Are Employees Ready for Continuous Performance Management?

Are employees ready to engage in continuous performance management? They will be once you've applied these best practices to the design and implementation of continuous performance management.

Continuous Performance Management is not a traditional annual performance management process. It's a dialogue between an employee and leader about how the year is going, how the employee is performing against expectations and priorities, and can be a great segue into a career discussion. We all want that as employees, am I right? We want to know how we're doing. We want to know what our leader is thinking about us. We want to know what we can fix or do differently, and we want to know what's next.



Performance management is a critical tool that businesses should be using to skill up and hone employee performance. Traditional models of annual performance appraisals are not as effective as they need to be at providing the direction employees need and crave about their performance. Continuous performance management models create opportunities for ongoing dialogue between employees and leaders.

Want more context on why continuous performance management is a better alternative to traditional models? Check out this article on ditching appraisals and focusing on performance conversations.

Are you ready to make a big impact in your organization with a continuous performance management model? I'm confident that you can make it happen and I have a process that can help!

Welcome to Step 7 in an eight-step series on designing and implementing continuous performance management. So far in the process you've:

  1. Designed a well thought out performance management program.

  2. Gained Alignment.

  3. Discovered the perspectives of your customers.

  4. Learned what worked and didn't work with a pilot program.

  5. Communicated and Over Communicated all the details.

  6. Prepared Leaders for their role in continuous performance management.

In Step 7 - Prepare Employees, you will focus on how to educate employees on the new program and empower them to step into the drivers seat with performance management.

Our objectives with this step:

  • Employees can articulate their role in the new performance management process and are ready to engage.

  • You have change management strategies in place to minimize anxiety with the new process.

  • You have communicated and then communicated some more about what employees can expect with the new process.

The underlying objective is to be upfront and transparent about the process. One of the best aspects of continuous performance management: It's not an awkward meeting summing up an annual performance score. It's an ongoing dialogue about performance within a short period with a chance to correct, develop or target additional growth.

I'm a fan of M. Tamra Chandler and how she expresses this view in her book, How Performance Management is Killing Performance - and What to Do About It:

"In order to react quickly to change, to be able to self-direct, and to feel a commitment to the greater good, employees need to know what's going on. They need to know what the organization as a whole is thinking. They need to be in the loop on how their performance fits in with everything around them, and how well they are stacking up to expectations and why.*" p31-32

Let's cover four actions you can take to ensure employees know exactly what to expect from your continuous performance management program.

  1. Reinforce your key messages

  2. Give them all the materials up front

  3. Train them on having difficult conversations with their leaders

  4. Get their feedback on how it's going

1 Reinforce your key messages

You have done great work to design and refine the program. In the process you've refined and clarified why continuous performance management is optimal for employees and leaders. You've honed your key messages. Employees need to know the why just as clearly as every other stakeholder you've engaged. They need to understand the WIIFM - "What's in it for me?"

In Step 5 - Over Communicate, you created a change communication plan. This is the time to engage it. Go back to the roadshow deck you refined in Step 2 - Alignment and pull out the stories that resonated the most as you socialized the program. You will also likely want to refine the messaging in your roadshow deck to reflect an employees' point-of-view. Put yourself in their shoes. What would get you excited about a change to performance management? Things my teams have heard:

  • "I won't miss that awkward conversation at the end of the year when my boss glosses over what I've accomplished and we stumble through feedback."

  • "I would love a career conversation about what's next for me?"

  • "I like catching up with my leader periodically to learn how she thinks I'm doing. I won't miss guessing what my performance rating will be at year-end."

Depending on the culture of your organization, appeal to the feelings and logic behind the shift to continuous performance management. Refer back to what you learned in Step 3 - Discovery to hone in on particular messaging.

Once you have the general messaging and stories collected, distill them down to a bullet point or two that you can reinforce over and over. I'm not a marketing expert and certainly not clever at catchy headlines, so start with something like: "You’re in charge of your career. Make the most of ongoing opportunities to discuss your performance and career path with your manager." Then distill it down to a headline that will resonate with your organization.

2 Give them all the materials upfront

You've honed key messages and your communication plan is ready to go. The next step is to prepare all of the materials you've drafted for employees and deliver them upfront. I recommend providing a plentiful variety of options for employees to dig in and learn. Materials include not only the communication collateral you've created but also training and reference tools. Think job aids, step-by-step how-to guides, instructions to navigate the system, opportunities for Q&A with experts. You Talent Folk with training backgrounds - put on that training hat and think about the various ways you've rolled out new system training. Be creative and intentional in considering how employees may want to engage in the new program.

Example at Southwest Airlines

During an implementation of continuous performance management at Southwest Airlines, my team learned during one of the pilot implementations that several of the departments liked detailed guidance on each step of the process. We took that into account for full implementation and ensured that employees had what they needed to get comfortable with the process.

This list is a sample of the materials provided for the implementation at Southwest Airlines to support employee engagement and success:

  • Timeline for the year. A detailed timeline of what to expect when was provided to ensure employees and managers were on the same page, especially for the steps to kick-off a performance conversation. At Southwest Airlines, we were working towards employees initiating the conversation each quarter.

  • Job aid with details on each step in the process, including:

  • Roles & responsibilities between managers and employees

  • Direction on how-to fill out the performance form

  • Rating definitions

  • Preparation guide for the conversation

  • System direction to see quarterly forms

  • Form they would be using quarterly to track performance

  • Presentation for each department that shared:

  • Current and future state comparisons

  • Why we were moving to the new process

  • Research behind the solution

  • Outline of the new process and their role in it

  • Timeline on when they needed to initiate the process

  • Their next steps

  • Follow-up Q&A and skill-building sessions with managers within six to nine months from implementation to hear how it was going and reinforce key how-tos

Your list will be different depending on the customer groups and organizational culture you're supporting. The key is to be intentional and provide all materials up-front. Employees may be skeptical and you want them to have all of the information about the new program to consider and work through.


3 Train them on having difficult conversations with their leaders

We've all likely crafted programs to train managers in having difficult conversations. Let's take that approach for employees, too. I love it when employees are confident in having a conversation with me about what works best for them or are courageous in giving me feedback. We want engagement and an employee's experience to be a two-way street, so let's give people the tools to engage in a healthy manner.

Important skills for difficult conversations: emotional intelligence, listening, giving and receiving feedback. Consider teaching a simple model for giving feedback. We used the BEST model at Southwest Airlines to give newly promoted supervisors a simple tool to have difficult conversations with employees. It works just as well for employees talking with their supervisors.



Side note: I have no idea where the BEST model came from. Southwest was using it when I joined and when it works, you keep it. If you know the origin, please post a comment and let us know!


4 Get their feedback on how it's going

It's a good thing you're teaching employees how to provide feedback, because you should ask them periodically how the new program is working for them. We talked about surveys and focus groups in Step 3 - Discovery. Those are both good methods of soliciting input and feedback. You might also host virtual calls with small groups as a more informal connection point than a moderated focus group. Garnering individual input along the way is also effective. Plan to stay connected to that front-line employee and how the process works for him. You'll identify areas that need refinement as employees share their experiences with the process. You may find areas that need immediate tweaks and others that can wait for a future update.


Quick Summary for Prepare Employees

You are in the home stretch, and are just about ready to enter the launch code on your continuous performance management program. Employees who are excited and know how to engage the program is an important step in successful adoption of the new program.

During this step:

  • You honed in the key message to share with employees to be clear on why the performance management process will work for them.

  • You've created materials specifically for employees and planned to provide them upon launch.

  • You've planned to train employees on having difficult conversations with their managers.

  • You have already included a plan to get employee feedback once the program is launched.

You are almost there. The next step is implementation.

Endnote:

*Chandler, M. Tamra. "How Performance Management is Killing Performance - and What to Do About It." Oakland, CA: Berrett-Koehler Publishier, Inc. 2016.