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

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