Is your organization’s performance management system fulfilling its potential for unlocking employee performance? If the answer is “not yet,” you’re not alone.
Last month I attended the annual SHRM (Society of Human Resource Management) conference where I watched an interesting scene. One of the speakers in a session asked 400+ talent leaders a straightforward question: “Who feels like they have a robust performance management system firing on all cylinders?”
No one raised their hand.
This moment got me thinking about the essential role that our systems, processes, and people play in advancing our organizations forward.
For example, I know from experience that performance management is only as effective as the manager leading that process. If a manager excels at day-to-day tasks but lacks effective leadership skills, their team’s performance may suffer. An ineffective leader might overlook the importance of preparing and developing their employees for the future in a way that aligns with the organization’s goals.
As such, organizations must prepare employees for what lies ahead by embracing performance development, which goes beyond the rear-view approach and fosters forward-looking continuous learning and growth.
So, how can talent leaders craft and implement effective strategies that celebrate past achievements while embracing a forward-looking view for unlocking employee performance?
We recently hosted our first Talent Talk, a round-table series from Wonderlic aimed at fostering a strong community among HR practitioners and business leaders who are at the forefront of tackling today’s most pressing talent challenges. I invited three remarkable guest speakers: a seasoned business owner in manufacturing, a skilled organizational development leader in financial services, and our people leader here at Wonderlic. Together, they shared their unique perspectives on seamlessly integrating performance management and employee development into a high-performing system that does fire on all cylinders. Read on for the key takeaways from our conversation.
Unlocking employee performance with an evolving workforce
Dealing with people inherently involves unpredictability, making it a constant challenge to fine-tune performance management and development programs.
“Recognition comes in different ways for different people,” said Tiffany Somerville, co-owner of a conveyor manufacturer SpantTech. “We’ve spent a lot of time with our managers teaching them how people work. We use Wonderlic Select to onboard people, and we’ve done a really good job of finding the right person for the right job.”
But it’s not just people who are somewhat unpredictable. It’s also the economy and technology advancements. “The rate of change is just out of control right now compared to years past,” said Demi Bohr, who oversees leadership development at Together Credit Union. “To keep up and grow as an organization, we have to make sure our leaders have the right tools to feel successful. In the past, we would have given someone standard training, but that won’t work today. We have to be thoughtful and intentional about how we’re developing our people and what tools we’re giving them.”
“To keep up and grow as an organization, we have to make sure our leaders have the right tools to feel successful. In the past, we would have given someone standard training, but that won’t work today. We have to be thoughtful and intentional about how we’re developing our people and what tools we’re giving them.”— Demi Bohr, Leadership Development Manager, Together Credit Union
Demi’s perspective underscores the need for effective technology that bridges the gap from generic, one-size-fits-all performance reviews to thoughtful, tailored development opportunities for individual contributors and managers across the organization.
How to do more with less: Simplify and scale
In today’s economy, organizations have to achieve more with less — less budget and less headcount. When it comes to unlocking employee performance, the question is, what actions are required to ensure performance improvements extend throughout the organization, not just in pockets or departmental silos?
“Automation has been our saving grace to get [performance reviews] out on time,” Tiffany said. “Now, input from the employee is more balanced with self-assessments as an ongoing process so they can record achievements throughout the year.”
Automation eases the burden on HR, managers, and employees, allowing everyone to focus on higher-value tasks. Tiffany also focuses on not making things overly difficult or complex. “We’re working on making 30-60-90-day reviews simple for managers. Another piece of our puzzle that Wonderlic helped us solve was looking at development opportunities for individuals by job. Now, it’s so much easier for us to see what they’re really great at and what they can work on. That helps us build a development plan.”
Scaling performance programs is crucial to ensure the development of every single employee, not just managers. That involves using techniques that can accommodate the entire workforce, curating custom content, and tapping into external resources. These enhance the effectiveness of development initiatives.
Emphasizing the future while evaluating past performance
Traditional performance management takes a rear-view approach. It’s important to look at past achievements. Effective development programs capable of unlocking employee performance must also consider how to engage employees and prepare them for tomorrow.
Kati Lechner, who leads the people function at Wonderlic, advocates for continuous learning and development through forward-looking feedback. “It’s easy to look back and assess how we did things,” Kati said. “But if you don’t set goals and have a plan for what happens next, then you’re probably going to see the same thing on their next performance review.”
Demi added, “We put a lot of effort into making sure leaders get training and development around coaching, growth mindset, and team engagement. We’re taking these concepts that seem conceptual but teaching them how to drive that into real-life solutions. … Our performance reviews have goals around development because if you’re not developing, then you’re not performing.”
“It’s easy to look back and assess how we did things, but if you don’t set goals and have a plan for what happens next, then you’re probably going to see the same thing on their next performance review.”— Kati Lechner, Head of People, Wonderlic
HR leaders should also encourage individual contributors to document their achievements throughout the year to facilitate comprehensive and future-oriented reviews. With Wonderlic Develop, employees gain access to personalized insights that empower them to learn, grow, and excel in their roles.
Paving the way to a high-performing future
Creating a world-class employee performance and development program is not easy, but it is possible. As people leaders, we’re constantly growing and improving — just like our employees. Experience and a desire to improve make a world of difference.
At the end of our discussion, I asked the panelists what advice they would give to their past selves. Here’s what they told me.
Demi: “Take the time to slow down as you build out these important processes.”
Kati: “Find out what inspires people and drives them. Then connect the dots between what the organization needs from them and what they want to do.”
Tiffany: “Embrace the hard. If it were easy, everyone would do it. If it’s hard, it’s hard for a reason. Embrace it, and go for it.”
I hope to see you at our next Talent Talk as we dive deeper into how talent leaders can build high-performing teams and organizations.