5 Ways To Make Performance Management Human Again

Meghan M. Biro

It takes a new approach to manage a new workforce — or more accurately, to engage a new workforce. Today’s workforce comprises no less than five generations and reflects a culture in which a sense of shared values and engagement are key drivers of performance. It’s a workforce that prefers transparent leadership, frequent feedback, the opportunity for growth, and fair, empathetic, compassionate management — and that’s just a start. It is also a workplace transformed by digitization, in which we have profoundly powerful tools, and in which people are in a state of constant connection.

More human, more digital: it may seem like a paradox. But it’s just the opposite.

We’re also a critical juncture before the next major disruption — AI and robotics — transforms how we work once again. Now is the time to take a good look at what makes work human. The questions are as much practical as philosophical:

  • How can we increase our authentic connections via the digital space?
  • Are we empowered or diminished by digital tools and platforms?
  • Are we more human by virtue of being hyperconnected and social?
  • Can automation replace facets of management without taking away the human touch?
  • What helps a digital workforce maintain, reinforce and indeed celebrate its humanity, so we are secure enough to embrace the next inevitable disruption?

I’ve been thinking about this a great deal. Here’s a look at the five key strategies to making digital performance management more human:

  1. Take a new view of employees. It’s been suggested that management view employees as volunteers — who can choose to either come to work and perform or just coast for the paycheck (as long as it lasts). Recruiters often talk about a candidate-driven market. But the reality is that employees are employees — and that’s how managers need to view them. What’s changed is our understanding that the employee experience encompasses a far greater sphere: engagement, purpose, behavior, performance, goals (task or project-related, or stretch), work-life integration, and social presence.
  1. Infuse learning into management. An enormous factor for employee engagement is the potential for learning and skills development. For managers, an accurate assessment of performance requires an accurate assessment of skills as well. In a recent interview for the SAP Web Salon series, The Future Factor, Stefan Ries pointed out that “65% of the jobs of our generations that will perform doesn’t exist yet,” according to the World Economic Forum. Perhaps it’s time to marry “skills management” and learning opportunities into performance management, an expanded approach made possible with digitization.
  1. Break with tradition. It’s difficult, granted, to do away with the status quo, but commit to it: we know better. As a recent McKinsey article points out, certain “givens” do not work in performance management, and it’s time to give them up. Counterintuitive as it may seem, McKinsey found that the correlating pay to performance does more harm than good. Employee anxiety is more demotivating than motivating — even if the actual variance in pay is quite minor. Along that same vein, appraisals correlated to static time frames and final outcomes can be seen as unfair, and by extension, inhuman. Instead, forward-thinking companies may want to peg bonuses to company performance, install recognition programs that are multiplatform and multi-directional, with informal to formal forms of recognition, and track performance and provide feedback along a continuum, allowing that everyone has good days and bad days, and not all tasks are of the same quality or clarity (which impacts performance).
  1. Crowdsource your people. Heading into a new program, bring the best team in: your employees. Create an impactful series of surveys to generate frequent feedback from employees, tied to automatic functions that can track performance objectives and outcomes. It supports transparency since everyone is involved in the effort and everyone learns from it. That in turn invites a far more personal investment as all are connected to the mission. Beyond that, it’s the truth. By focusing on employee’s authentic needs and values, and authentic, actual results of key projects, you create an authentic, multidimensional picture of the performance environment.
  1. Transform softly. High on employees’ grumble lists are abrupt, ill-timed, top-down rollouts that disrupt workflow and take time and energy from pressing tasks. Most organizations can’t afford to put transitions ahead of production needs. But a cloud-based work culture enables companies to try new methods and strategies without altering the core data of functions. One model for revamping performance management in a way that’s compassionate to the workforce is to conduct a gradual transformation, using a group of employees as a test group. An SAP initiative launched a number of upward surveys to generate conversations, measuring early success among a group of “early adopters.” Within four months, nearly 90% of employees and managers were engaged in a continuous dialogue, averaging a score of 4 out of 5 in terms of quality. And as news of the program spreads throughout the workplace, so does a positive, optimistic view of the innovation.

Consider what empowers this workforce: Trust. Transparency. Fairness. Recognition. All are critical, also, to fostering employees to perform and grow aligned with the organization: to not only show up, but bring their best selves. I would argue that digitization can enable these qualities to permeate every function, exchange, moment and story in the workplace. The best digital innovations serve to ramp up performance management into a fluid, aligned collaboration, with vibrant interactions sparking further engagement across the board. But as with any tool and any investment: it’s not just what you invest in, but how you use it.

This post is sponsored by SAP. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

For more insight on performance management in the digital workplace, see Performance Management In The Post-Rating Era: Quo Vadis?


About Meghan M. Biro

Meghan Biro is talent management and HR tech brand strategist, analyst, digital catalyst, author and speaker. I am the founder and CEO of TalentCulture and host of the #WorkTrends live podcast and Twitter Chat. Over my career, I have worked with early-stage ventures and global brands like Microsoft, IBM and Google, helping them recruit and empower stellar talent. I have been a guest on numerous radio shows and online forums, and has been a featured speaker at global conferences. I am the co-author of The Character-Based Leader: Instigating a Revolution of Leadership One Person at a Time, and a regular contributor at Forbes, Huffington Post, Entrepreneur and several other media outlets. I also serve on advisory boards for leading HR and technology brands.