COVID-19 has changed everything, with organizations remodeling every function to adapt to the changing landscape with new processes. Organizations are already making adjustments to goal setting and ratings while communicating to their employees that they are valued and important. In the current hybrid/ work from home scenario, talent leaders have the responsibility to ensure optimum productivity of their employees.
Top leaders today agree that the performance management system should be reinvented and recalibrated for better-aligned results especially after the COVID-19 crisis. But how exactly can HR leaders make performance management more useful this year and in the years to come?
In an exclusive interaction with us, Akanksha Sane, Senior Director- India HR Delivery at PTC Software, a computer software and services company headquartered in Boston, Massachusetts employing over 6,000 employees in 30 countries, shares with us her thoughts on the new paradigms of performance and productivity management in the second year of the pandemic.
What are some of the paradigm shifts in performance management that COVID-19 has brought about?
The greatest paradigm shift that has been brought about is flexibility. Today, people can work from anywhere and at the end of the day, it’s about getting the job done, and doing it well. The other change about empowering the entry-level or first rung of people managers in a lot of organizations-ensuring that more dialogues happen and more empowerment goes down the line. That’s freed up bandwidth for people at top to focus on more challenging things.
Another shift has been towards a high focus on creativity and value-adding work.
There is also revisiting of incentives and compensation structures-it’s more about equities, RSUs which were earlier not doled out to large parts of the organization. More importantly, people are being valued for their skills and contribution and not for their place in the hierarchy. This situation has been a great equalizer in many ways.
How should organizations define and measure productivity amid changing business priorities?
You will always have an organizational strategy and objective or an end goal-that’s not going to change. In terms of defining and measuring productivity, one of the things organizations used to talk about was co-location and how being in the office helps. But the situation has brought about a change-co-location is not something people are going to talk about in the long run. As long as you have more connected teams and flatter, collaborative work models, more interconnected or matrixed organizations, those will do obviously do well. And that’s how you will be measuring productivity also-it maybe not just that one source or just your manager deciding the same. It will be a set of people who you are interacting with as you have to collaborate more.
Annual appraisals will not be the only measuring yardstick. While business priorities will keep changing and the goalposts will keep shifting, you will need to have shorter milestones, more frequent discussions on performance and productivity. You also need to celebrate these quick wins. One has to be agile-and these are all part of the agile philosophy.
Similarly, softer skills like communicating, ability to change, multi-tasking, ability to work under pressure or work in a remote setting will also assume greater importance.
What should be the key components of the new framework of continuous assessment?
I would say that keep your goals simple, measurable and you need to tell people what they exactly need to do. Don’t beat around the bush. Be agile-it’s a practice that’s growing leaps and bounds outside the IT industry. Ongoing conversations, real-time feedback, and coaching conversations which are more in the hour are better and will become important.
I think the focus should be on organizational goal achievement versus goal measurement.
This means you will probably look at the larger teams and if the team is achieving something, you will probably tick all the boxes versus an individual doing things. So there will a greater focus on team achievement rather than goal measurement.
What are some of the practices in performance management that need to be let go in this new world of work?
Rigidity will obviously not work in this new world. A lot of people were not able to work properly during these times due to bandwidth issues or care issues. You cannot be rigid now and say that I want you to dedicate 8-9 hours. Hierarchies will definitely go-it’s going to be more task-based and agile teams.
Some of our biases-such as working out of the office is great-may not hold true in the future. Be it men or women- everyone will get a level playing field now. We will have to learn and unlearn- a lot of data we were using for measuring productivity came from many years of baselining. Now that baseline itself will change. Organizations will have to be a little patient to do that baselining again and accordingly, your outcomes will change.
How should HR leaders focus on making performance management more useful this year and in the years to come?
Earlier you would get your goals in the beginning of the year and stick to the same. Sometimes, you were not even allowed to change your goals in between. I think all of that will go out of the window. Now, if you have projects, those will be broken down into tasks, and those tasks into actions-this is how granular it will get.
Also, you will not see very standard cycles of increment- you will see more of them happening through the year. If there cannot be one cycle of performance evaluation, obviously there can’t be just one cycle of increment.
Another thing that will happen is people having the flexibility of deciding their benefits, which wasn’t the trend earlier.
All of these will have a positive impact on productivity and performance, coupled with the renewed focus on wellness brought about by COVID-19.
What would be your one piece of advice to the HR fraternity when it comes to performance management for 2021?
I would say just be flexible-don’t have very rigid structures because you really don’t know what’s happening with people on the other side. A little up or down in performance does not mean the end of the world. As HR leaders, we need to be more empathetic. If you can do one extra thing for the person, do that instead of saying that it does not fall in our process or does not conform to our norms. By doing that one little thing for your employees, you can do wonders for them.