Performance Management Isn’t Worth The Paper It’s Written On

Performance Management Webinar

Written by Jeremy Russon

Family and football are Jeremy's two passions - but in his spare time, making a difference, the Udder way, to the world of TA/HR tech is his thing.

My background, before joining Udder and #ChatTalent was mainly about getting people into the business so performance management is an extremely interesting topic for me.

And who better to join me as I explore this new realm, then HR leaders Jeff Wellstead, Founder & CEO of Big Bear; Sophie Theen, Chief People Officer at Oakam and Niamh O’Connor, HR Manager at CPL.

I started, as always, by introducing everyone. And then dived straight in and asked: Why is performance management important?

“Performance Management is all about developing an engaged WORKFORCE to help you deliver your vision and mission” Niamh O Connor

If done well, it really can be the vehicle for driving profitability within the business.  You could see an increase in retention and engagement.  However, another key element of performance management is also purpose. Communicating to your staff how they fit within the business and the overall bigger picture.

“Yes, but also it’s not just about the purpose of every employee being able to succeed within the company. Performance management also offers a good data point, which we don’t normally have access to” Sophie Theen
 “While there are lots of altruistic, psychologically engaging elements to performance management, at the end of the day, it’s about profit. It’s about an organisations ability to soak up the best talent they possibly can get a hold of. And more importantly, holding on to it and developing it.” Jeff Wellstead

So by perfecting your performance management process you are creating a really high level of competitiveness. But is it just a process? Or should it be considered something bigger than that?

“It’s essential. DNA level stuff. It’s cultural. Or it should be.” Jeff Wellstead

Which seemed like the perfect time for me to ask: Does Performance Management drive culture? Or is it the other way around? A question we received via LinkedIn earlier.

“I can get really wound up about this, because I don’t consider HR as a whole to be a process. It shouldn’t be a checkbox exercise” Sophie Theen
“I would say you need to have a good culture before you can do anything.” Niamh O’Connor

Turning our attention to why performance management should be digitalised, I asked. Should the choice of which performance management tool sit within HR?? Or should that responsibility fall within to a different department?

Sophie believed that HR should be the enabler. HR should spark up that initial conversation and then eventually it should open up to involve more working groups and the rest of the business. As the misconception may be that HR would be the main user, while in reality, each department should be using it.

“For me, it starts at the top. It starts with the CEO. The PeoplePodcast episode with Keith Moran is a great tangible example with how it can be brought in at the top and disseminated.” Niamh O Connor

But what happens if you have spent years without having any form of performance management within your team? How does an organisation actually start their journey of performance management? – An amazing question by someone in the audience which I think Niamh answered perfectly.

Her biggest piece of advice was to involve the business and key stakeholders. But also to use report and case studies from Harvard Business Review and Mckenzie to help show how performance management is important and what it can do to help your business.

“Start by understanding what your company goals are and ask yourself questions about how you are going to achieving them. Next, involve the heads of departments. Ask them the same questions. From there it will be a natural waterfall effect. As they then will start asking their team those questions” Niamh O Connor
“It’s almost in reverse order. Get people into a space where feedback is everything. Where they know how to give and receive it. Then get yourself a good tool and then a process.” Jeff Wellstead

Jeff also believes that performance management shouldn’t always involve HR, or a leader, prompting their employee about their performance. It’s about giving the employee the tools they need to be able to analyse their own situation and course correct to improve.

“Take Lewis Hamilton. When he is driving, he is constantly looking at the dashboard. His speed, his gear shifts, fuel levels, his tyre pressure. Information that he needs to win. This information is also transmitted to his crew, to the pit. But they don’t tell him what he needs to do to course correct. Because of the data he has in front of him, he can do it himself.
Imagine if we had that. If we gave our employees the right data and information for them to address any issues on their own.”
Jeff Wellstead

While Jeff’s formula1 example definitely won the race, it made me wonder, is data the sole reason why we should digitalise our performance management?

“You can still get data from an excel sheet. The most important thing about using a tool is being able to minimise the admin and increase the experience around it.” Sophie Theen
“I think DIGITISING your process is primarily for the purpose of feedback. Data is just a byproduct of that.”  Niamh O’Connor

It’s about creating structures. Creating a habit of people giving real-time feedback, recognition and constructive criticism. But what kind of evidence is there that digital performance management systems actually work? And how do you assess the impact of these processes, whether they are good or bad?

“I’ve only ever seen performance management systems work. Not just from the data collection or an employees performance point of you. More importantly, it helps an organisation reward and recognises people who are performing. As well as identify who is struggling and how to help them.  Jeff Wellstead

There are definitely a few ways that you can measure the impact of your performance management system. Whether in regards to long term or short term. But one of the most effective measurements that Sophie has found is asking the question: “Do you feel like you will still be here in a few years time?”

HR leadership should be about transparency and performance management works both ways. It is a leaders responsibility to then bring the results into higher management and assess whether the OKRs set should be changed or what needs to happen to reengage the team.

“From these results and data points, you’ll be able to quickly assess if your performance management system is working. Everyone will have their path and know what they need to do as a next step”  Sophie Theen

Within the last 15 years, demographics within the workforces have changed. We can see between 3 to 4 generations in one department. So should you have multiple types of performance management to suit the varied workforce? And during this current climate of multiple departments working from home, should we look to changing our process or practises?

“Let’s not forget that this process that we speak of, it’s a very personal thing. And within this current climate, we need to elevate the level of consciousness and emotional wellness around this. Performance management is a human-to-human experience.” Jeff Wellstead
“Definitely I think the practices have shifted. But performance management shouldn’t be seen as a taboo. It isn’t a punishment for people who are not performing. It’s about being able to get more data, more visibility so that a leader or manager can continue to support and make the team better.” Sophie Theen

And again, giving the current climate, lockdowns, restrictions etc.. how much should context play a part in performance management?

“Hugely. If your traditional highest performer has hit a wall, the data will tell you. And the reason for this could be anything. But it’s better to catch it sooner and addressed with openness and honesty. Then letting it get worse.” Niamh O’Connor

Yet another reason as to why performance management is better off with a continual process.

“Absolutely. I want to marry performance management with agile processes. Something that will allow me to see critical information almost daily.”  Jeff Wellstead

And what does the future of performance management look like? Will more organisations be taking this on? How do we ensure we continue to make this better for everyone involved?

“Get the basics right and keep it frequent. Embed recognition, feedback and constructive criticism into your culture. But always keep a future focus. Enhance your process with technology but don’t forget the fundamentals.”  Niamh O Connor
“Good performance management is centuries olds. It’s as much on the employer as the employee. Constantly looking at the data, at the trends and especially not getting defensive about what you find. Be prepared to modify and experiment.” Jeff Wellstead

To finalise, I turned to the poll I set out at the start of the webinar. 65% of respondents mentioned that they don’t do performance management continuously, so I was curious to find out if they had any further advice.

“Ultimately, it’s your choice. You can continue as you are. Making spot decisions on outdated information. Or you can treat your people as if they are your most expensive, critical assets. It’s your responsibility to feed them information that allows them to grow, that gives them purpose.” Jeff Wellstead
“I think the trust equation is always a good one to come back to. Credibility, Reliability, Intimacy and Self-Orientation. If you are having conversations about performance management then you are going to foster a culture of trust instead of one of mistrust.” Niamh O’Connor

As we disperse teams more remotely, new generations join and culture becomes an even bigger factor, it’s easy to see how performance management will continue to grow in importance.

I really hope you enjoyed this webinar as much as I did. Packed full of information, examples and real-world comparisons. So much so, that I think I can confidently add Performance Management Expert to my LinkedIn profile.

I also wanted to take two ticks to thank our sponsors.

FRANKLI – On a mission to help businesses have the most empowered, engaged & productive people possible. Say hi to Ronan and book yourself onto one of their product tours. You won’t regret it!

As it’s thanks to them that we can carry on doing these amazin’ things!

See you at the next one!

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