Updated: May 10
You have an idea for a continuous performance management process that will make performance discussions a 1000% better. Now it's time to gain alignment from your stakeholders.
Welcome to a series on designing and implementing continuous performance management. This article addresses the second step in the series - Alignment.
In the previous article, I introduced an eight-step model for designing and implementing continuous performance management for your organization. We also discussed what continuous performance management is, so if it's a new concept to you, be sure to check out that section of the post for a quick review.
Why eight steps, you might be asking? Well, there's a lot to work through and consider when proposing and implementing a new talent solution. A change to continuous performance management from a traditional performance appraisal process, for example, is an important one for your organization - one that hits the bottom line directly with time savings and increased performance. You'll want to approach the design, proposal and implementation with care and a steady pace.
We'll tackle each step its own post so that you have time in between to put thoughts and action to your plan. Let's get started with Step 2 - Alignment.
Why Spend Time on Alignment?
Alignment is the process by which you get all of your stakeholders on the same page and in agreement with what you want to accomplish. In this case, an introduction to and implementation of continuous performance management. Maybe you're switching from an annual process to a continual one. Maybe you're just introducing performance management. Maybe you have a completely different process. Wherever you're at, you need to get all of your stakeholders on board with the new concept.
Alignment is key because it ensures quite a few things, such as:
The support you need to navigate the organization as you gain stakeholders
Budget and resources needed to build a Program Input Team and carve out work time
Leadership or sponsorship support to open doors to other executives and teams as you seek alignment
Access to communication venues
Further, a well aligned project ensures that you will see better returns for your work. As this article from Villanova University shares:
Research has shown a significant increase in organizational financial performance and project success rates when projects were aligned with business strategies. When each project directly contributes to the welfare of the company, the organization as a whole improves, improving customer experiences and retention rates.
We know that when leaders and employees talk about performance more often, there is a proven difference to the bottom line. Ensure that you gain those results with an alignment strategy for your new design.
Let's go back to the great idea you have on performance management. You've already begun creating a plan to move away from a traditional annual appraisal process, as an example, and into one that focuses on continuous conversations between employees and leaders. You want to see leaders and employees talking not just about an annual rating, but strengths and challenges, progress on milestones and career development. You know this is the right direction for your organization. Now your task is to get everyone else on the same page. You need to help others visualize the end-game that you are working towards and/or see the value in the direction you are advocating. That's alignment. And it can be the most challenging step in the process. Gaining alignment requires influencing and can take time.
Influencing can be a daunting skill to master. No matter the initiatives you take on or work you do, influencing will always be a helpful skillset. It's a great investment to continually build your influencing ability. Let's touch on how to develop influencing skills.
Influencing is convincing others of your ideas. Getting them to agree with an idea, not because you said so, but because they buy-in with their head, heart or both. Much of leadership is about influencing, whether you are leading direct reports or peers. We influence upwards, downwards and sideways.
In my experience and research on influencing, there's not a "right way" to influence others. It's about relationships and listening. It's watching body language and being aware of your own. Several of the recent articles I reviewed shared common guidance such as:
Be organizationally savvy. The Center for Creative Leadership encourages building "organizational intelligence," which entails realizing there is an informal structure to the organization in addition to the formal one.
Be genuinely open to others points-of-view and listen with intent.
Think in terms of "we" versus "me"; pitch ideas for the collective, the Team.
Build relationships and a network.
Be an expert and be confident in your craft.
Not only do we each develop our influencing skills with a unique flair that incorporates our individual strengths, each organization has it's own culture. What works well in one organization might not work well in another. Work to hone your influencing skills over time. This project is a great opportunity to do just that. Call on the relationships you have and see if you can discover a senior leader or two who have a passion for development and get them on your side. Which brings us to an important topic: stakeholders.
Stakeholders are the individuals within your organization who will sponsor and support your proposal. We typically think of stakeholders as executives who will help you introduce your concept and gain the buy-in of other executives. Absolutely - that's one set of stakeholders. You will also have stakeholders who are users of the new process - whether they are the leaders and employees who will be engaging the new program or the HR folks who will be administering it. Seek to identify stakeholders at each stage of your process. You'll want buy-in across all fronts.
Once you've shored up your influencing skills and identified stakeholders, it's time to engage.
There are many ways that you go about building alignment, and the ways you engage will depend on your organization and your stakeholders. There's not one right way to go about it. But there are some great practices, and that's what we'll cover here: some tried and true approaches that you can choose from to build support.
Build a solid business case that demonstrates how continuous performance management will improve business results / lower costs / increase the employee experience. Cite studies and facts that will help those who rely on logic, facts and figures. Build in examples and stories to draw in those who rely on feelings and the employee experience. I introduced the concept of a business case in Step 1 - Design. See that article here. When I think of a business case, I think of a tight PowerPoint presentation that you can use over and over to share your vision and draw in your stakeholders. I call this kind of presentation a roadshow deck. I don't remember where I learned that term, but it's become a helpful tool for building common alignment, then sharing the story with everyone interested. Using the same deck creates the same story for everyone, and reinforces your vision via repetition. A good roadshow deck will include things like your high-level vision, the value of continuous performance management and what it is, the projected return on investment (ROI) to implementation and a high-level implementation plan and timeline. Invest plenty of time in why this is important and the business impact it will make.
Engage a sponsor. Every great project has a sponsor or two who clears the way for a project start and creates an environment that supports success, both for implementation and long-lasting success. A great place to draw on to learn more about sponsorship are the talented project management gurus. They know how to spot and engage mentors and keep them plugged in. In your organization think about those senior leaders who are willing to spend time in the classroom sharing their journey or being a guess facilitator. Or what about the executive who makes talent reviews and succession planning a priority. Those folks typically "get it," and are great places to begin in seeking a project sponsor. And don't forget your trusty CHRO or HR executive. S/he will need to be project sponsor and your first alignment win.
Identify your stakeholders, then broaden the net. Identify key users of performance management at both leadership and employee levels and from both supporting and dissenting groups. You'll be conducting focus groups later as a following step, and alignment is a good time to identify users who can give you feedback along the way. You might consider a stakeholder analysis that helps you identify and categorize your stakeholder groups, as well as think through how to keep them engaged. This article from MindTools has a straightforward approach to stakeholder analysis. This article from Moves the Needle offers a solid approach, too.
Answer key "W questions." You know, the Who, What, When, Where, Why and How questions - especially the Why question at this point. Everyone wants to know how a new process or program will benefit them, so address that question head on. Layer in answers to the W questions in all of your communications. At this point, you will not have all of the answers to specific W questions, such as "What is the cadence of the new program?" and "Where will I enter my feedback?" As you formulate those things, you'll want to continue building alignment by forward-thinking and providing those answers. You'll keep folks engaged if you work for transparency in your communications.
Before you take your show on the road, be sure your HR or talent leader, her leader and the senior leaders within HR or your group are in the know and on board. I've made the mistake of taking my roadshow on the road without having my leader and our senior leadership team bought-in. Nope. They need to support you when questions come back around to them. Ensure all of their questions are answered and work their insight into your business case, roadshow deck, communications, etc. Get them on your side and excited about the changes your new process offers.
Building alignment takes time. Often it's the most time consuming part of the initiative. Just when you think you've gotten everyone squared away, another question pops up or you're back to roadshows. That's ok and you'll have to keep a continuous line of alignment work going even after you move on to following steps. Think of it as influencing practice, and go with the flow. It's likely no one desires to actively de-rail you. Competing priorities pop-up and business changes. It's up to us to continue to share the business impact, the improvement to employee engagement and increased productivity. Stay focused, diligent and learning.
Quick Summary for Alignment
During this step
You've continued to develop a business case that summarizes your recommendation.
You've begun honing your influencing skills.
You've identified stakeholder who will be key to supporting the initiative.
You've reviewed five alignment practices that you can engage to build alignment.
Remember, gaining alignment won't be a one-time task. You'll need to thread action items throughout this journey to keep your stakeholders and interested parties in alignment. But the basics are complete and you're ready for Step 3 - Discovery.