Organizations succeed or fail because of their ability to maximize talent.
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.
In fact, the more thoughtful an organization is about employee performance management, the better they can understand their overall strengths, needs, and areas of opportunity as a business.
Moving forward, we’ll explore:
- The importance of prioritizing employee performance management
- How to benchmark and understand your approach, including how to…
- Remain data-driven
- Measure the connection between performance and culture
- Set your managers up to be great performance assessors
Why Getting Performance Management Right is Essential
Real conversations about employee performance in terms of work quality and cultural fit can be intimidating, especially without a strong framework in place. That aversion to the work means far too many businesses out there don’t really have a good sense of how well they’re doing when it comes to measuring, understanding, and supporting employee success.
If you’re a business leader or HR director trying to build a great team, you need performance management processes.
Discovering Why and How You’re Succeeding (or Struggling)
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.
Understanding Your Existing Approach
Before you can go on any journey, it’s important to know your starting point. When it comes to 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 individual assessment covers an incredible amount of time and work. That’s not at all conducive to providing timely 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 encroaching on employee productivity, the better you can understand your organizational strengths and work towards constant improvement.
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 each individual employee is doing. Those measures might vary from position to position, but it’s crucial to identify clear KPIs, employee 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.
Thoughtful performance management 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 improvement
How to Learn More
If you’re a business leader looking to build an impactful, forward-facing performance management strategy, be sure to join us on Wednesday, December 11th to learn about The Future of Performance Management!
This free webinar from Launchways and Kazoo will be packed with actionable insights about emerging best practices for performance assessment including how to:
- Assess the impact of your current performance management program and get started on building something even better
- Recognize the common pitfalls of performance management
- Replace an annual assessment system with a continuous feedback loop
- Deliver actionable, powerful feedback, even when it’s difficult
- Build a step-by-step procedure to handle employees who are underperforming in their roles
The hour-long learning experience will feature presentations and Q&A time with an all-star panel of veteran business leaders who know what it takes to build, manage, and continuously improve a great team.
Presenters will include:
Paul Pellman, CEO of Kazoo, who specializes in creating employee engagement and performance management strategies that build purpose and success in the workplace.
Jodi Wellman, Co-Founder of Spectacular at Work, a leading executive coach who specializes in helping business leaders maximize their teams to build success and balance.
Adam Radulovic, President at XL.net, an experienced entrepreneur and small business leader with a track record building and managing profit-driving teams at many different scales.
Jon B. Howaniec, SHRM Certified Professional and VP at Clark Dietz, who oversees talent acquisition, staff development, and employee compensation at a multi-state engineering firm and specializes in strategic planning.
Any business leader, HR director, or manager hoping to improve their skills as a coach, mentor, or accountability partner should make time to check out The Future of Performance Management: How to Modernize Your Approach and start the process continuously improving their team this December!
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.