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Modernizing Your Approach to Performance Management

Too many in management, from ground-level supervisors to C-level leadership, have trouble answering questions regarding their team’s performance in an honest, fact-driven way that speaks to actual performance and not just day-to-day habits or cultural fit. This disconnect isn’t for lack of trying– just about everybody understands that great work must be done to create a great enterprise. It’s articulating what that performance looks like and actually assessing it within your employees that’s so tricky.

Make no mistake: strong performance management is the difference between a promising organization growing into a business juggernaut or stagnating at not-quite-there. It’s what separates a solid leadership team from an excellent one and determines who are the flashes in the pan and who are the sustained innovators and disruptors.

Moving forward, we’ll explore:

  • Why industry standard approaches to performance management are often not efficient nor impactful
  • Why all businesses must modernize their approach to performance management in the near future to address the needs of the modern workforce
  • Specific mindsets, tools, and approaches organizations can use to begin transforming their performance management processes

Why Most Approaches to Performance Management are Outdated

The way we work, interact with our colleagues, and use technology on a daily basis has outgrown the traditional strategies that drove performance management and assessment in the 20th century. Our approach to accountability has fallen behind the pace of work, and that creates risk.

Perhaps the greatest example of this is the fact that most discussions about employee feedback and performance management are still built on qualitative feedback from direct supervisors. Managers fill out a scorecard for each employee, provide verbal or written comments, and, when applicable, create plans for improvement.

Here’s what’s missing from this traditional approach: in nearly every business where this legacy assessment practice is used, there are tech-based work management systems in place creating data that could be used to inform a much realer, more focused ongoing discussion.

That means many in business are choosing qualitative over quantitative and giving preference to supervisors’ thoughts and feelings over actual measures of worker quality and productivity. That method defies everything we know about the power of data and analytics in the modern workplace.

Furthermore, the traditional performance management model treats each individual employee as though they were an island, emphasizing only their direct relationship with their individual work and their direct relationship with their supervisor/manager/assessor. That approach is out of alignment with what we’ve collectively learned about the power and importance of teambuilding and company culture over the last twenty years.

Why Modernize Your Approach to Performance Management?

In order to gain the best possible understanding of the potential of your team and asses your areas of strength, weakness, and need, it’s crucial to have a modern, data-driven performance management and assessment framework in place. Any organization articulating a performance management strategy for the first time, or any business with a framework more than five years old, should prioritize this work to support short- and long-term viability.

Talent relations is increasingly an area of federal, state, and local regulation. Outdated performance management frameworks leave organizations open to lawsuits, sudden terminations, and potential non-compliance issues. An up-to-date approach to performance management sews up those holes in policy and provides better legal protection for the organization as a whole and each manager or assessor as an individual.

Modern, responsive performance management demystifies the process from top to bottom, creating better support for those in charge of assessment and greater authenticity for those being assessed. Each stakeholder has an appropriate voice in the process, the ability to provide documentation to back up their claims, and the goal-setting framework necessary to ensure everybody grows professionally together.

When you bring your performance management strategy into the era of technology, it breaks down the traditional boundaries between “boss” and “employee” to foster a more productive overall culture and push everyone toward excellence.

Three Things You Can Do to Modernize Your Performance Management Approach

Stop Viewing Performance Management as an Annual Appraisal

A year is an incredibly long term. If you managed a sports team, would you give every player a year of starting time before you assessed their performance? The answer is, probably not.

Great players get the most playing time and the most compensation, and the worst achievers are obviously sent packing, but it’s that 80% in the middle who the true coach can influence and push toward improvement. Good coaches make constant, ongoing assessments, make constant, ongoing feedback, and incentive the day-to-day work on a constant, ongoing basis.

Turning your management/supervisory team into “coaches” doesn’t happen overnight, but it does have the potential to completely transform what work and culture feel like in your business. The first step to unlocking that potential is eliminating your yearly (or even quarterly) performance management model and shifting toward an ongoing assessment structure.

As we’ve said, the increased availability of worker data thanks to technology makes this work much easier. Managers can use ERP interfaces, project management systems, and so on to monitor what employees are doing, how they are working toward goals and deadlines, and so on, each day or week. It’s easier than ever to see when someone is falling behind and make a correction or recognize an employee who is taking things to the next level at your organization.

While it seems like that kind of constant supervision creates new work for managers and new stress for workers, it actually streamlines and reduces both over time.

Adjusting to these new practices can take some time for supervisors at first, but once they’re plugged into performance management practices as part of their daily work, there’s no more quarterly or yearly assessment season crunch, and what was once a major stressor is now a harmless daily task. For workers, ongoing assessment means no more nervously waiting to find out how you’re doing, and each individual assessment or evaluation feels less stressful or punitive.

Build Clear Expectations and Establish Clear KPIs

We’ve addressed the concept of data several times already, but it cannot be stressed enough: The only way to turn performance management into a true performance driver is to stay rooted in data and objectivity.

One of the biggest issues managers have when it comes to assessment is that they might be responsible for assessing a team of 25+ people in a variety of different roles and simply don’t know where to start. Data-minded thinking absolutely obliterates that issue and provides strong anchor/talking points for any employee evaluation.

In order to make that work, though, your organization and HR departments must have a well-defined organizational chart with goals and measurable KPIs established for each professional, team, or department. Again, that sounds like a major task at first, but once it has been completed, there is a much more comprehensive vision for the organization and talent in place, and far greater clarity when it comes to who should be doing what.

When you have clear KPIs and measures of success for each position or role in the company, it’s easier to onboard new hires in a meaningful way, help laggards see where they need to improve, and identify superstar leaders of tomorrow. Employees can track their progress over time, and managers can mold each worker’s skillset or professional growth in relevant, individualized ways. That data-minded thinking makes everything less personal and less punitive, inviting each worker to create a vision of success for themselves in their particular role.

Establish High Performance as a Key Company Value

One of the biggest reasons employees fall short of expectations is because they didn’t fully understand those expectations. Either the importance of the work or the

value of doing an exceptional job is unclear or employees aren’t sure what great work looks like to you.

By making performance expectations clear, visible, and a daily part of the work experience in your organization, you can create a company culture in which your employees strive to be their best selves, meet identified goals, and brainstorm new ways of doing work better. When doing great work is a foundational pillar of what you do, employees will continuously be encouraged to go above and beyond.

Establishing a culture of high performance is much more complex than simply saying you want to do it. In order for that culture to feel authentic and for workers to buy in, you must create a clear roadmap that shows what excellence looks like and how collective excellence will grow the company and improve the lives of each employee.

Getting that right requires strong employee education, both to get new hires oriented and to provide veterans with the tools they need to grab onto the evolving face of work in their organization, as well as outstanding communication and a commitment to fostering a strong bond between the organization and its team.

Key Takeaways

Performance assessment has the potential to help a business become its best, most profitable self, but in order for that to happen, a modern, responsive system is required. Remember:

  • Performance assessment must be an on-going process to work well
  • When you get performance assessment right, everybody gains value: the business, the individual workers, and the middle management who does the assessing
  • Quantifiable data and KPI tracking make performance assessment easier, fairer, and help the whole process stand up better to scrutiny
  • The key to any performance-centric strategy is making sure team members truly value excellence and know what excellence in their role looks like on a day to day basis

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 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
  • How to recognize the common pitfalls of performance management
  • How to replace an annual assessment system with a continuous feedback loop
  • How to deliver difficult feedback and establish a shared view of reality
  • How to manage both high- and low-performing talent effectively

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:

  • 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 of building and managing profit-driving teams.
  • Gary Schafer, President at Launchways, who has built multiple businesses from the ground up and specializes in scaling high-performing teams for growing organizations.
  • Jon Howaniec, VP & HR Director at Clark Dietz, who has over twenty years experience building high-performing HR processes at fast-growth organizations.

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.