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The Journey to Meaningful Performance Metrics

Stuart Hearn

“Vanity metrics may make us feel good, but they don’t help us to make decisions”. This quote from master of marketing, Neil Patel, can be applied to a number of business functions – and when it comes to HR, perhaps top of the list for vanity metrics are performance review completion rates. Contributor Stuart Hearn, CEO – Clear Review

Compulsory annual performance reviews are, for the most part, pointless due to their one-off nature. Blink and a year has gone by, and no one remembers what was discussed in the review, what goals were set, and whether those goals were met. Having employees go through the motions of ticking boxes once a year is achieving 100 percent of exactly zero. In most cases, managers have become intensely skeptical of these processes, viewing them as a time-sink that doesn’t add value.

The more progressive approach is to implement a system and methodology that promotes continuous performance management – something that is garnering rapid uptake by the global HR community. Acknowledging the value of this more modern alternative does not equate to implementing it however, and there is still much work to be done in helping organisations to successfully move to this new, conversation-led performance model. It also raises questions around which metrics are actually meaningful, and how these should be tracked and communicated. 

Here’s how to maximise the outcomes of your move: Ask managers what they want and enable them to take ownership. Ultimately we want both employees and managers to have more frequent conversations so that more feedback is given and received, and this is where continuous performance management really comes into its own. It fosters better relationships between managers and employees, while also encouraging improved visibility of employee performance on an ongoing basis. All sounds great, right?

 So how can we push ahead with implementing this model whilst allaying fears that it’s not HR asking for ‘yet more time out of my busy schedule’? Also, how do we secure that all-important buy-in from managers?

Rather than HR imposing new performance policies and frameworks on managers, it’s important to involve the managers themselves in the decision process from day one – a move that will encourage them to take more ownership of their people’s performance outcomes. Ask your managers questions: Are ongoing engagement and regular feedback things they want to work towards? The overwhelming answer will be ‘yes’ but just by asking them, you will give structure to their thoughts and steer them in the direction of what they already intrinsically want. From there, it’s simply a case of HR saying: “We hear you, and we can support you in achieving that”.

This collaborative approach is key to achieving managers’ support and advocacy, and has been proven to increase the future success of a move to continuous performance. In our experience, when the continuous performance model is presented in this way, it’s generally well-received and uptake is much higher.

Focus on the journey to new (and better) metrics

Another factor to consider is that annual appraisals have been around for 20+ years so it’s going to take time to ‘unlearn’ certain behaviours. As Adobe’s CHRO, Donna Morris, famously said when making the transition: “This is a journey, not a destination.” 

So while it’s possible that HR teams will see less than amazing adoption to begin with, it’s important that they do not fear it. Why? Because having a small amount of real, actionable data is better than having lots of worthless data. Remember that you’re working towards a goal and completion rates will rise over time. Instead of worrying about meaningless, annual appraisal style completion rates, focus on the fact that you have real performance data for the first time. This valuable information will not only enable you to see how engaged your managers are with their people, it will help you to identify those managers who agreed with the proposition of more performance feedback and ongoing dialogue, but who are less engaged than they should be. 

Finally it’s critical to remember that the responsibility does not all rest on HR’s shoulders. This model holds a mirror up to the organisation and says ‘this where we are – and this is where we’re all aiming to get to’. 

The meaningful metrics to look out for:

  • Are people having regular check-ins?

  • Are people creating and completing near-term goals?

  • Is feedback flowing in my organisation?

  • Do employees feel like they are being supported, challenged and developed?

If you can answer ‘yes’ to all of the above, you can rest assured performance outcomes will be improving across the board. 

Ultimately, in order to manage the transition to a continuous performance model, organisations need to invest time in making it a success. Education is a big part of this, but if companies get it right, they will incentivise and increase both employee and manager participation, leaving the ‘old style’ appraisal in the past where it belongs. The end goal of facilitating more meaningful performance management and development conversations is the greatest win scenario however, and it is this that reaps much better performance and productivity for the long-term. 

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