Performance management must change for hybrid work to work

THE BUSINESS TIMES | 14 February 2022 | BETÜL GENÇ & NATASHA ZHAO


AS WE transit to an endemic phase with Covid-19 and its variants, companies are now moving from a heightened fight-or-flight state to tackling some of the fundamental shifts that the pandemic has brought to the global workforce.


Hybrid work is here to stay. A study by The Adecco Group among 8,000 office-based workers found that 74 per cent would like a mix of office-based and remote work in the future, and 79 per cent of C-suite leaders believe that business will benefit from allowing increased flexibility. These attitudes are shaping the way that companies will structure their workplaces, performance management and employee experience management.


In our discussions with chief human resource officers and chief executives from the private and public sectors, an interesting thread emerged - that performance management is what will make hybrid work work for us. Here are four takeaways.


Acknowledge the biases and fears in the WFH (work from home) vs WFO (work from office) dichotomy


Remote working has shed light on how workplace performance management and evaluation had previously been premised on visibility and presence when we were all working from the office.


What has resulted is an unconscious bias and fear among employees, concerned that they may be disadvantaged in their performance reviews or short-changed on promotion and progression opportunities compared to more visible co-workers physically in the office.


And these fears are not unfounded because the "see and be seen" model is also a trap that senior management admit they fall into.


A rewiring in leaders must occur - to not grade performance based on a team or individual's visibility (we'll get into what performance measurement should look like for hybrid work shortly) and it's crucial they move out of this so the rest of the organisation doesn't bear the brunt of this one-dimensional mindset.


Evaluate performance on defined and holistic principles


Should management teams and employers fixate on key performance indicators (KPIs) as the ultimate performance measure? What if KPIs were affected by external factors such as pandemic guidelines, change in regulations or budget cuts? And looking at the past 18 months, we know that our teams have probably worked harder and more tirelessly than ever to hit our KPIs, if we were even lucky to hit them.


So, we can't fault them for not meeting the KPIs but we do need to find a way to measure and assess their contribution, which points to a need for principled performance measures that can include hard KPIs, but also others such as corporate values and self-development.


For example, Adecco takes a three-fold approach to performance appraisals. The first assesses the "What" should be achieved, which are the hard KPIs and Smart goals. The second evaluates the "How" and looks at the successful demonstration of behaviours associated with corporate values such as strategic planning and judgement; driving financial results and innovation; collaboration or community impact. The third reviews an individual's career development where 70 per cent is derived from on-the-job experience; 20 per cent from mentorship; and 10 per cent through learning and development initiatives.


Streamline, quantify and communicate evaluation methodologies


The reality of workplace performance evaluation is that it can be a subjective practice. Leaders have different management styles - one who may just approve an appraisal without reading it; another takes time to individually review appraisals with each employee. Leaders also have their own definitions of a job "Extremely Well" done - to some it is a 9 or 10, while for others, an 8 could be the highest score they'd ever be willing to give.


Ensuring that leaders are aligned and clear on the methods of measurement by providing guidance on the process would be useful, but also conveying the same to employees will better provide objectivity and consistency to the evaluation process.


For example, quantifying that an "Extremely Well" rating is defined by achieving at least 80 per cent of one's defined KPIs (meeting 4 out of 5), and exceeding expectations on 20 per cent of them (meeting 1 out of 5), takes the guesswork out of how an employee can achieve that rating.


Such quantified metrics when clearly communicated across the board can help employees better understand the expectations of time and outcome metrics they are to deliver against, which happens to also be a way to allay employee fears surrounding career progression and job security that a hybrid work model might have brought about.


Review regularly and feedback frequently


The giving and receiving of timely feedback has helped teams and organisations stay nimble and responsive in a volatile market, and should make us re-evaluate the concept of an annual performance review.


When managers provide weekly feedback as opposed to annually, team members find it more meaningful, and are three times more likely to be engaged at work and motivated to produce outstanding work as a Gallup study on performance reviews found.


Leaders must, if they haven't already, think about tracking performance at more regular intervals, instead of just once or twice a year.


For Google, what that process looks like is an annual performance review with a mid-year checkpoint in tandem with monthly performance check-ins by managers to address career development, coaching and even personal issues of Googlers.


Adobe on the other hand has eliminated yearly performance reviews, replacing them with more informal but impactful quarterly check-in discussions between managers and employees that discuss three topics: expectations, feedback and growth and development.


From this, Adobe saw a 30 per cent decline in resignations and a 50 per cent increase in involuntary departures as employees missing the mark were more swiftly dealt with instead of hiding till the next performance cycle.


Yet, what will determine our organisation's performance in a hybrid work environment will be our own performance as leaders of the organisation, and we need to do better.


In the 2021 Resetting Normal Report by The Adecco Group, only 53 per cent of the 15,000 knowledge workers surveyed globally said they are satisfied with their company's senior leadership. Three quarters of them said it is important for leaders to promote and nurture strong team morale and culture, while more than half (52 per cent) felt that their managers were not meeting expectations for creating a good working culture.


John Maxwell once said that a leader needs to "know the way, go the way, and show the way". Adopting a new leadership style of example setting, role modelling and leading with empathy in the new normal can help us not revert to the worst versions of ourselves, and set up the right corporate culture and employee experience in our organisations.


Betul Genc is country manager, Adecco Singapore. Natasha Zhao is partner of QED Consulting.


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