By Lucinda Carney, CEO and Founder of Actus Software
2020 will forever be heavily defined by COVID-19 and it now seems that the impact, including new ways of working will continue well into 2021. A new year is always an ideal opportunity for a new start allowing organisations to reflect on performance and set goals for the future. With the continuing uncertainty over Brexit within this sector it is understandable that many firms have focused on survival rather than people management over the past 10 months. However, this brings with it the harsh reality that many managers will soon be preparing for the appraisal season ahead and this will include reflecting on objectives feel like they were set in a different world! Businesses and managers who have simply tried to move the same annual approach to management online will not be getting the best out of their people – if they ever were.
Actus research carried out in Jan 2021 shows clearly that more than 90% of managers have found that managing people remotely is different to managing face to face. Relying on an outdated, once yearly appraisal and compliance review simply doesn’t work in these circumstances that require a more agile approach. With remote working set to stay it is essential that we seize this opportunity to change our management style to be more flexible, empowering and continue this all year round, not just at appraisal time.
Out with the old, in with the new
A survey from the Society for Human Resource Management found that 95% of employees were dissatisfied with their company’s appraisal process despite it being entrenched in talent management. Appraisals allow business leaders to assess whether their teams have the necessary skills to improve outcomes and drive growth while ensuring any drawbacks are stopped in their tracks, resources are properly distributed, and talent is rewarded.
In 2021, HR professionals need to guarantee that all processes support employee engagement and help employees feel valued and connected, especially as the traditional office-based contact has been removed. Allowing managers to continue to use out-of-date objectives and tick box annual appraisal conversations has always been, and will continue to be, the wrong approach.
Actus research also shows that in a virtual workplace, it’s more important to adopt a human-centric approach to performance management – making it relevant, objective and inspiring for everyone involved. It is vital to have quality objectives and to review them regularly through meaningful one to ones. In the year ahead, harnessing a process of co-creation with your employees will become vital in ensuring that ‘invisible employees’ that aren’t physically in the office are not left behind. But how exactly can this be achieved?
Measuring performance against objectives: keeping it contextual
Unexpectedly, people managers were thrown in at the deep end, entering uncharted territory almost overnight, and often without training. As the world turned upside down, the objectives laid out at the beginning of 2020 are likely to have become irrelevant and neglected by the end. HR professionals didn’t have time to adjust processes or nudge managers to address this obvious issue at the time as they were also forced into reactivity, dealing with with new and changing employment legislation.
The problem is that the landscape changed and with this the ability for many people to achieve their documented goals to the letter. Someone working in client services might not have met their target for visiting X number of clients by X date because of the multiple, unpredictable lockdowns. Goals are supposed to inspire employees and give them something to work toward. But when they’re no longer achievable, they just end up gathering dust on the shelf – leaving employees disengaged and feeling without direction.
Ideally, this issue would have been recognised and addressed at the time by discussing and updating the objective in question. However, in all but the most forward thinking of businesses, this is highly unlikely to have been the case unless they already had a system or culture in place that reminded people to keep objectives updated.
So, what to do if we find ourselves in a situation where we have to appraise someone against wildly outdated objectives? Well we can start by considering mitigating factors and balancing those out with accomplishments elsewhere. The action or journey may have changed, but has the employee achieved the same result or delivered their best under the circumstances? The same employee working in client services may have, instead, met a new target of having 10+ quality video calls or phone conversations by the same date – ensuring the continuation of prosperous and positive working relationships. Or, more importantly, they may have achieved the overall result that the objective was meant to guide such as a specific sales target or goal. While not originally embedded within the company’s groundwork, success must now be considered contextually, pivoting around the interruption of the pandemic and focusing on outcomes achieved under the circumstances.
So, when preparing for the next appraisals, consider this, have circumstances outside of the employees control sincerely impacted their ability to achieve? Or have new objectives emerged throughout the year that the individual may have delivered against, but they were not originally documented? The pandemic has disrupted businesses everywhere, now, it’s about identifying how performance and productivity have been able to continue and thrive within the confinements of our homes.
Gathering behavioural evidence and feedback all year round
Behavioural competencies (the attributes we display when we carry out our work) are the ‘how’ of performance and have an impact on business success, employee satisfaction and client service. The knowledge and expertise of our people are critical to success but how this knowledge, experience, and expertise is applied is what differentiates high performance from average or even poor.
In addition to being evaluated on success metrics, employees traditionally would have been assessed on their positive attitude, overall collaboration and connection with the team. These skills are clearly visible within an office environment, but less obvious when hidden behind a screen. Without the right tools, employers could find it difficult to have the right judge of character with less visibility, reducing the ability of employees to be appropriately rewarded.
As teams navigate their way into a hybrid workplace, HR and managers will need to find a new way to ensure a level playing field for all and seek specific ways employees are engaging in a virtual setting. For example, how have employees interacted over video or chat? Have they shown proactive support? What has been their response time to emails and chat messages? Have they arrived promptly on Zoom calls?
The workplace is changing rapidly – so a mixture of traditional and virtual people management processes needs to be employed to complement this new normal. Where necessary, virtual people analytic tools can be utilised to detect how people are collaborating without being physically present, meaning no one is disadvantaged whatever their work setting.
Now, more than ever, performance should be evaluated throughout the year using evidence-based and contextual information against a shifting landscape. As we continue to be less visible, HR teams must support managers in pivoting the barriers caused by the pandemic – creating a fair and relevant appraisal system that recognises performance based on outputs not on attendance. No longer can we rely on traditional tick-box methods from the transactional style of the office but must harness an ongoing and organic system of co-creation that inspires and motivates our workforces to deliver their best wherever they are located.