HR Leads Business

Apr 26, 2021 | Ruth Hartgen, PHR, CIR, Director, Human Resources at HRCI

Implementing Performance Management Tools at Your Organization

Performance management has seen a renaissance in recent years. Historically, managers and employees alike only reluctantly complied with the annual performance review process, and HR leaders now recommend frequent feedback and continuous conversation in performance management models. But converting those strategies into daily processes can prove challenging.

We’ve seen a slew of frameworks, tools and software thrown at the problem, but it goes deeper than simply adding a tool and expecting behaviors to change. HR must function as a facilitator and gain buy-in from managers on new ways to manage performance before implementing tools. Even the most state-of-the-art performance management software will become a failed investment without HR putting simple, clear processes into place to optimize its use.

Here’s how to thoughtfully implement performance management tools and processes to usher in the next generation of performance management at your organization.

Involve Managers to Generate Buy-In

HR functions as a facilitator and gathers performance management data on the back end, while front-line managers are responsible for using and inputting data into new systems. It’s imperative to get their buy-in if you want software and process changes to be successful.

Getting that buy-in starts by assuring managers that this process will make their lives easier — that it’s efficient, easy to use, and will make the overall process smoother.

The best way to generate buy-in is to get managers involved. Let them define what “efficient” and “easy to use” means for them. Survey direct managers to find out which processes they think are most manageable and effective. Conduct focus groups to determine which tools in your technology stack they find easiest to use, as the responses can give you an idea of what they would acclimate best to.

Performance management isn't historically something that people get excited about. Show managers how performance management can connect them and their teams to the organization’s larger purpose. Share high-level performance goals with front-line managers to help them see how their role in performance management supports organizational goals. And give them a sense of the importance of better, more effective performance management.

Identify Tools That Fit Your Culture

When looking to implement a new performance management tool, don’t just chase features. Take the information you gleaned from managers while generating buy-in to find performance management tools and processes that work within your organizational culture. What processes and initiatives have been most effective? What are your cultural and behavioral norms, and how can you develop a new performance management process that functions within those norms? If it’s a norm at your organization to have broader conversations on a team level, for example, then find a platform that supports outcome-based group performance management.

Pulse surveys of the workforce can help you get a temperature on which tools and processes employees feel most comfortable with and are most likely to adapt to. Think about the experiences your existing performance management creates. “We need to be clear about what exactly we want performance management to be accomplishing for us and what kind of experience we want employees to have with that process,” says Meisha-ann Martin, SPHR, Director of People Analytics at Workhuman. Analyze engagement surveys for data on how employees feel about current guidance and feedback processes, as well as how they’d like to be supported to overcome common performance problems.

Look for a performance management tool or system that can be optimized within your existing culture and connects individuals and teams to the organization’s greater progress and purpose. A shared sense of purpose and a line of sight to overarching goals are essential motivators for effective performance management. Find a tool that allows managers and employees to see organizational goals and collaborate on setting their own for themselves and their teams. When managers and employees are involved in that process, they feel a greater sense of ownership.

Performance management is trending away from assigned ratings, so your tools will likely collect primarily qualitative data. Find a system that can mine qualitative data to give you a window into how managers speak to and about employees. Be intentional, and design your performance evaluations to support objectivity. “If we make it qualitative with no guardrails about what you should evaluate, then the likelihood of biases creeping into that process increases,” Martin says.

Pair New Tools With Clear Processes

Effective use of any tool depends on clear processes to guide its implementation. This is especially true when implementing something as hands-on as the next generation of performance management. It’s HR’s responsibility to provide a clear framework of what is expected and proper training on any tools being used, so those managers are set up for success when it’s time to apply new tools and processes with their employees.

Effective performance management requires consistent check-ins and feedback, but you must develop clear guidelines for when these check-ins should be informal (daily calls between managers and team members) or formal (scheduled reviews with data entered into the system).

“You really have to create and curate structures that'll allow you to check-in with your team members,” says Angela R. Howard, SPHR, an organizational culture strategy consultant. “Just having that time on the calendar is one way to have those progress-driven coaching moments.”

Internally at HRCI, we’re moving to a quarterly process for formal reviews. After the uncertainty of 2020, we realize that goals set at the beginning of the year can't always proceed as planned. We determined that more frequent performance success check-ins are beneficial to performance, as we can catch and react to performance problems and changes in real-time.

Develop practical, manageable processes to implement alongside new tools or software. Task management software can help managers keep up with check-ins and remind them when formal check-ins are coming up. Performance management should be a two-way conversation, so use performance management tools that foster transparency. “It's important to make goals visible,” Howard says. “You want to make sure there's some way that they’re holding each other accountable.”

Provide training around coaching and continuous feedback to go along with new processes and ensure that managers always have access to additional learning resources. “We need to equip our leaders to have all these different types of conversations that are important in terms of the day-to-day management of performance,” Martin says. “We need to make sure that they have access to those things when they need them.” You can grant employees access to some of these resources, too, so they have a better sense of the purpose of frequent feedback conversations.

Create a Plan to Communicate Change

Change management is as vital to implementing new performance management tools and processes as the tools are themselves. And consistent, targeted communication is crucial to managing change. “If your company can build that capability, that's another lever of success for implementing this type of futuristic goal-setting and performance management,” Howard says.

Draw on data from when you were generating buy-in and craft a targeted communication plan. Some managers may be committed, while others are still resistant. Both groups require different types of messaging to generate their support. Use data from surveys and focus groups to anticipate areas of resistance, sending targeted communications to overcome those doubts.

Communicate how alignment on new performance management tools and systems can create more effective work environments for individual managers and teams while also connecting them to the bigger picture. Take this opportunity to be transparent and share how the changes in performance management are designed to give managers and teams greater familiarity with larger organizational goals and a sense of purpose derived from feeling connected to them.

When we create the framework of our strategic goals at HRCI, we start at the organizational level, then flow down to the team level and, finally, the individual level. Everyone is familiar with the overarching organizational goals, which generates a “we” mentality: We know that we're all driving toward the same thing.

Iterate Until You Get it Right

Changing something as controversial as performance management has become will require time and a lot of thoughtful execution, so don’t give up if there’s room for improvement. We're currently using our performance management system in its most simplistic form to kick it off. All of these tools can do lots of things, and you can make them as complicated as you want to make them, but it’s vital to build on your progress gradually, so you don’t overwhelm anyone.

And remember that no process is final. If the framework you selected doesn’t seem to be working, continue to communicate with managers and employees to find out why. Follow up after implementation to learn how you can optimize the process for front-line managers and continue modifying the process to support ease of use and generate continued buy-in from users.

Effective performance management is vital to your organization. Treat your employees as consumers, and maintain a relationship with them throughout the transition process. Listen to their concerns and act on them to perfect your performance management processes.