workforce. We’re in a talent crunch: good talent is hard to find. Great talent — even harder. Facing churn and constantly forced to train and rebuild new teams, some managers are understandably going to fall back on the systems they already well know, and resist the prospect of yet more change. The complex fabric of today’s workforces will only exacerbate that sense of being under siege.

As the business performance suffers, it seems to underscore the need to better oversee how the people are doing, which can turn into a review of the mistakes or lapses they made in the past turbulent year. Some exasperated managers may want to point the finger at employees not ‘pulling their weight.’ Competitive rankings, awkward peer reviews, accusations of unfairness, a long future of compensation based on a half-hour meeting, surveys that start with key weaknesses — there go any plan to retool the workplace culture. There, then, go some of your best people. It’s crisis HR: forget redesigning the house at least until the fire’s out. Newsflash: the fire isn’t going to go out.

Change requires better tools

Here’s what must happen instead. Empower everyone. The role of managers is to enable the organization to work to keep it working: their loyalty must be to productivity. They may know full well there’s a better way but simply not believe it’s viable given the current turbulence they’re trying to navigate. But it’s exhausting, managing by crisis mitigation. It’s not engaging for anyone. So, if you can pry your captains’ hands off the wheel for a moment, it’s an ideal time to make the change — if it’s done right. Successfully initiating and seeing through a complete shift to a culture of collaboration, innovation, and empowerment — for everyone, including managers — means capitalizing on the powerful tech and innovative systems now available.  That way all levels of the organization, particularly management, is secure in knowing nothing will fall between the cracks.

In with the new

This new model of performance management functions on technology that frees manages to play a far more frequent and connected role in the overall performance of employees. And here’s what happens: the value is put back into people. On the human side, we get to be — human. Whether a meaningful debriefing when a project is still fresh in everyone’s mind, team feedback given by request, individual check-ins through a day or a week, or exchanges around goals and targets, the mindset is freed of a transactional imperative. There’s no need for human effort to be flattened into a spreadsheet and numbers. Replacing that is a far more collaborative and ongoing conversation that’s far more responsive to the needs of everyone involved and thus more productive in terms of the data and knowledge it creates.

On the tech side, the difference is a sea change. Goal alignment and attainment, for instance, can be measured on a granular level for employees and managers — to see specially and immediately how they’re working and what kind of progress is taking place. What skills need to be deepened, what training needs to be added, what improvements can be made — all is based on information, not an onslaught of impersonal rankings. Performance reviews, whatever time period they do cover, are based on tangible and real data that, in turn, is connected back to the employee’s own experience of the work. The tech integrates into existing systems and platforms, becoming part of the workplace — within the workplace, not outside of it. And every action can be measured to provide data that empowers improvement. The bottom line is responsiveness. The right performance management system is responsive the organization’s needs as well as human needs — and acts as a bridge between the two.

Organizations are only as good as their people, it’s true. We also know that employees do far better when they can take ownership of their own success and invest in their own excellence. The key difference is that people need to feel like that paradigm’s not a liability, but an advantage. To drive true change in performance management, there must be a powerful set of tools in place to keep it from going off the rails, set it on its course, and let it gain momentum from within. The right tech can effectively free managers from the relentless administrative pressures that tend to, by necessity, narrow their focus — when what they need is to be freed to connect with their workforce. The best tools put humans first — all of them.

To learn more, check out the webinar, “Making Performance Reviews More Human.”  from Reflekive.  Enjoy.

Photo Credit: Ravennanotizie Flickr via Compfight cc

How to Achieve a People Centric Performance Management Process

In an illuminating TEDTalk “The way we think about work is broken”, Barry Schwartz encourages us to think about whether it’s human nature that creates institutions or institutions which can shape human nature. In traditional factory lines, work was based simply on the exchange of labor for money. However, money doesn’t have to be the only thing that drives people to get up and go to work every morning.

Rather than creating a workplace in which people go to do the bare minimum, designing an institution that allows and facilitates people’s innate need to use their creativity, find purpose and reach their potential will shape the way people feel about work.

The key is to begin questioning everything.

In the race to create more agile, engaged and innovative organizations, companies are now placing the heavy task on HR to revamp outdated processes. Many HR innovators have taken this moment to do some long needed cleaning out of failed institutions and construction of new processes that reflect the unique people and purpose running through their organization.

Despite what you may think, this is not reserved for companies with large budgets to spend on Google style perks. Even without the budget, you too can transform your organization in a positive way.

Today’s HR innovators don’t take any process, institution or practice for granted. The only way to discover what truly works best is to put yourself into the shoes of the people who work and run your organization and open your mindset to new possibilities. While it may sound intimidating, this isn’t a call to all out anarchy. Design thinking is a highly ordered approach which will provide you with a new lens through which you can view your organization.

What is design thinking?

Until now design thinking has mostly been used to create a customer focused approach to designing and marketing products. However, today HR professionals are realizing they can use this methodology to design better employee experiences. In fact, the adoption of this process has had so much success that Deloitte’s Global Human Capital trends recognized design thinking as one of the top trends to follow.

According to Tim Brown, CEO of international design firm IDEO:

“Design thinking is a human-centered approach to innovation that draws from the designer’s toolkit to integrate the needs of people, the possibilities of technology, and the requirements for business success.”

The process encourages you to look at three main touch points within the organization to better understand what’s needed. These are the processes, people and technology that your employees come into contact with at each stage of their journey throughout the organization.

Which processes are cumbersome? Which need to be abolished? How much support do your people receive from team leads or peers? Are there new solutions which can make your employees’ lives easier?

There are two tools which can help you get into the design thinking mindset. One is employee journey mapping. This allows you to map out the stages and assess touchpoints at each step using your people data. The other is employee personas. These fictional characters allow you to visualize and put yourself into the mindset of your employee.

Creating a people-centric performance management process

Performance management is one of the most important cornerstones of your organization. Having a strong system in place that will help your people develop and grow new skills will give your company the advantage it needs to meet industry changes head on. At the same time, helping your workforce improve also keeps engagement levels high.

Rather than simply an exchange of money for services, today’s employees are looking to exchange their time and effort for growth and learning opportunities. In a recent survey, Gallup found that 87 percent of millennials considered professional development or career growth opportunities to be very important in a job.

Professional growth should be seen as an exchange between employees and the organization, but rather than money, it’s about an exchange of value. Valuable knowledge and skills in return for help further developing and honing those skills.

Think about the journey…

Think about the 3 different touchpoints (processes, people, technology) your workforce comes into contact with during performance reviews. How do they impact their experience?

Process:

  • Who benefits? Is it seen as a process that helps the company identify top and low performers? Or as a process that is meant to help individuals grow and develop?
  • How long does it take from the time when they fill out their self-assessment until the time when they receive their results?

People:

  • Who gives and receives feedback?
  • Do managers receive upward feedback from reports?
  • Do people receive training on how to give feedback actionable?

Technology:

  • What kind of performance management tools do people use during the process?
  • Is the process straightforward and user-friendly?

View the process through the lens of your personas

Everyone will have different objectives, pains and also different experiences with each touchpoint they encounter during the process. Think about the journey from each different point of view.

Customer personas are fictional characters used by marketers to represent different types of customers. They’re often given names and bios including their likes, dislikes, pains and objectives based on data collected from customer feedback, interviews and focus groups. The idea is that having a few fictional customers that represent larger interest groups allows you to optimize processes for a wider audience. For example:

Julie the new manager:

  • Wants to give her team helpful feedback that will encourage them to improve
  • Nervous about giving constructive feedback to a few team members who used to be peers
  • Expects to have a better idea of who her top performers are and where the team needs to improve at the end of the process
  • Also wants to gain insights into her performance as a team lead

Paul the millennial employee:

  • Expects to find out what his strengths are in the team
  • Has trouble analyzing the feedback he received and creating a strong development plan
  • Wants to receive more feedback outside of performance reviews

Anna the new tech hire:

  • Wants to be recognized for her achievements
  • Expects a fair balanced assessment but encountered bias in the assessments she received at her previous company: does not trust the process
  • Wants to be able to receive feedback on cross-collaborative projects she participated in

Conclusion

When redesigning your performance management process consider how you can optimize it to meet the needs of your different personas. The best way to gain a full picture is to combine these two tools by mapping out the different touchpoints (processes, people, technology) your personas would encounter during your current performance management process. Consider how each would be impacted differently.

The insights provided by this exercise will enable you to redesign performance management at your organization in a way that takes into account your wider workforce. There is no one size fits approach to performance management. Design thinking can help you to create an experience that fits your unique organization.

This article was first published on Workology.

Tech Trends: A Look at What’s Ahead for HR Tech

Technology touches everything in our lives today, changing both how we consume and how we work. Our team, for example, recently began to experiment with Cisco Spark, a cloud-based collaboration platform that incorporates file sharing, phone calls, team messaging, video chats, and more. That’s just one example of stakeholders leveraging tech tools to become more efficient—there are plenty more. As the market for enterprise tech continues to boom, one area in particular stands out as having an exceptionally robust year: HR technology. In fact, if 2016 is any indication, the HR technology market is about to undergo one of the most disruptive years in a decade. Let’s explore some of the top HR tech trends to watch in 2017.

Top HR Tech Trends for 2017

Josh Bersin of Deloitte has been following the HR tech market for almost two decades, and he recently produced a perspective-packed report on the state of the market. As you can see from Figure 1 below, Bersin found the evolution of HR systems has been drastic over the years as software has become more sophisticated and cloud tools and apps have become mainstream. I like this graphic because not only does it highlight the change in HR tech tools over the past ten years, but it also offers perspective on how the roles of HR personnel have collectively shifted as technology has become increasingly embedded in our lives.

HR tech
Figure 1. Source: Deloitte

Enough looking back. Now, let’s dive into what you can expect in HR tech in 2017:

  • People data collection turns to predictive analytics. Applying people analytics in HR isn’t a new strategy, but look for HR leaders to take it to a new level this year by incorporating predictive analytics into the equation. As tech gets more sophisticated, so do prediction models that can help HR teams see better hiring outcomes, less employee turnover, and a more efficient distribution of human capital.
  • Employee experience becomes paramount. Employees are expected to use a variety of tools required by HR, including scheduling software, benefits portals, digital feedback platforms, and more. In the past, these tools often lacked integration and had clunky, cluttered user interfaces that made for a poor employee experience. When functionality reigned supreme over experience, though, these challenges often fell to the backburner. Not anymore. Today’s employees want to be treated at work like they’re treated as consumers, expecting their experience with digital tools in the workplace to be seamless in terms of layout, ease of use, time to value, and more. HR tech in 2017 will lean in when it comes to user experience, functionality, and integration.
  • Marketing and HR collaborate to produce better hires. Marketers are known to be a pretty tech-savvy bunch, adept at targeting messaging across multiple platforms to best reach an audience. HR has been tapping into this capability for a few years now, using marketing principles during the recruiting and hiring processes with tools like Candidate Relationship Management systems. Look for this usage to jump in 2017, especially as hiring companies begin to market the employee experience (see above), not just the salary.
  • Performance management takes a backseat to coaching. Performance management has long been a hallmark of many existing HR processes. That, however, may be coming to an end. Of course, it’s still necessary for employees to be evaluated and for that data to be recorded for future use—the approach, though, is what’s about to change. Especially with the continued influx of engagement-driven Millennials in the workforce, look for more organizations to phase-in frequent coaching—a tactic emboldened by collaboration software and the accessibility of mobile apps—instead of traditional, anxiety-inducing reviews delivered from across a boardroom table.

What’s Next?

It’s undeniable that tech shapes your workplace. Today, it’s easy to get caught up talking about things like tools and bottom lines, benefits and timelines. At the end of the day, though, companies are run by teams of real people with real goals and challenges. Culture is an important part of disruption, and HR inherently plays a substantial role in developing and fostering that culture within your organization. Enabling them with the right technology to meet actual human needs is the basis for all the tech trends I mentioned above, and all the ones we’ll see in the future.

Does your HR team have any digital go-tos? Do any of the trends I addressed here sound like something you’d want to explore further? Tell me in the comments.

photo credit: Crestfelt Photography Matrix anyone? via photopin (license)

This article was first published on FOW Media. 

5 Tips For People-Oriented HR Management

What makes a professional hiring manager? Dealing with budgets, business priorities, and tons of paperwork is essential; but is it what employees need and expect to see from us? After all, human resources are about people, aren’t they?

In 2016, 70.6 percent of HR professionals called “influencing the company culture to have more authentic, people-oriented managers” their top priority. With more than $2 billion plunged into HR technology, the emergence of new, more people-oriented, trends seems clear.

Together with gamification, video hiring, and other HR trends of 2016, this year brings more tech challenges for us to implement in order not to trail far behind. Focused more on people, they help to create a positive company culture and not earn the reputation of the worst HR ever.

So, what can you do for employees?

Manage their performance

2017 is the year when performance reviews will become a regular part of hiring managers life. Performance management apps are team-centric and cloud-based today, which makes it easier for us to keep track on employees.

Performance appraisal software, such as Saba Cloud or Performly, allows workers to understand their role in a company’s success, boost productivity, and unleash their potential. Featherlight helps to manage real-time performance, Weekdone enables to monitor accomplishments, and PerformYard lets you document and performance results.

Most of these applications feature online assessments, allow managing performance by teams, and integrate with other HR tools and employee directories.

Train them

Professional development is a must for employees, and they would thank you for interesting and engaging training programs. Make this training more effective with new solutions in HR tech, such as Workday Learning or Fuse Universal.

They are online platforms focused on video collaboration and other interactive methods of learning, including features for curation and data-driven recommendations. Employees consider such category of learning products efficient, and they are ready to develop new skills with online resources about math, writing, time management, and more. 

Manage their wellness and activity

2017 is the year for the utilization of HR technology solutions for employee wellness, engagement, and recognition. The number of tools to manage activity and work-life balance grows for hiring managers to improve the work environment.

Use solutions from Oracle or Ultimate Software to manage what employees do, how well they take care of their health, and how happy they are. Such tools have built-in analytics engines to view workers wellness and give insights on how to boost their productivity and make them work better.

Encourage communication

Tools for evaluating an employee’s real-time engagement become critical infrastructure for companies, as they help to understand workers needs and consider corresponding changes. Integrate those tools with your performance management system, and you will join the 85 % of executives considering employee engagement a top priority.

Encourage communication by using HR software: Trakstar helps to keep employees informed about employers goals and expectations, and ReviewSnap improves real-time feedback for workers to learn how their performance fit into the objectives of the company.

They are great to encourage mobility and connect staff members. 

Analyze them

The rise of people analytics is among the HR tech trends of 2017. Predicting a staff’s behavior, thoughts, and desires, you will know how to implement all corresponding changes effectively.

Survey software works best here. Graphical reporting features of SmartSurvey or Dub InterViewer allow getting data from employees to analyze their changes and recommend training they need for better performance.

New tools for people analytics include:

  • tools, analyzing e-mails to assess how people’s communication and time management practices differ, encouraging lower-performers to change behavior.
  • tools, monitoring workers’ locations and voice tenor to see when they experience stress and reorganize facilities accordingly.

Don’t forget about talent acquisition

The talent acquisition market is enormous today, so embrace it to hire the right talents for your company. Social media can help you here, but the latest HR tech from Lever, Gild, and SmartRecruiters would not be wise to miss.

They are recruitment management systems, handling everything: sources, analytics, interview management, candidate scores, their onboard relationship management, and more.

So, make the most out of your job performance by using HR technology to find strong candidates, manage them, and help them fulfill potential. Make your hiring strategy more people-oriented, and no one will have the heart to say you are a non-specialist in the profession.

photo credit: Informedmag business meeting – Credit to informedmag.com via photopin (license)

Top Five Leadership Challenges: How to Overcome Them

There are many challenges that all managers face. Whilst these challenges can arise at any point in a manager’s career, they can be particularly prevalent for newer or first-time managers. We’ve compiled a handy list of these challenges with tips on how to combat them, become the best manager possible, and support your team on their way to success.

Adjusting to the role

First time managers often find it difficult to adapt to taking ownership of their role. It can be particularly difficult managing those who you’re used to working closely with and perhaps have personal relationships with. It’s important to keep these personal relationships separate from workplace practices. You can do this by positioning yourself as an approachable and supportive manager and ensuring that the tough conversations still take place. Remember that giving constructive feedback shouldn’t be seen negatively, but  instead be seen as a way that you can help your team perform at their full potential.

Over managing

Whilst it’s undeniably important to be there for your team, and coach them to make sure you’re getting the best out of them: there’s a fine line between managing a team well and not letting people take on their own work. Your role is to support, so make sure your team has the space to complete their assignments and have some autonomy, whilst helping them make progress as individuals and take ownership of their development. Whether the people you’re mentoring are older, younger, or no matter how long they’ve been in the field, if you are able to guide them through hardships, lead them in the right direction and help them progress in their role or career, then you are succeeding as a mentor and as a manager.

Not giving enough guidance

Whilst over managing people and not providing the space to work can be an issue, the other end of the spectrum is not giving people enough input or guidance. Much as your team likely know what they are working on, as manager it’s up to you to ensure everyone is fully aware of what’s expected of them and how their work aligns and contributes to the wider company goals. If managers are unable to communicate clear guidelines and expectations for their team members, they will of course be unable to take ownership of their work and ultimately less productive. They will also have less motivation and drive to work towards their goals if they are unaware of the impact their work has on the company.

Keep the conversation open

No matter how things are going, it’s key to keep communication frequent and open. Providing constructive feedback is not always the easiest task, but it’s an essential way to ensure your team can develop and really progress within their role. It’s equally important, however, that you also celebrate people’s successes, however big or small. Giving positive feedback to your team when things have gone well or particular team members have shined is key to letting people know they’re valued. It will increase engagement; people will know that their work is recognized and that they’re appreciated. Introducing or optimizing the use of 360-feedback is also a great practice to really keep communication open and useful for everyone.

Embrace upward feedback

Giving feedback aside, it can be difficult, particularly as a newer manager, to receive constructive feedback: it’s not always the easiest to handle, particularly when still adjusting to managerial responsibilities. But it’s important to see such feedback as positive; something which will help you develop in your career and become the best, most supportive and  efficient manager possible. It’s not only key to receive this upward feedback with an open mind, but also to ensure you act upon it appropriately. Following up feedback either by discussing with your team what the next steps are and how they feel things could improve, or by taking the next steps based on people’s feedback really shows your team that you value their input. This will build trust and respect for you and ensure that everyone is on the same page moving forward.

What to share?

Transparency is something greatly appreciated by modern workforces. An employee engagement survey from Harvard Business Review actually found that 70% of those asked said they were most engaged when managers shared continuous updates and insights into company strategy. With many organizations adopting a flatter, less hierarchical approach, and employees taking more ownership of their roles, it’s not so much a case of management being the only ones in the know. Many employees now value transparency and candidness over more traditional practices. And, with an increasing amount of companies taking transparency even further, with salaries made public knowledge, and other less traditional information being disclosed to employees, it’s clear people like to be aware of what’s happening in the company. To be a manager that people trust and feel comfortable with, don’t close yourself off- keep your employees in the loop.

A version of this post was first published on the Impraise blog

Photo Credit: cheever.zachary Flickr via Compfight cc

These Blind Spots Are Ruining Performance Management

Have you ever watched a movie where the hero is being chased by predators through the woods? He quickly arrives at a cliff screeching to a halt and nearly falling off into a river far below. He now has a choice, stay to face the predators, which will likely kill him, or take a chance and jump into the river below risking possible serious injury or even death. He jumps.

In my opinion, this describes the decision many major organizations made when they changed
their performance evaluations. They were being chased by the poor results of the typical
appraisal. These include significant wasted time, complaints by employees (especially
millennials) about the quality and frequency of feedback, and the lack of development discussion time. These companies jumped. Some went into the “river of software” where the hope was to spend less time and remove much of the paperwork angst. Some jumped into the “no ratings” river to avoid the difficult and often damaging conversations which managers dread and which upset employees.

The acknowledged reasons for change are not always the root causes of that change. The predators chasing the companies to the cliff’s edge are mostly just symptoms of the real root causes. Unless we know the real reasons for dysfunction how can we be sure our jump is not just a reaction instead of a proactive strategy? The predators chasing the large organizations through the woods include significant wasted time on preparing and delivering the typical performance review meetings and the high percentage of employees and managers who are frustrated and disappointed.

Many of the employees (especially millennials) who are unsatisfied with the typical appraisal process claim the feedback is poor and doesn’t help focus on developmental needs. As high as 65 percent say it is not relevant to their job (Meinert, 2015). Only 8 percent of HR executives believed their performance management systems made a significant positive improvement in employee performance (Rock, Davis and Jones, 2013).

Accenture, GE, Microsoft, Adobe and Deloitte (to name just a few) have changed, but why are employees/executives still unsatisfied? There are two reasons: the lack of appreciation for a system – we call this scotoma –  a spot of blindness. The second is the idea that a manager is THE one who must provide feedback. I call this the omniscient manager scotoma.

Recent brain research suggests that the typical appraisal meeting creates an environment that can prevent creativity and innovative problem solving. This clearly is one of the root causes of the dysfunction, but it’s just not enough to ensure a valuable, sustainable redesign.

One of the main reasons the typical appraisal fails is because it is inconsistent with systems thinking. Rarely does one hear this explanation from one of the major organizations. Systems thinking requires the placement of responsibility for results on the design and functioning of the system and the avoidance of placing responsibility for performance on the individuals or parts of the system.

Many organizations still attempt to provide consistent and frequent feedback to the individuals within their organization. Organizations are social systems with interdependent parts. Any attempt to evaluate the parts ignores the influence of the system on those parts and will either frustrate managers and employees by wasting their time and/or make performance worse.

Why do organizations continue to insist that managers deliver the frequent feedback? This idea is a holdover from the hierarchical view of organizations. Why not design a performance management process that provides opportunities for everyone to learn from each other? Why not allow everyone to innovate their service and performance to improve the quality and speed of the system interactions?

A manager cannot possibly know enough to help employees with all their interactions. This approach in performance management is the false belief that managers must be omniscient and omnipotent simply because they have the big title.

A redesign that offers the option to speak to multiple employees would provide significant opportunity for those who desire frequent quality feedback. In a future article, I’ll share my ideas on how to do a redesign.

If an organization is ready to replace their appraisal process because the leaders find themselves at the edge of the cliff, it is important to recognize the two scotomas and redesign the process to address the two root causes of dysfunction. If not, you’re just jumping off that cliff because the predators have caught you. That’s not strategic leadership. It’s reactionary and deadly to company and employee success.

Photo Credit: douglasreeves Flickr via Compfight cc

Improve Leadership Training Programs with Manager Feedback

360-degree feedback can bring up a whole host of areas for improvement and goals to be worked towards. Developing based on feedback is important for anyone, regardless of position, experience level or objectives: managers are no exception.

Today major companies don’t simply want people who will listen and carry out: they want creative thinkers who will come up with innovative ideas and solutions. As a result, rather than giving orders, managers must find ways to foster this creativity. This means companies want:

  • Less micromanaging and more autonomy
  • Faster development of new skills
  • Higher employee retention

We explain how the feedback managers receive can establish specific leadership training plans to help improve skills, performance and daily practices to make sure this can all be achieved, and both teams and managers can function in the best way possible, helping both inexperienced or first-time managers and those just looking to take their leadership skills to the next level to improve how they lead their team in this ever-changing modern work environment.

Upward Feedback & where to go with it

Gaining feedback on daily practices, performance and skill sets can be an incredibly useful process. 360-feedback encompasses upward feedback from your team members, helping you to gain perspective from those who work closely with you. Hearing the views of those who work with you every day and have an acute awareness of your leadership style is a great chance to take a step back and re-evaluate. But, of course, once the feedback has been given, the process doesn’t end there. Using feedback for leadership training means that managers are able to work on the specific things that would improve both their leadership qualities and general interactions with their team on both a daily and a long-term basis.

Keep your team!

It’s often said that people don’t quit their jobs, they quit their bosses. If there are multiple issues within a work environment but people generally like their manager, and are satisfied with how they’re being led, they’re less likely to leave their position. Ensuring that managers are not only listening to but acting on the feedback which they receive from their team makes it clear that the team’s views are valued, and means that managers will be able to use the feedback given to communicate with and work more effectively with their team. Managers will be on the road to improvement, and team members will feel both valued and more satisfied, be less likely to leave their position and begin to work more effectively with their managers.

Engagement & Team spirit

After the leadership training has taken place, it’s likely that team morale will increase, communication will improve and employee engagement will be on the rise. It’s not just managers that will improve from leadership training either. Research from the Journal of Business Strategies found that leaders who were able to impact the long-term cohesion of their teams could account for more than 25% of the team’s overall performance. Effective leaders will keep their team communicating well and keep engagement levels up by giving them useful and motivating feedback, and making the organization a positive and impactful place to work.

Using a performance management tool such as a feedback app  has never made it easier for managers to develop. Feedback comes in the form of both real-time updates and reviews where questions can be tailored to find out exactly what skills or traits can be improved. Once feedback is received, it’s collated into an automatic report identifying exactly which skills and practices require focus.

Now it’s time for improvement: continuous feedback that carries on long after the review process gives team members the opportunity to continue the conversation and provide real-time feedback on their manager’s ongoing development. Based on feedback, the best training programs can be devised to develop managers’ skills. Just like your employees, offering regular trainings on key skills will keep managers engaged, motivated to improve their strategies and at the top of their management game!

Summary:

  • Using upward feedback for manager training means team members know their input is valued
  • Successful leaders interact with employees in a way that significantly increases employee engagement and performance
  • Employees communicate better as a team as a result of more effective management
  • Good leadership training based on team feedback will lowers turnover rates

A version of this post was first published on Impraise. 

Photo Credit: Marc_Slavin Flickr via Compfight cc

Overcoming the Fear of Feedback

Mary considers herself to be a good manager. Whenever one of her employee’s is struggling with an assignment she swoops in to help them put things into order and give pointers. Her company is now introducing a new 360-degree performance management system based on continuous feedback and, as a manager, she’s been encouraged to lead the transition by asking for feedback from her team first. She’s excited about this new change because she thinks it’ll help a few of her team members to open up more and resolve conflicts amongst each other.

However, when she receives her feedback, she’s surprised to find that several people said she needed to let go more and allow people to work out assignments in their own way. One person even used the term ‘micromanaging’. Even though she’s supposed to be setting an example, her first reaction is to get angry. She sets aside a lot of time to help her employees solve problems and only gets criticism in return. She’s now supposed to act on the feedback she receives in order to encourage employees to do the same, but she’s still feeling betrayed.

Most people have difficulties receiving feedback well. For others, the only thing worse than receiving constructive feedback is giving it. When given correctly, feedback is not meant to harm or criticize people, but meant as a way to improve. Even if we know feedback is good for us, what’s holding you back from accepting and sharing it with others? The answers might all be in your head.

What are the psychological factors that make us afraid of feedback?

The most common answer is our body’s natural negativity bias. Prominent psychologists and neurobiologists have found that our brains are hardwired to react to negative stimuli faster. This was originally necessary for our survival. Sensing an attack would trigger our body’s natural fight or flight mode, increasing the amount of hormones released to the bloodstream, elevating reaction time and heightening our emotions. The experiences that trigger these reactions become etched into our brain so that we can react to dangerous situations faster. This is why we tend to remember negative experiences more than positive ones.

However, in an office setting our negativity bias and flight or flight reaction can actually work against us. Even when receiving mostly positive feedback, it tends to be the constructive feedback that we recall most acutely. Though feedback doesn’t constitute a physical attack, in their separate research Psychologist Peter Gray and Management Professor Neal Ashkanasy both explain that criticism can signal a sense of exclusion. In hunter-gatherer societies people were dependent on the group for survival. For this reason, constructive feedback can sometimes trigger our fear of exclusion from the group.

Is fear of giving feedback more about yourself than others?

In fact, this is also relevant to giving feedback. A study by Dr. Carla Jefferies of the University of Southern Queensland discovered that a failure to give constructive feedback may actually be more about protecting ourselves than others. In her experiment, participants were told to give feedback on an essay either face to face, anonymously or to give feedback that would not be shared with the author.

She found that participants with lower self-esteem gave more positive feedback face to face and more critical feedback in the other two situations. People with high self-esteem gave the same feedback in all situations. According to a researcher on her team, “If one accepts that people with relatively low self-esteem are expected to place greater emphasis on wanting to be perceived as likeable or attractive to others, then this lends support for the self-protection motive.”

Supporting this research, a study conducted by leadership development consultancy Zenger/Folkman found that 74% of employees who received constructive feedback already knew there was a problem. This shows that employees aren’t necessarily blind to the things they need to improve, they just either aren’t sure how to improve or aren’t fully aware of the impact on the rest of the team. In fact, in their previous research, they found that a majority of employees actually want constructive feedback.

However, the caveat is that people don’t want to receive top down instructions on what to do. In their study, they also found that the more managers carefully listened to their employee’s point of view before giving feedback, the more honest and trustworthy their feedback was perceived. Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman suggest that the best way to give constructive feedback is to first give the other person the chance to explain the situation and what they think went wrong. Before immediately going into feedback, first allow them to formulate their own plan of action. If you listen carefully up to this point, when you give your own feedback it is much more likely to be well received. Finally, offer to check in the following week so that you can lend further advice if needed, without seeming overbearing. For more information on how to give constructive feedback see here. So what are we still so afraid of?

Changing your mindset

Stanford Professor Carol Dweck’s studies into what she terms ‘fixed and growth mindsets’ also provide valuable insights into this fear. According to her research, people with fixed mindsets view their skills as constant personal traits, while people with growth mindsets view their skills as malleable abilities which can be improved. For example, children who have been praised for being smart throughout their lives may face difficulties improving after receiving a bad grade on an exam. However, children who have been praised for getting good grades based on their hard work and dedication are more likely to see a bad grade as an opportunity to learn more.

When we associate abilities with a part of our identity, receiving constructive criticism can feel more like a personal attack. People with growth mindsets, on the other hand, are more likely to take risks and overcome obstacles by seeing failure as a signal to try harder, rather than time to give up.

The good news is that we are not naturally divided into fixed and growth mindsets. Developing a growth mindset towards feedback is possible. According to Dweck, the first step is recognizing your fixed mindset “voice”. When you start placing blame on others for the feedback you receive, this is your fixed mindset speaking. Once you recognize this voice you can begin counteracting it and responding with a growth mindset. See Dweck’s TEDTalk, ‘The power of believing that you can improve’, for more inspiration.

Overcoming fear of feedback through habit

An important part of overcoming your fear is creating a feedback habit. In Pulitzer prize-winning journalist Charles Duhigg’s book The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business, he describes how neuroscientists and psychologists discovered the impact of habits on rewiring the brain towards certain behaviors. Marketers and CEOs have used the key elements of creating a habit – cue, routine and reward – to induce certain behaviors in consumers and employees. Duhigg contends that by creating a routine and reward system triggered by certain cues, we can rewire our brain to create new habits and behaviors.

If you want to start exercising more, leaving your running clothes next to your bed will trigger a cue to go for a run in the morning. If you get into the routine of going for a run every morning your body gets used to the routine. The incentive can be a reward, such as having a big breakfast when you get home. Eventually, the habit kicks in and your body will become accustomed to going for a run when you wake up, even if you forget to leave your running clothes out or don’t have time for an elaborate breakfast.

One example he gives is Starbuck’s success in teaching employees how to navigate difficult situations with customers. In Duhigg’s book he introduces Travis, a manager of two successful Starbucks locations, who attributes his professional success to Starbuck’s lifeskills training program. In his previous jobs, Travis had difficulties dealing with angry customers. Rather than dealing with the situation calmly, he would be overcome with emotion and argue back, making it difficult to hold down a steady job. When he began working as a barista at Starbucks he entered into its education training program.

The company’s main focus is providing great customer service, and it found that the best way to do this was to ensure its workers received training on life skills such as managing emotions, how to stay organized and focused and, most importantly for Travis, willpower. Through these trainings Travis was able to master his emotions by creating go to habits for different situations that could arise at work. For example, the LATTE method is used to deal with difficult customers:

Listen to the customer

Acknowledge the problem

Take problem-solving action

Thank them

Explain why the problem occurred

The program encourages employees to imagine difficult situations with customers, decide how they would react in advance and practice through role play. By having a set routine in place, Travis was able to overcome his emotional response to angry customers. As soon as he receives the cue, a complaining customer, he dives into his routine allowing him to stay level headed. Since instituting this program, Starbuck’s revenue increased by $1 billion. See Duhigg’s thought-provoking TEDTalk detailing more insights from his book.

Creating a feedback habit

You can also use this method to create a feedback habit in your company. Amongst our clients we’ve observed that as employees share more and more feedback through Impraise, they begin to develop feedback behaviors. As the habit forms, people become more comfortable expressing feedback face-to-face. In our biggest client company, a major hotel booking platform, we’ve seen this lead to an increase in the exchange of unsolicited feedback and better professional development conversations.

Utilizing their employees’ affinity for games, a gaming company we work with has created a reward system in which people vote for the best feedback they were given, resulting in a bonus for the top contributor.

When creating your own feedback habit keep in mind these three elements to habit forming. For example, your steps could be:

Cue – Receiving a feedback notification from a colleague

Routine

  1. Analyze the feedback,
  2. Ask questions to better understand
  3. Thank them
  4. Strategize ways to improve based on your feedback
  5. Set goals for yourself based on these strategies

Reward – Using the feedback to reach the professional goals you’ve set for yourself

To put this into context we’ll go back to Mary, the manager who just received surprising constructive feedback from her employees. When her thoughts of betrayal and exclusion start to set in, she should recognize her fixed mindset voice and respond: “It’s not that my employees are ungrateful for my help, they just want more opportunities to grow professionally.”

Following these steps, after receiving her cue, feedback notifications on her real-time feedback platform, Mary should automatically read through them and write down keywords and patterns she sees. She should then respond to her feedback in order to fill in the gaps: “What can I do to better support you when you reach an obstacle?” Finish by thanking them for their feedback.

Based on their answers, it’s time to come up with strategies for improvement. Maybe her employees would like her to first ask if they need her help. When they do ask for help, she can make sure to adjust her language and tone, so that she’s sure to provide suggestions rather than instructions. She should also consider offering individuals opportunities to take on more responsibilities. For example, suggesting that an employee take the lead on a new project. Another option is committing to having more regular one-on-ones with her employees, so she can check in and offer her assistance when needed.

Finally, Mary can set her professional goals around this feedback: “Becoming a better leader by providing more autonomy to my employees”. Mary should then check in from time to time and ask her employees for feedback on her management style and what she could do to more effectively reach her goals.

A version of this post was first published on the Impraise blog.

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6 Reasons Why Your Company Needs Real-Time Feedback

In the news today we’re constantly seeing major companies announce they’re dumping their old performance management systems for more agile solutions. Accenture, Adobe, Deloitte, Gap and Microsoft are just a few of the big names that have upgraded their people management processes based on real-time feedback. You may be asking yourself what the reasons are for this major shift in HR and how it will affect your company? Here we’ll share the six major reasons your company needs an HR revamp.

  1. Stack ranking is out

Stack ranking does not work. Despite its popularity during the 80s, 90s and early 2000s, companies began to realize that it actually works to tear down teamwork by pitting employees against each other and encouraging office politics. Though mounting evidence has been building against the system, it was when founding company GE decided to move away from stack ranking that the evidence became clear. According to the Institute for Corporate Productivity, the number of companies practicing stack ranking plummeted from 49% in 2009 to 14% in 2011.

  1. The Problem with Annual performance reviews

Similarly the annual performance review is already becoming a thing of the past. In today’s rapidly changing work environment employees need advice and training more than once a year. 95% of managers are unhappy with the way performance reviews are conducted in their companies. Furthermore, evidence has proven that the stress caused by annual performance reviews triggers our body’s natural ‘fight or flight’ reaction.

  1. The Need for Better Data and Greater Transparency

Basing assessments solely on annual performance reviews and stack ranking is not only ineffective, but also inaccurate. 90% of HR leaders question the accuracy of the information received. Research shows that two-thirds of performance management systems actually misidentify top performers regardless of forced rankings. The reason for this is that they’re highly subjective. When someone rates you the rating often says more about them than about you. Motivation for example is an abstract concept. If your manager rates you on how motivated you are at work it’s based on what they consider to be high and low amounts of motivation. Business consultant Marcus Buckingham calls this the idiosyncratic rater effect. Studies show this can also result in bias against women and minorities, resulting in low performance reviews and ultimately unequal promotions and pay.

  1. Modern Employees

The skills that companies are looking for in an employee have changed. In the fast pace changes of the modern business world, especially in the tech industry, professional skills have an average life of 2 ½ to 5 years. This means that employees must constantly be learning to keep up with new trends. Even more than technical ability, companies are looking for creative young talent that have a high learning capacity. However, even with the ability to learn quickly, these employees also need managers who will spend more time (more than once a year) on coaching in order to keep up to date with the latest trends.

  1. Millennials

The new generation of workers have the reputation of being disloyal and impatient. This is not necessarily a bad thing. Millennials are smart and tech savvy. This generation is more likely than others to have advanced degrees and, growing up in the social media age, they are always hungry for more information. However, they’re also used to getting answers instantly in real-time. What millennials want is more training and opportunities for development and they have no qualms about job hopping until they find it. In a survey by TriNet and Wakefield Research, 85% of millennials reported they would feel more confident if they could have more frequent performance conversations with their manager.

  1. What we know now about motivation

Employees want to be recognized for their efforts. Showing appreciation for a job well done goes a long way. In a survey 83% of employees found recognition for contributions to be more fulfilling than rewards or gifts. Furthermore, a number of HR experts are now finding that focusing on improving an employee’s strengths, rather than weaknesses, boosts motivation. However, to make strengths based training work managers must have more frequent discussions with employees to help them pinpoint and develop these skills. Managers who know their employees’ strengths are 71% more likely to have employees who are energized and engaged.

To find out more about the benefits of real-time feedback and the best ways to introduce it into your company download Impraise’s free white paper.

A version of this post was first published on the Impraise blog.

 

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3 Performance Indicators That Will Make Or Break Your Company

Want to find out how your business is performing? Setting and analyzing performance indicators for your company is the best way to forecast and get on track with your business goals. Creating KPIs or Key Performance Indicators will help you measure your company’s success. The question is what to focus on? How you measure performance says a lot about your company’s objectives.

Common Types of Indicators

There are two common types of performance indicators: financial and customer focused.

Financial indicators are the most commonly used metrics for performance including: revenue growth rate, net profit, return on investment, among others. In terms of employee performance these are often quantified using output related measurements. These can be useful for growing your company’s finances but companies that focus solely on profit related indicators often face an innovation problem.

A focus on financial goals can put pressure on managers to focus on short term profitability over creativity. Financial indicators also don’t provide a full picture of a company’s performance. Rather than taking risks on new ideas, these companies can become known for creating ‘one hit wonders’ that sell and repackaging past successes. Eventually, quality and customer satisfaction can become compromised and employee motivation drops.

Microsoft learned this lesson at the expense of its top spot in the tech world. Originally a leader in cutting edge technology, after 2000 it began slipping in the rankings against companies like Google and Apple with its inability to keep up with new trends. As these companies began producing paradigm shifting products like the iPhone and Google Maps, Microsoft continued to survive off of its updated versions of Windows Office. Financial indicators demonstrated the company’s shift in popularity but not the contributing factors.

Internally, Microsoft had taken a cut throat approach to performance management called stack ranking. In this system employees were ranked according to their performance, with the top being put in line for promotions and the bottom 5-10% being shown the door. Rather than boosting productivity, this system merely increased competition and discouraged teamwork. Ultimately, instead of being encouraged to collaborate on new ideas, employees had to focus on gaining favor to survive.

Customer success indicators are increasingly seen as the most important performance metric. Some of the main customer centered KPIs include: conversion rate, customer retention, Net Promoter Score (NPS), etc. Due to differing objectives, companies that focus on customer centered indicators focus more on gaining a loyal customer base by producing great quality products, utilizing different marketing techniques and emphasizing a strong customer support service.

An example of this is Riot Games’ ‘Free To Play’ games which helped them to gain a loyal customer base by allowing gamers to play some of their best games for free online. Zappos’ customer service is famous for providing unsatisfied customers with gifts and free shoes to improve their customer experience. Creating a customer service culture is an essential part of their business strategy and the focus of CEO Tony Hsieh’s book Delivering Happiness.

However, for companies that don’t take off straight away, the money and time put into each product can lead to slower profit generation and financial instability. Furthermore, while customer satisfaction is an extremely important key to success, what customers ultimately want are state-of-the-art products. Though customer focused indicators can help you build a loyal client base, they do not necessarily solve a company’s innovation problems.

Screen Shot 2016-03-07 at 8.44.55 PMCompanies should use a combination of both financial and customer focused indicators but there is a third key measurement which is essential to meeting your company’s goals.

Why employee centered indicators are so important

More and more companies are beginning to realize the importance of employee centered metrics. These types of indicators include: employee engagement, satisfaction and turnover.

Studies show that higher employee engagement is linked to higher customer satisfaction. When employees are happy at work and believe in their product/company this comes across to customers. Gallup revealed that companies with high employee engagement levels outperformed companies with lower levels of engagement in customer ratings by 10%.

Engaged employees take less sick days. A study by Workplace Research Foundation found that engaged employees take an average of 2.69 sick days annually compared to disengaged employees who take an average of 6.19 days. Most important, they’re motivated to achieve more. Gallup’s study also showed that engaged companies outperform others in productivity by 21% and profitability by 22%.

In fact, the treatment of employees is also an important factor for consumers. Deloittes 2015 study on millennials revealed that this generation considers the treatment of employees as the top characteristic of industry leaders, even over profit generation and impact on overall society. Furthermore, “While they believe the pursuit of profit is important, that pursuit needs to be accompanied by a sense of purpose, by efforts to create innovative products or services and, above all, by consideration of individuals as employees and members of society.”

Companies that have employee centered strategies are also more likely to foster innovative environments that promote autonomy and employee ownership. Atlassian became famous for its ‘Shipit days during which it actually encourages employees to drop their work and spend twenty-four hours on a creative project of their choice. Allowing employees the freedom to try out new ideas sounds like a great financial risk but it turned out to have great returns. The projects developed during these sessions have resulted in some of the company’s most profit generating products. Atlassian not only dominates Australia’s tech industry, it has also been named the best company to work for the past two years in a row.

More and more companies have started focusing on an employee first strategy:

In an interview with Inc. Virgin Atlantic CEO Richard Branson disclosed that the company puts staff first, customers second and stakeholders third. He explains, “If the person who works at your company is not appreciated, they are not going to do things with a smile.” Southwest Airlines, the company consistently reaching the top 10 in employee and customer satisfaction surveys, follows the same ideology. The company does this by motivating employees through its company values and creating an environment that regularly recognizes employees for going above and beyond.

Southwest Airlines follows the same strategy. Founder Herb Kelleher posited, “A motivated employee treats the customer well. A customer is happy so they’ll keep coming back, which pleases the shareholder. It’s just the way it works… They can buy all the physical things. The things you can’t buy are dedication, devotion, loyalty—the feeling that you are participating in a crusade.”

A version of this post was first published on the impraise.com blog.

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Performance Reviews – Don’t Throw Out the Baby with the Bathwater

The demise of annual performance reviews is a hot topic today—thankfully so.

There is a groundswell throughout the HR community and ongoing discussion, even in the mainstream media, about companies throwing out annual performance reviews or performance reviews altogether. They have been recognized as outdated, ineffective, and not providing real value to the ultimate goal of improving organizational workforce performance.

By now, the rationale has been spelled out often. HR leaders and thoughtful professionals understand the problems—feedback is too late, highlights (and lowlights) are forgotten, categories, such as strengths and weaknesses, can be nebulous.

Performance Management—Formal Reviews Out, Technology In

It might seem a dichotomy that formal performance reviews are falling out of favor at the same time that “performance management” software and technology to help organizations improve workforce performance are gaining in popularity. Looking at the situation more closely, however, helps clarify the situation.

The concept of the two-way dialog is gaining favor and this is great news. Rather than a one-way conversation, with the supervisor relaying his or her ratings and observations gained over the course of several months or a year and the employee either agreeing or supplying a rebuttal, a balanced, two-way discussion leads to a more beneficial exercise.

A conversation will hopefully lead to more open and honest communication. Real value to the employee as well as the manager can be realized with a back-and-forth exchange that results in improvements to employee and manager performance. All for the better of the organization. There is still a lot more necessary to improve performance than merely having a conversation, for example, training, coaching, and leadership development, but these new conversations are an important step.

Where’s the incongruity?

The Valuable Pieces

Despite the above-mentioned benefits, it does not make sense to throw out all aspects of  performance reviews. Certainly, it does not mean that managers and employees only need to have conversations, however frequently, and think that will fix everything.

Consider:

  • Conversations can be forgotten or misinterpreted by one or both parties. For this reason, key elements of conversations need to be recorded and agreed upon by the employee and the manager. This is especially true as the amount of time between interaction increases, even if it is more frequently than once or twice a year.
  • Without documentation of conversations, the opportunity for disagreement is high. This will result in frustration at best, but more likely continued or worsening behavior that never gets corrected. And, that can lead to an unfortunate and perhaps unnecessary separation down the road.
  • Without some formality or uniformity to the process, unfairness can easily seep into the overall review of any conversation. See the above point for the depressing consequences.

Technology: The Performance Enabler

While not a cure or substitute for the above potential pitfalls, technology is an enabler of the improved performance management process in this new era of valuable two-way conversations. Indeed, the larger the organization, the larger the teams and the more direct reports, the more important and valuable technology becomes. At a minimum, it becomes a point of record. But more importantly, it leads to a wealth of information and insight that leads to continued employee, team, and organizational improvement.

Through the insight gained through data available via improved performance management and with the ongoing conversations as a foundation, organizations will realize numerous benefits:

  • improved communication and alignment between employee and supervisor
  • goal alignment between employees and organization and between teams and organization
  • improved trust among employees and leadership
  • improved employee retention
  • better succession planning
  • identification of training needs and opportunities
  • better resource allocation
  • reduced legal exposure

Keep the Good

But none of this will be accomplished if an organization simply ends the practice of performance reviews. Embedded within that dreaded practice is a wealth of valuable information, which can be obtained in a not-so-disheartening manner.

While it may be time for you to throw out annual performance reviews, don’t throw out the valuable insight that you can still obtain through new, ongoing conversations.

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