It’s a fact of life that people don’t like change – so introducing any new HR process that requires people to think and act differently is always going to be a challenge.
Performance management is a problematic subject – often regarded by managers as an irritating, box-ticking exercise, and by employees (particularly those who’ve had bad appraisal experiences) as something to be disdained and avoided.
It is important, however, to review performance management systems from time to time to make sure they are fit for purpose, running smoothly, and still reflect the organisation’s culture and priorities.
If you’re going to invest time and effort in developing a new system, you want to make sure it lands well. So what do you need to do to make sure both employees and managers understand the thinking behind a new approach to performance management and engage enthusiastically with a new system?
Lay the foundations
A performance management system – like any other new system – will work best if people feel they have been part of its creation. Of course you can’t consult with the whole workforce about every nut and bolt of a new system, but it is a good idea to involve users at the planning and development stage. A focus group with managers, for example, will help you understand what they need from a system and how you can build a process they will find easy to use. An employee focus group is a good way to test the temperature on any new initiatives you may be planning to introduce, such as competencies or scoring. Piloting a new system with a small test group is also a good way to iron out any glitches and highlight any unanticipated issues. You’ll never please everyone, but people are more likely to engage with a new process if they feel their voices have been heard and their ideas taken into account.
Have a communications plan
It’s no good just suddenly launching a new system out of the blue and expecting everyone to enthusiastically jump on board. You need to tell people a new system is being developed, explain the thinking behind it, and set out the practicalities of how it will work. One all-staff email isn’t enough. Plan a phased programme of communication before, during, and after the launch so that there are no surprises, and everyone is clear about what they need to do differently. Employees and managers will have very different information needs, questions, and concerns, so ensure to tailor your communications to suit the audience. It’s important to reinforce information on a regular basis as it takes time for a new system to bed in and for people to get the hang of it.
Performance management is often the cause of much angst in organisations, so it’s important to reassure people that they have nothing to fear from a new approach, and that it is there to support them and make life easier. Introduce an automated system, for example, and managers may be worried that it will be time-consuming or that the technology will be complicated. Introduce more frequent reviews and employees may be worried that their performance is going to be more closely monitored and they will be hauled over the coals for every little mistake. Make sure managers are clear about how a new approach to performance management will help them lead their teams more effectively and get the best out of their people. Reassure employees that the new focus on performance is about helping them build on their strengths, get clear about priorities, and develop new skills going forward.
Support managers with training
It’s quite possible your managers may have been paying lip service to performance management for years. They have regarded it as yet another item on the to-do list, and as a distraction from the “real work”. If you are moving performance management up a gear, however, you can’t just expect managers to automatically know how to execute it or to change their behaviour overnight. Managers may need help, for example, in understanding how a forward-focused approach to performance management can yield better results than the traditional ‘looking back’ on last year, or how to have productive and motivating performance reviews with their team. Make sure everyone is clear about what the new approach is aiming to achieve, and that they are equipped with tools and frameworks to help them have good quality conversations.
Let technology take the strain
Technology cannot replace the conversations managers need to have with their people – but it can do much to support the performance management process and to make sure those conversations actually do happen. The latest performance management software can nudge managers when appraisals are due, and make it easy to find and complete the necessary forms electronically. They provide a central place where information about what’s been discussed can be recorded, so that it’s easy to revisit objectives or targets and adjust them if priorities have changed. Information about any development that’s been agreed can also be easily recorded, so that both managers and individuals can access records and make sure planned training gets scheduled in. The latest generation of systems are intuitive and straightforward to use, making it easy for managers to keep track of the performance management process, and make it an integral part of the way they manage their teams.
One action to take this week: Set some time aside to think about how you could improve your performance management system – whether that’s a small tweak or a major review. Take inspiration from Deloitte’s reinvention of their performance management processes.