Organizations succeed or fail because of their ability to maximize talent with a robust performance management strategy.
Proactive businesses have a deep understanding of their roster and depth chart at all times, which makes it easier to identify which teams, approaches, and individuals are driving or failing the bottom-line. The more thoughtful an organization is about its employee performance management strategy, the better they can understand their overall strengths, needs, and areas of opportunity as a business.
Jump to …
- Why Getting Performance Management Strategy Right is Essential
- Discovering Why and How You’re Succeeding (or Struggling)
- Understanding Your Existing Approach
- Key Takeaways
Real conversations about employee performance in terms of work quality and cultural fit can be intimidating, especially without a robust framework in place. That aversion to the work means far too many businesses out there don’t have a good sense of how well they’re doing when it comes to measuring, understanding, and supporting employee development and success.
If you’re a business leader or HR director trying to build a great team, you need performance management processes in place to understand the impact of your team’s actions on business results.
Without a clear, consistent approach to measuring, discussing, and improving performance, you risk not knowing who your all-stars and laggards are. That means that, even if you’re succeeding, you don’t really know why. You can’t identify what activities to keep doing, invest more money in, or which team members to promote.
On the other hand, if you’re struggling and don’t have a performance management process, you won’t know what to fix.
The first step of the process is cutting through the noise and understanding what your current approach looks like. Then see how it is impacting the quality of work in your company.
Before you can go on any journey, it’s essential to know your starting point. When it comes to effective performance management, that means benchmarking the approach your organization has been using to date (no matter how formal or informal) and thinking hard about how that process functions.
Here are a few pointers to guide your reflection:
Consider the Term of Your Assessment Cycle
The first question to ask yourself about your assessment system is, “How frequently are we making assessments?”
Many organizations carry out formal evaluations just once a year, which means each assessment covers an incredible amount of time and work. That’s not at all conducive to providing real-time feedback or getting employees on track to improvement as soon as possible.
The frequency of discussions about performance in your organization directly influences what your assessment framework can do for you. The more assessment you can provide without infringing on employee productivity, the better you can understand your organizational strengths and work towards constant improvement. Succinctly put, frequent, real-time performance reviews yield a lot more impact than yearly ones.
Think About How Data is Informing Your Approach
If your assessment framework is entirely dependent on qualitative feedback and review narratives from supervisors or managers, you’re not providing your employees with the highest possible degree of accountability, and you’re not giving yourself the best possible legal protection.
All good assessment is fair and transparent, and getting there requires thinking about how you can use objective, quantifiable measures to help paint the picture of how individual employees are doing. Those measures might vary from position to position, but it’s crucial to identify clear KPIs, individual goals, and success indicators that everybody can agree on.
If your performance management framework doesn’t prioritize objective data as a key part of employee success narratives, you need to prioritize identifying leverageable data that already exists to inform and support your approach. That could take the form of many different data points, including:
- Project success/completion rate, as determined by project management/ERP/CRM data
- Ticket completion times, as tracked by work tools
- Attendance to key meetings, as tracked by meeting scheduling systems
- Positive/negative impact on financial success, as indicated by work on major projects/initiatives
Gauging Assessment’s Impact on Culture
Performance and employee culture are very closely tied together. Generally, when performance is high, it’s at least in part because morale and buy-in are high. When you see culture and morale begin to slip, it can be an indicator that low productivity is on the horizon.
One of the biggest things you can do as an employer to improve or harm morale is to talk to your employees about performance. As we said before, conversations about performance are a source of nerves or anxiety for many talented professionals, and the outcome of those assessments can be the difference between feeling powered up and ready to tackle new challenges or feeling beaten down and ready to head for the door.
That’s one of the reasons why you need to assess your current system’s success before making any changes. It’s crucial that you understand how employees perceive the level of performance across the organization. Also, understand how satisfied they are with it generally, and how receptive they are to conversations about improvement.
You need to know both how their awareness of expectations impacts their daily work and how the style of your assessment system impacts the way they feel, approach, or think about what they do.
You can use a few different strategies to learn how your team feels about the culture of feedback, including:
- Sit down and chat with employee focus groups
- Survey your employees anonymously online
- Bring in outside culture experts to help you gauge the climate
Evaluating Your Managers and Supervisors as Coaches
For an assessment and feedback system to work well, the assessments and feedback need to be relevant, targeted, and actionable. One of the most common mistakes organizations make is assuming that their leadership team knows how to deliver effective feedback.
One of your key self-assessment concerns should be determining the ability levels of your managerial and performance team in terms of observational and coaching skills. If you’ve got a skill gap at the assessor level, it doesn’t matter how good a system you build underneath — it’s doomed to fail.
As you assess your current approach, ask yourself, “How are we setting our leaders up to lead well?” It can also be useful to survey managers to learn:
- About their comfort levels with the current assessment system
- What, generally, they are looking for when they assess
- About their comfort levels providing constructive feedback
- What training or support they feel they need to do a better job
Focus on “How We Could Do Better”
The entire point of this exercise is to benchmark your current state and identify opportunities to get better. Don’t get bogged down in trying to follow every best practice (or even every recommendation in this article); just identify one or two areas to begin making changes to improve your processes. For example, if you’re currently assessing on a yearly basis, consider transitioning towards quarterly assessments next year. Bring in some feedback experts to train supervisors who need help with coaching.
Performance management strategy is important. But don’t allow it to become the subject of grandiose thinking and planning rather than an area of action. Reflect on what you’re doing now, think about how to make it better, and start one piece at a time.
Performance management and assessment are fundamental to running a great business. An emphasis on performance provides you with a granular understanding of your team. It also creates a roadmap for how you can improve, and encourages a thriving, positive culture.
As you think about your organization’s performance management approach, here are some key things to remember:
Making a commitment to performance management allows your business to:
- Maximize employee work at the individual, departmental, and whole-company levels
- Understand why and how you’re succeeding or failing
- Protect itself legally in cases of employee termination
The first step to leveraging that power is building an understanding of your current performance assessment practice and its success. This includes thinking about your:
- Feedback frequency
- Approach to data
- Employee culture
- Management support
- Opportunities for growth and employee development
Interested in Continuous Performance Management software?
Are you an HR professional or business owner looking for a performance management system to help you streamline your processes?
Kazoo’s Continuous Performance Management software helps your company do a variety of things, from onboarding to setting individual and organizational goals, tracking individual performance, documenting performance conversations, setting rating scales, and more in one convenient location.
About the Author
Carolyn Kick is the Director of Marketing at Launchways. Launchways helps growing companies get the people side of their business right. Launchways also offers strategic solutions for Human Resources, Payroll, Employee Benefits, and Business Insurance.