How can organizations help employees navigate the challenges of a pandemic while still doing meaningful work that contributes to business success? Most certainly the answer is not a lengthy, time-consuming performance management process, full of administrative burdens and hurdles. 

In fact, now might be the best time to rethink how you support and inspire the performance of your people.

A new approach: people-centric performance  

Current challenges have created a great demand for clarity, agility, and support. Organizations that have been on a journey to retool outdated performance practices to become more transparent, agile, and people-centric are now needing to accelerate. 

Others are facing the harsh reality that traditional performance management approaches are inadequate to meet the demands of today’s evolving concept of work. 

Three factors underscore the need to rethink performance right now:

The rise of remote work

The new prominence of working from home eliminates informal hallway chats to stay aligned. Establishing and communicating clear expectations is more important than ever. 

Priorities are unpredictable

An uncertain future is causing dramatic changes to organizational priorities. Glint research based on COVID-19 employee surveys shows that managers are seeing less clarity about organizational priorities than individual contributors. This suggests that managers may be determining priorities for their teams without great certainty that they’re the right ones. 

Burnout is real

As employees attempt to maintain their mental health while learning new ways to manage their many responsibilities, they need help cutting out less impactful work. On Glint surveys, comments about burnout doubled from March to April, making it the top employee stressor

Organizations simply cannot afford to keep outdated practices that add little value to driving performance. This new world requires fresh norms, approaches, and systems to help individuals and businesses thrive.

The good news is there are alternate paths to success, and the pandemic is providing an undeniable opportunity for organizations to adopt agile approaches. Here are four steps to rethink performance to fit today’s challenges.

1. Take a hard look at your current performance processes

All performance systems carry some baggage, and that tends to build over time. Trends change, leaders ask for more, and the process becomes cumbersome as it’s used to serve an increasing number of purposes. 

Now is the perfect time to go through ruthless prioritization and identify the factors that directly contribute to its core purpose: helping your people perform at their best. Anything that does not directly contribute to this outcome should be viewed as an opportunity to streamline.  

Naturally, one of the biggest questions is, “What should we do with our annual review?” The annual review process puts a significant burden on employees, managers, and HR partners, as it often involves heavy documentation, time-consuming calibrations, and backward-looking and demotivating conversations. 

This process introduces a huge drain on resources, especially during a period of rapid change when assessing performance against annual goals makes little sense. Frankly, asking your employees to go through a process like this is a great way to make them unhappy. 

Instead, consider a process that focuses on frequent performance and growth conversations, agile goal setting, and empowering managers to distribute rewards and make performance decisions for their teams. 

2. Use frequent conversations to provide clarity and connection 

Frequent conversations are critical to employee success. Regular one-on-one conversations between employees and managers help build and maintain connections, allow people to surface issues and barriers, and enable managers and teams to quickly pivot as internal and external circumstances change. In Glint’s research, people who had one-on-one meetings with their manager more than once per month were twice as likely to say they receive effective feedback and 1.3 times as likely to say they receive support from their manager compared to those who had conversations less often. 

Under extreme circumstances like a pandemic, people have heightened needs for clarity and connection. People need to know they are focusing on the right set of priorities, they are connected to their teammates, and they have the support and resources they need to be productive. Conversations about these topics needn’t be complicated and can be implemented immediately. Here are some good questions to ask: 

  • How are you doing?
  • How are you adjusting to the new ways of working?
  • What are the most impactful things for you to spend your time on right now?
  • What support do you need to be successful during this time?

Although these questions might seem simple, employees often report conversations aren’t happening with their managers. Delivering on conversations like this is key to creating a strong habit that will help sustain well-being and productivity during and beyond the current situation. 

3. Be agile and realistic with goals 

When used effectively, goals help create the focus needed to execute strategic objectives and drive individual and business performance. Unsurprisingly, prioritization and alignment are some of the biggest challenges now. 

Organizations and teams are scrambling to adjust key priorities, set new targets, and allocate resources—sometimes on a weekly basis. As a result, employees are continually trying to set goals against a moving target. 

It’s critical to communicate regularly with employees about organizational priorities as they change, and keep people well-informed of progress or setbacks. But don’t stop there. It’s important to empower employees, in partnership with their managers, to:

  • update their goals to match changes in organizational priorities
  • remove or push back on goals that are not the most critical
  • adjust expectations to match the realities of day-to-day work 

To make this process most effective, goals and priorities should be discussed regularly and shared transparently to ensure shared understanding and avoid redundancies. 

Lastly, if your performance practices involve rating goals to determine outcomes and rewards, it’s time to rethink this approach. Goals are most effective when used to create focus and alignment, and drive performance. Attempting to assess performance based upon goal completion is inherently flawed and nearly impossible in today’s environment. 

4. Reframe development and growth

Understandably, many well-crafted development plans have fallen by the wayside since the start of the pandemic. Individuals and HR teams may feel those plans are just too much to take on given the impossible choice between growth and execution. 

But many people are also in need of quickly learning new skills, such as working from home or facilitating virtual meetings. According to a recent LinkedIn survey, over 37% of respondents said they have more opportunity to learn new skills right now than they did just one month ago. It is important for all of us to rethink what learning is and how it is delivered. 

In fact, there is a tremendous amount of nontraditional learning that is happening right now as people navigate the new normal. It is important to encourage your people to create time for reflection on the growth and development that has already occurred. Managers should regularly celebrate progress, however small, with their teams. 

Where do we go from here?

This pandemic is undoubtedly challenging. But it also provides an opportunity for organizations to become more agile, transparent, and people-centric to help employees stay engaged and successful. 

Glint’s People Success Platform can support transformation at your organization. Learn more.