Updated: May 9, 2021
Gathering customer input and setting success measures are key steps to implementing a continuous performance management process that will make performance discussions a 1000% better*.
*1000% is undocumented, but author is pretty sure you'll see terrific results
Hello there Talent Pros! (Haaayyyy all you interested parties, I see you there!) Welcome. We are in the midst of a series on designing and implementing continuous performance management. This article discusses the third step in an eight-step series - Discovery.
If you're new to the concept of continuous performance management, stop by here to learn more. Continuous performance management is an excellent solution for your organization, as it can be flexible and designed to fit business and customer needs. Performance management is a crucial part of working, but it doesn't have to be onerous for managers or employees.
I'm passionate about the role performance conversations play in employee productivity and engagement, and I think there's a better way than the usual annual performance appraisal. I share more about that in this article on performance conversations. I'm glad you're on this journey to discover how to design and implement continuous performance management for your organization.
For context, we are here in the eight-step model for designing and implementing continuous performance management
Discovery - an Important Prep Step
“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” – Benjamin Franklin
Discovery is your preparation stage in the eight-step model. You'll do prep work like uncovering specifically what your customers can gain from a new performance management solution. You'll also articulate the goals of the program and reinforce your value proposition. This is an important step to set your program foundation. You got your design going in Step 1 (read up here if you missed it), which is about orienting your thoughts on continuous performance management. Step 3 is about orienting to your customers and building a program foundation that you can use to pilot and finally launch the program.
You will begin this step by completing a final draft of your program design, and at the end of the step, you will have a final, final draft program that you will pilot. You remember those don't you… the final draft, and then the final, final draft after everyone gives you input?
As a side note, you'll engage some key tactics in the Discover step that you will carry through other steps, such as gathering customer input via surveys and focus groups.
Shall we get started?
There are five actions in Step 3 - Discovery:
Set early design features with a "final draft"
Gather user input
Pinpoint success measures
Identify the value proposition
Finalize early design with a "final, final draft"
You've got an early start from Step 1 - Design. Remember when you worked through a list of questions to identify design components? I got you started on a list in Step 1 here. You've likely continued to evolve the design over the course of Steps 1 and 2. Now is the time to set in place the design that you want to run through customer input.
Get your design down "on paper." Likely that's PowerPoint, but use whatever is the most effective presentation tool for your organization. The W questions (who, what, when, where, why & how) are always helpful to put yourself in your customers' shoes. Be sure what you are articulating is clear and avoid industry buzzwords. Lay out the program as you would explain it to your partner, parents or friends. The goal here is to craft collateral to share with customer groups that explain the program design so that you can gather useful user input. This will be your final draft.
Now then, take that fresh, shiny presentation to your Program Input Team. Run it by them and collect their thoughts. They will have great feedback to ensure it represents your program well and will be understood by your customer groups.
Once you have your collateral ready to go, it's time to engage the users. There are a variety of ways to go about that. We'll discuss three key ways that I've found work well for talent development solutions.
Gather Customer Input
This part of the process is about what the humans at your organization can handle versus what you know is the right solution. I've fallen prey to implementing programs that I know are the perfect solution, but the organization or employees just aren't ready for it yet. And we've all heard of the projects that aim to bring in a lot of value, but fall short because people don't use the system or find work arounds. No thank you.
We are going to avoid that with a strong customer input strategy. I find that employees and managers will readily provide input if we just ask, especially if it's about a process they don't love. Plus, you get a jump start on change communications when you involve customers in the solution. It becomes their solution versus your solution.
I was reading about this very thing in the book Switch. Engaging users in a solution, "solve[s] the 'Not Invented Here' problem. Some people have a knee-jerk skeptical response to 'imported' solutions" (p 31). Imported solutions are those that we think are perfect for the situation - but they are our solution, not their solution. An added bonus to gathering your customers' input is that you are engaging them in the solution. You'll want to draw in their input and reflect it in your program collateral so that they see it clearly once you are ready for rollout.
Another value of gathering customer input is to strengthen your argument as to why this new program is the right fit. Any time you can improve the employee experience, you can build a direct connection to business value. Let employees and their managers tell you more about how an improved performance management process will benefit their day-to-day.
Let's talk about three methods for customer input:
While there are other ways to gather customer input, I find that the combination of these three tactics provides rich data.
Surveys give you an effective way to collect input from a wide range of customer groups. Crafting the questions is the tricky part of designing a survey. They are cost effective and you'll likely be able to re-use some of the questions for later surveys.
Here are two articles to get you started on survey design:
Take your time and be thoughtful. You want a hearty response rate, so it will pay-off to ensure you design the right five to ten questions. Engage one of your friends who develops employee engagement surveys to help review and hone your questions. I suggest five really strong questions, so the survey is short, snappy and gets you what you need.
Plan to include as many customer groups as feasible. If you're limited, be sure to include a mix of employees from all work groups. A large population of customers will give you the best response rate, therefore the best data trends.
If you're not able to send a targeted survey, what about asking to include a few questions in the annual employee engagement survey or a periodic pulse survey? Craft two to three really targeted questions that get to the heart of what you need to know for your program design.
Finally, invest time in a strong communication plan for the survey. You've spent a good bit of time on crafting just the right questions, so spend time on a mini-communication plan to get a sizable response rate. Survey experts have shared with me that a 65% response rate is pretty good, as a general rule of thumb.
"Whereas surveys are most effective at providing quantifiable data, focus groups can be used to “enrich” these results by revealing the more qualitative perspectives underlying the numbers." via SHRM
Wise advice from SHRM in this article on focus groups. Focus groups allow you to dig into the data that you gathered from the survey. You can ask particular questions to understand a trend that you noted in the survey data.
There are plenty of great resources online on how to conduct effective focus groups. I'm going to cover a handful of points I find important, then link you to another helpful resource.
Keep the size of the group to seven to ten people for productive discussion.
Seek a diverse group of participants.
Mind the time and keep your questions targeted.
For online focus groups, make time to prepare yourself and consider sending along context and questions to your focus group participants ahead of the meeting time.
Create an environment that's safe to share opinions.
Don't let it turn into a gripe session, steer it to what solution participants would like to experience.
Host separate focus group for leaders and employees.
Instructional SHRM article on how to conduct focus groups here.
Customer interviews are another excellent venue to gather customer input. You won't have time for many one-one-one type interviews, so use them strategically. For example, engage a senior leader or two for an interview to get their input on how they see the program playing out with their teams, what they'd really like to see and how you can help improve performance metrics.
Develop an interview guide with specific questions and send it to those you're interviewing ahead of time to give them time to consider before the interview. Also, keep the session on time - you're also creating credibility with this interview.
Finally, be curious. Ask the questions on your interview guide, but dive in where appropriate to learn more and get to the root cause.
Plan well now for the future
During the pilot process, as well as once you've implemented the program, you'll want to collect additional feedback. It pays to plan well now for surveys and focus groups in particular. You'll want to build those into the pilot planning we'll do as part of Step 4.
As you're gathering input from customer groups, you can also put your goal setting hat on to consider how you'll measure the success of continuous performance management for your organization.
"There is no right way to do the wrong thing. A project that fails to address business needs will not be considered a success, even if it is completed on time, within budget, and to specifications. While there may be constraints on time and budget, success is truly achieved only when the outcomes adequately address your business needs." via Shero
Exactly. Setting success measures will help you not only assess the success of the program, but also tell the good story when it is successful.
Our goal with continuous performance management is to make the process of giving and receiving performance feedback an activity that supports employee success and productivity. Successful employees produce better results, contributing positively to business results. Plus, employees better supported by leaders are more engaged. Engaged employees are typically more productive.
Choose success measures that help you connect that purpose with business results, but that are feasible to collect and measure. Employee engagement scores and/or specific questions on the employee engagement survey are a good place to begin. If there's not a question that suits, see if you can add one or two. As an example, "I receive performance feedback from my supervisor frequently," is one I've used with program teams.
What about measuring attrition data if that's something with which your organization struggles? Improving attrition is an excellent goal for most companies - hiring replacements for vacated positions is an expensive process.
I also advise connecting directly to performance metrics, like an increase in customer satisfaction or data quality improvements. You know your business and which metrics are most relevant.
I recommend one employee engagement-focused question and one performance metric for the best balance. If your customer groups are varied, pick a couple of employee engagement-focused questions to measure across the organization, and then plan to track a performance metric for your pilot group(s).
"A value proposition is a promise of value to be delivered. It’s the primary reason a prospect should buy from you." via CXL
I like this definition of a value proposition. It's to the point, and great advice for us in talent development. It ensures our customers know exactly the value we are bringing to the table with a solution. I often find myself trying to explain the theory behind a solution or wishing a customer would just go with me on a solution. That's not fair. It's my job to make it clear why they should bite… why they should buy the solution I'm selling.
And we certainly want them to "buy" our new product, don't we? We want them to trade another valued limited resource, such as time and attention, to learn how to give employees well structured performance feedback and then do it repeatedly. That's the deal, and we want managers to buy in.
The point of this sub-step is to make the why very clear to managers and employees. Why use this new performance management process? Why care? Why spend the time learning how to give effective performance guidance? Why be courageous to ask for performance feedback from my manager?
This is a challenging step, because it requires us to distill down the value of the program to a clear, simple message. I reference this article from marketing design because I think we can learn a lot from how marketers send clear messages to customers. This writer advocates for a phrase and graphic combo, which would be very cool to see. Whatever way you find to distill down the value, go for it. Incorporate it into your business case and final program draft. It should be front-and-center as you prepare to engage your pilot groups in the next step.
Final, Final Draft
You have done excellent work in this step of the process.
Quick Summary for Discovery
Created a presentation to articulate your program design and run it by the Program Input Team to refine it
Developed surveys and conducted focus groups and interviews to collect your customer's valued input to the program design
Set success measures to show progress and business value
Crafted a savvy value proposition statement your customer's won't be able to resist
Articulated the why for the program
You have learned a lot, likely reflected a lot and incorporated some positive changes into the program. This it your Pilot go-live program for Step 4. Congratulations! You are about ready to give it a go, so it's time to incorporate those updates into your presentation to create the final… final draft.
In the next step - Learn on the Fly - we'll dive into how to engage a pilot group to test out your program.
Need to catch-up on the series? Previous articles here:
Heath, Chip, and Dan Heath. Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard. New York: Broadway Books, 2010.