Business priorities can and do change. The Covid-19 pandemic is a textbook example of how business focus can be set spinning in a moment. That’s why we at EHC periodically revisit the business and people support structures we have in place: to see how they are working for us and how we might make them even better.
Recently, it was performance management’s turn. A short time ago, Eagle Hill began to shift to a model of real-time people development. But we still spent too much time and effort in the year-end assessment process.
That started us thinking about how to make the performance management process a real instrument of performance acceleration. If we focused on teasing out and developing the performance that would lead to consistently outstanding contributions from every team member, then organizational performance overall would rocket ahead. That’s just what happened.
Here’s what we learned from our experience.
First, taking a different tack meant building a divider between performance measurement and performance acceleration. In other words, while we still look at performance throughout the year, we now do it through two separate lenses:
Acceleration, which promotes employee growth through frequent, real-time and two-way feedback. Our acceleration stream enables our people to address performance needs in the moment and support individuals’ long-term development goals.
Measurement, which focuses on how an employee is doing, through data-based, research-validated measures. The measurement stream helps identify our high performers and becomes a key input into promotion and compensation decisions.
Throughout the year, we keep a close eye on employee engagement, which translates into feelings of investment and thus the motivation to produce high-quality work; it’s a critical predictor of high performance. Taking a regular pulse of employee engagement also supports performance acceleration by informing development conversations with team leads.
We keep these two views (acceleration and measurement) separate until it’s time to take action, so as not to influence the picture we get from each. But once complete, we merge them together to decide a spot-on course of action for each person that comes together quickly and with a high degree of certainty.
Frantic, year-end bursts of activity go part and parcel with traditional performance management’s attempts to assimilate a year’s worth of performance history all at once. These efforts invariably lead to huge outlays of time and money—and equal amounts of employee disappointment and dissatisfaction, because they focus exclusively on measurement, rather than on an employee’s development.
In contrast, Eagle Hill’s new way promotes frequent conversations and reality checks that give employees the feedback, direction and support they desire to grow:
Weekly, employees and team leads talk about the current work.
Quarterly, Eagle Hill takes quick employee engagement and performance measurements.
Monthly, they discuss individual development goals.
End-of-year, our previously onerous compensation and promotion decisions come together with very little effort—and certainly less hassle.
It’s the difference between driving with your eyes on the road ahead versus focused on the rear-view mirror. Now, we get real-time data that reduces bias and gives us more reliable measurements of performance as it happens.
We recognize and reinforce positive behaviors on the spot. We identify and shore up weak performances before they snowball. Ultimately, we have the ability to intervene whenever we see the need, on either the employee or team lead side. And when we need to make big decisions, they don’t come as a surprise.
Popular thinking says engagement data must remain anonymous or employees will be afraid to provide it. That has not been Eagle Hill’s experience.
Our culture emphasizes respect for the individual and trust in each other. We explained to employees that because engagement depends on personal interactions, anonymous data would not allow us as team leads or an organization to make relevant improvements.
Additionally, employees know that team leads never see engagement data before they have completed the measurement process in each cycle. In other words, engagement information cannot influence a team leader’s measurement. Moreover, we have instructed team leads to use engagement data as a jumping off point to improve relationships through regular and genuine conversation. Employees understand this is the Eagle Hill expectation.
In the end, employees can be as forthcoming with their engagement as they choose, but they do so knowing that by not being completely open, they will miss real opportunities to work with their team lead to improve their experience.
For Eagle Hill, revisiting how we have approached performance management already has had the effects of catching performance issues and successes earlier; empowering people closest to the individual employee—team leads—to have more influence in the process; reducing rater bias; and shrinking costs. Ultimately, we’ve gotten better results with less effort.
By revamping how we approach our performance management processes, Eagle Hill has tapped into some very impressive power. Hang onto your hats while we floor it.
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