How to figure out if your performance programs are working for you

2020 has challenged us in many ways we never imagined. People teams around the world are working tirelessly to keep their employees safe, engaged and productive during this pandemic.

Surveying 445 HR professionals and business leaders as well as 622 employees, we launched our 2020 Performance Management Benchmark Report. We compared these results to a similar survey we ran in 2018 and found a number of meaningful shifts in the state of work and performance programs.

Before we get into the changes, it’s important to recognize what stayed the same: the processes. Nearly half of reviews are run annually or less frequently, and 46 percent of respondents are still using descriptive performance ratings, such as “meets expectations.” Individual performance continues to be the most important purpose of performance management. What has changed though? The shift in instilling a feedback culture and improving employee productivity for performance management programs.

Moving past a culture of feedback

In 2018, instilling a feedback culture ranked second (19.91% of respondents) for performance management processes. In 2020, HR and business leaders deprioritized instilling a feedback culture to sixth (4.76% of respondents). Feedback remains an effective coaching technique to grow and invest in your workers, so the decrease is surprising, at first.

I believe it is no longer enough to instill a culture of feedback; rather, feedback has become the expectation. Employees responded positively wanting more coaching and guidance from managers; there was an 89% increase in the percentage of employees who want formal performance conversations monthly or more frequently.

Related: Pay and performance management in the age of COVID

The lack of being physically together may also correlate with feedback. I know I’m not the only one who relies on visual cues and my team’s energy; without seeing the nonverbal communication, it can be hard to know how someone is feeling in a daily meeting, let alone when receiving feedback. Being remote adds another barrier that employees may be shying away from feedback. While uncomfortable, receiving feedback is key for employee growth. As workers stay remote into 2021 or even indefinitely, training on how to ask important questions, provide regular feedback and deliver feedback remotely will greatly benefit your workforce.

Productivity and engagement main drivers for program health

Research showed HR and business leaders ranked employee productivity and employee engagement as the leading health measures for performance management programs (Disclaimer: In 2018 the report did not ask about employee productivity). While employee engagement moved from third (2018) to second (2020) in the ranking, the biggest difference found was respondents were 1.7  times more likely to see employee engagement as the leading measure for health.

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Employee productivity and engagement are hard to measure and oftentimes self-reported. We’re also seeing remote work affect employees differently, with our younger workforce reporting lower levels of productivity compared to their seasoned counterparts. Keep in mind your employees are not working from home by choice. Employees are trying to work from home, during a pandemic. We are also struggling with the mental fatigue of COVID, social injustices, tragic wildfires and juggling additional home responsibilities. Many employees have also had to take unusual or broken schedules to account for child care and other additional responsibilities that happen concurrently with work—so it’s reasonable that productivity would take a hit.

I can’t help but think about the impact of not being physically together and how many companies moved to remote work abruptly. We can no longer rely on seeing each other in the office, and these broken schedules can give mixed signals about if and when employees are working. I’ve strongly encouraged all managers to continue with regular one-on-one meetings and ask open-ended questions on employee support, connectedness and productivity to better understand and support employee needs. The most successful companies will be those that stay flexible and prioritize manager-employee dialogue.

What now?

There is not a one size fits all approach to performance programs; your culture, the work and your team are integral factors when looking to change your performance programs. Performance programs also need to evolve to address changing organizational and employee needs.

2020 has revealed the crucial role that HR teams play in guiding the success of their organization, and as we continue to navigate this ever-changing environment, agility and resilience are crucial. There’s never been a more important time to be in HR.

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To see the full benchmark report, click here.

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