In this age of positive disruption and technology pervading our entire work-life spectrum, the key metric of performance management is also getting reinvented.
In the contemporary sense, performance management has so far been defined by periodic reviews, annual assessments, self-evaluation forms, interactive sessions between the reporting manager. Different reports and summaries of achievements are then discussed and evaluated to assign a rating to an individual employee’s performance. This is, however, a process which is stuck in a time warp and has not kept pace with the more scientific and technological metrics that have come to define performance.
In today’s corporate understanding, a performance assessment is the sum of work executed as well as critical parameters which go beyond just the conventional work-related metrics. The older mechanism of performance management has rightly come to be perceived as a chore, possibly a necessary evil - not the dynamic, constructive process it can be if it is adapted to the current times and the rapid changes in technology as it pertains to human resources management.
Fortunately, workplaces are evolving and change is afoot even in performance management and assessment. First and foremost, performance management is not a static variable, but rather a dynamic and evolving mechanism which gets underway the day an individual joins the organization. Performance assessment has now assumed the shape of a dialogue and has become a forward-looking tool rather than a retrospective mechanism to measure delivered performance.
It has now emerged as a much more effective tool for change management at the workplace, providing measurable insights through a two-way communication process. Not only is goal-settings done at the beginning of every performance cycle, it is deliberately made to resonate with the business unit and organizational goals and milestones. Moreover, these goals also reflect the employee’s expectations for his or her own professional and personal growth over the same period. The process of giving back to the organization and contributing to a workplace culture, ethos and ethics of the organization are also key components of performance management in the current context.
Effective performance management in today’s evolving work environment also means a constant review of goals, identification of process and goal-driven scenarios, tackling bumps on the road and finally creating an environment of recognition and rewards that breeds a collaborative culture. Effective performance management should also be able to carve a future course of action for an employer looking to retain and nurture talent by providing data around skill gaps – be they technical or behavioral.
Importantly, no modern discussion around performance management is complete without introducing and using technology-driven enablers that make the whole process more efficient, interesting and rewarding. Various tools are available both as software packages as well as cloud-based solutions.
Cloud-based tools such as Featherlight facilitate scheduling frequent one-on-on meetings, track performance in real time, and contribute to talent development efforts beyond conversations behind closed doors. It packages features such as individual and company goal tracking, peer-to-peer feedback, and deep performance analytics for individuals and teams.
Performance Management has evolved to include softer aspects
No longer is an effective achiever also necessarily seen as a future leader; nor will an employee find herself at odds with the company’s values which can make her question the firm itself. High achievers are often single players and a modern and effective performance management process must be able to identify them as such so as to create synergies for them in the overall company fabric. Likewise, if an employee has an existing or even potentially negative influence on the workplace, an effective performance management tool must be able to constantly evolve and identify how such employees can be retained, re-oriented and nourished to a successful career in the firm.
Softer aspects such as coaching, mentoring, respect, team-building and fostering trust and a collaborative culture are also key aspects against which a performance management tool must be able to rate and review employees. This allows companies to identify future leaders and managers.
These revolutionary changes to performance management have not only created an effective management tool for performance reviews but also made the whole process much more democratic, inclusive and accepting of different personality types within an organization.
Why this disruption is the best thing happening to performance management
Traditional annual review-based performance management often took a beating when business goals evolved during a year (change in leadership, strategy, purpose) and employees never got around to revisiting their goals - the result being mismatched expectations at year-end. This was more a performance appraisal than active management.
Tools like BetterWorks and Weekdone have bridged this gap by facilitating timely communication of achievements and employee effectiveness to supervisors, who can in turn use this information to recognize and reward excellence and remedy behaviour that is not in sync with the employer’s performance indicators. Another technology tool Trakstar keeps all parties updated by emailing employees about upcoming conversations, status on goals, etc. Timely feedback has proved to be the surest way to enable resources to perform at their highest potential.
At the end of the day, all such tools provide a means to creating an effective process of performance management – no more and no less. They are just stops on the way to a journey which the firm and its employees must undertake together.
What could go wrong?
All these benefits bring their share of potential pitfalls as well. A major caveat for companies adopting performance management tools would be to ensure the human element is not lost. Feedback provided over a tool might be perceived as impersonal and taken for being more critical than intended, or the opposite - a major risk area may look like a smaller problem when not communicated face-to-face.
Supervisors too may deliver feedback without constructively interpreting terms and expressions, because the anonymity offered by such a tool helps them use stronger expressions than they would in a face-to-face meeting. In case the recipient does not agree with the feedback they will not be able to voice their concerns, potentially breeding frustration and a demotivated workforce that cannot trust its leaders.
What safeguards can we have in place to ensure effectiveness and hedge against failure?
Trust and the human element could be facing the biggest threat under the new technological regime in performance management. Companies should have safeguards in place to ensure that the ‘human face’ is not lost behind a dashboard of facts and figures. Performance management is a process in nurturing, and should thrive on human connect. Criticism should be in good faith and a tool may find it difficult to replicate the motivational energy of a healthy coaching conversation.
The element of anonymity, while facilitating healthy candour, should not become a façade or a mask. The recipient would grow an attitude of distrust if criticism came without ownership. Inviting feedback or appraisal of an employee’s work from multiple parties could go a long way in not just maintaining trust but also gathering more layered and actionable feedback which is effective in steering people development.
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