The global workforce is nearly two months into working from home, adapting to the new normal, acclimatizing to a digital working culture, settling in their home work-desks/couches and getting on with this new reality one day at a time.
Now that the initial panic that took the world of work by a storm on suddenly shifting to a remote working model for time unknown has begun to fade away, employees and leaders have found their way and are getting a grip of how to deliver work, maintain the connect, innovate on new digital offerings, so on and so forth. While that surely is a relief, one concern persists. How will employee productivity and performance be tracked or measured?
As part of the ongoing EXWeek hosted in partnership by People Matters and SAP SuccessFactors, a panel discussion with speakers Babita Basak, Associate Director- Strategic Hiring, Edelweiss Financial Services and Sunil Pamnani, Regional Sales Leader - Indian Subcontinent, Qualtrics, moderated by Anushree Sharma from People Matters, brought about thoughts and insights on enhancing employee productivity and performance in the present context, triggered by COVID-19. The discussion was aimed primarily at finding answers to questions like:
- Why is employee experience critical to employee performance?
- When it comes to productivity, what are the key drivers employers need to pay attention to?
- How can you ease the process of measuring multiple data sources?
- How can employers support their employees to improve their performance?
Here are highlights of the discussion.
What has changed in performance management after the crisis?
There was a time when performance management only meant performance appraisal which was an annual event, much like the report card handed to students at the end of the year, in this case, the marks received through the year would only be revealed in that one dreaded face-to-face meeting. The annual meeting over a period of time became a bi-annual connect. Appraisal in monetary terms reamained an annual matter, however, the need for a more frequent, performance and development based conversation was acknowledged. Gradually this translated into a quarterly conversation, and eventually to weekly check-ins on challenges, progress, aspirations and support needed. The highlight of this transition being the need for consistency.
In addition to consistency in today's context, such performance related conversations have other guiding factors as well:
- Trust is the very foundation for you to be able to build a strong bond virtually, you need to trust your employees to perform
- Empathy in conversation and intent, crucial to keep the human connect intact despite the miles in between
- Clearly articulated expectation setting. Avoid ambiguity when it comes to setting performance and deliverables expectations. SMART goals are more relevant now than ever.
- Continuous listening to understand what’s working well and what’s not. The size of teams affect a manager’s ability to connect and engage with team members, and now that the team is distributed, a manager or leader would require greater empathetic listening capabilities
- Recognizing the impact of employee wellbeing on performance. Acknowledging and factoring-in an employee's physical, mental, emotional and financial well-being and its direct impact on his/her/their performance
Today, when one talks about performance management, the role of a leader or manager in these conversations has become much more active than passive. As a manager, you need to go above and beyond and check-in on your team members, see if they are doing alright, keep them motivated, learn about how they are coping, be more inclusive and encourage participation of employees in team calls, especially those who are introverts.
“Be completely transparent and open about decisions being taken, let people know why a certain decision has been taken, what’s the impact of the situation,” said Sunil Pamnani, on the need to to build trust and transparent conversations.
It is challenging for managers to make difficult life-altering decisions on a daily basis, talking about deferred salaries, pay cuts, layoffs, but the one thing that will help them through such challenging conversations is being authentic, open and vulnerable. To create a safe space for employees to be able to share their fears, insecurities and anxiety about work and otherwise, triggered by the outbreak of COVID-19 and its consequences, leaders should try to be more open and share their feelings as well. This will not only make it comfortable for employees to open up, but will also help with the mental and emotional wellbeing of leaders.
Managers and leaders need to destress as well, and not let the situation get to them. It’s always better to share, it helps bring the team closer and build authentic and meaningful relationships. You don’t have to be in the lead always, by displaying such vulnerability, you might even inspire your team to step up and do more than what you expected of them.
The correlation between EX, performance and productivity
In the quest to improve experience of employees, organizations need to have access to the right tools and data to empower their workers.
“There were times when people used to think whether employee experience is a critical business enabler, today time has proved that yes it is,” said Babita Basak, emphasizing the importance of EX in the overarching concerns of productivity and performance in a remote working setup.
There is a stark difference between what work from home meant as an optional flexible working arrangement and what it means in the present context, as a globally adopted operating model, and that has an impact on employee experience, performance and last but not the least, productivity. The need to quickly adapt to a new way of working, becoming accustomed to virtual collaboration with colleagues, internal and external stakeholders as well as customers, developing tech-intelligence by switching between multiple virtual collaboration tools and technologies, minimizing the impact of the global crisis and change in routine on deliverables, all the above have a direct impact on EX, performance and productivity.
How to measure performance and enhance productivity amid crisis?
Answer these 3 questions:
- Am i providing the right EX? Babita recommends the C2E2 model for a seamless EX - Communicate a lot, connect a lot, engage a lot and enable employees. Technology is the backbone of any business today. As Babita shared, “Technology has become a panacea.”
The need for social distancing has paralyzed the ability of the workforce to be present in the vicinity of their peers, managers, leaders and the organization at large. So how are you leveraging technology to provide the right EX?
“Keeping employee safety at the core and then bringing in technology as an enabler to enhance the experience is extremely important because in these times employees are worried not just about their safety, but their family’s safety, uncertainties in the market. Therefore, the experience you give through different platforms becomes extremely critical,” added Babita.
- What constitutes productivity? Adaptive intelligence and emotional intelligence are the two pillars of productivity today. It is not only the functional skills, but an employee’s ability, willingness to contribute, going the extra mile to support peers and leaders, all these contribute to productivity. The ability to collaborate and communicate impacts not only an individual’s performance in a virtual environment but also that of others, and vice-versa.
- What are the parameters to assess performance in the present context? Performance expectations will vary with the nature of roles, the industry and function in the current context. While some roles can be seamlessly performed from home, given the availability of basic infrastructure, a lot of other roles need to evolve to sustain themselves within a remote working model. Customers might expect a contact-less business, and that will all come back to how you expect employees to deliver. Roles will be more fluid. Therefore it is crucial for managers to sit down with the leadership as well as their teams and identify opportunities, set SMART goals, and recognize the qualitative additions. Numbers will remain critical, but to survive, it is the soft skills that your employees bring that will help you resurface.
Everyone has adopted an experimentative mindset instantly, trying to get a hang of how operations run, building rapport virtually, experimenting with different collaborative tools to find what works best for your organization’s need. There is no right or wrong solution when it comes to performance and productivity.
As an organization, you need to acknowledge the extremities of the global crisis on both personal and professional lives of employees, understand how the situation has not only put an organization’s existence in question, but has disrupted the lives of people.
When leaders are asked what is the one thing that will help them sail through the crisis, a majority say empathy. Without having to ask, your employees have been working overtime already and not complaining. If you still are struggling with why empathy, it’s time to put that empathy in your words, actions and decisions, you will be surprised to see what you receive in return from your employees.
For insights on the latest trends in employee experience amid COVID-19, download the research Mind the Gap: 2020 Outlook for Employee Experience and find out about the current state of the employee experience in India, opportunity areas in different stages of employee life cycle to enhance the experience and how to measure the success of your employee experience strategy.