Performance management is important because it can really make a difference in people’s lives. When I started in HR at Procter & Gamble, I had at least three wonderful bosses who held me accountable for business results and didn’t shy away from difficult conversations. They also took the time to provide feedback (even when it was uncomfortable), help me develop my professional skills, guide my career development with assignments and special projects. I was also the rare employee who looked forward to performance review time!
However, my experience is somewhat rare. Supervisors, employees, and even HR professionals, no one is happy with performance management and their career development. Most employees consider their annual performance review as a necessary evil to be endured. Sometimes it can be cause for anxiety when the stakes associated with the reviews are high: raises, promotion, future assignments hinge on the result of the performance evaluation.
The process is not easier on supervisors. Because of the infrequent timing of the evaluation, there is a high burden to get ready and gather feedback. The administrative burden takes energy away from what could be a meaningful conversation. In addition, many supervisors feel ill-prepared to provide meaningful feedback.
Remote Work Makes Performance Management More Challenging
You have heard it before, the COVID pandemic changed so much of how we live and work. It forced a global experiment in remote work that few believed was possible. Working remotely has impacted all aspects of the workplace. My recent article on how to update job descriptions in a Work-From-Home context garnered a lot of attention.
Issues facing performance management when working remotely:
- Lack of in-person context: There are less clues and contextual elements when everyone is remote. Employees don’t know how their coworkers are operating and are hesitant to engage.
- Insufficient self-direction: working remotely requires self-directed employees with good critical thinking skills. I have seen with my clients that most low-skilled and junior employees really struggle with self-direction. In fact, they are lost!
- Isolation: employees feel disconnected, on the edge, not “seen” in the organization, isolated at home. This is heightened for low-skilled and junior employees who don’t have the confidence to make “noise” and languish on the sidelines.
- It’s harder to connect: With less informal opportunities to interact (travel, hallway chats, informal meetings), it takes effort to contact a coworker and even more so a boss. Much is lost when communication is sporadic.
Remote work context has compounded pre-existing issues with performance management. Many are reluctant to have performance conversations virtually. It appears that the infrequent performance conversations are now less frequent or even disappear. Many employees are feeling disconnected from their managers at a time when they need support the most.
Is There An Opportunity Inside This Crisis?
As we have changed so much of how we work since 2020, it might be time to also revamp how we evaluate employee performance. The context is ripe for change! Some HR leaders are seizing this opportunity for change with a few tweaks.
Here are my top four for your consideration:
- Make sure you have weekly 1:1 supervision meeting with your directs report and have similar meetings scheduled with your boss,
- Schedule performance conversations every three months rather than just once a year,
- Document weekly supervisory meetings and quarterly performance conversations to have a solid track record over a period of time to avoid recency bias,
- Look into technology that makes it easier to collect feedback and measure employee performance in real-time. Only move to this if your organization is ready for it (i.e. if they already do #1 through #3 pretty consistently!
Every crisis represents an opportunity to build back better if we seize the opportunity. As we learn to work with different models (fully remotely, hybrid, in-person), we need to reconsider how to manage employee performance in a new way. Although it might be uncomfortable at times, consider that managing performance is the best gift you can give your employees: a chance to improve themselves and improve their skills so they remain the most valuable asset of any organization!