“So… How Am I Doing?”: It’s Time To Revisit Performance Management Best Practices

Over the past year, organizations have been faced with significant challenges: responding to COVID-19, figuring out how to conduct business virtually, and trying to keep up with the incredible pace of change happening in so many industries. This means revamping your performance management process may not exactly be at the top of your to-do list. 

And yet, while implementing a performance management process can sometimes feel tedious and messy, with the right approach it can be streamlined and its impact can make a real difference, helping to minimize the commotion of our current world. It can promote a happier workplace and help set your organization up for future success.

Of course, it’s easy for performance management to become too rigid and bureaucratic, or to go the opposite direction and become too loose and unstructured. But our experience with dozens of life sciences organizations has shown us that when you find the right balance between structure and flexibility, it can be an amazing lever for elevating performance, reinforcing values and goals, and strengthening culture. 

The team of I/O psychologists at Mix Talent are here to help with some tips for homing in on the sweet spot for your organization. 

Tip 1: Convert Long Term Strategies into Short-Term Goals

While long-term goals are crucial for developing and maintaining grit, coaching your team to translate those long-term goals into short-term goals is ideal for creating an agile process that promotes flexibility, motivation, and a shared understanding of expectations. 

Furthermore, measuring progress against short-term goals helps managers provide ongoing praise and forward-looking suggestions regarding how to elevate future performance, which creates win-wins for both employees and managers. Ensuring these short-term goals align with the broader strategy help to ensure performance management doesn’t become too myopic.

Research shows that employees really do crave feedback from their supervisors – both positive and constructive. A weekly one-on-one with direct reports focused on goals, challenges, opportunities, and obstacles helps promote a dialogue that keeps projects moving forward while fostering a safe space for feedback. Of course, having well-defined goals also enables managers to provide on-the-spot feedback which can quickly be acted upon.

Tip 2: Keep It Simple

Part of the challenge of performance management is that it can feel so big and time-consuming. But it doesn’t need to. It shouldn’t take a whole day to fill out a performance evaluation. At Mix Talent, a quick list of major goals, their status, and how they contribute to long-term goals works well for us.

Here’s a breakdown of how our team leaders work with employees to set and pursue goals:

  • Yearly: What are your long-term goals (including career aspirations, desired skills/experiences, and contributions to the company’s overall strategy)?
  • Quarterly: What are the top one to three goals you plan to accomplish this quarter?
  • Weekly: What are your current priorities and challenges? How can I help?

Keep in mind that performance management processes will only work well if your employees actually adopt them – so organizations need to engineer it in a way that doesn’t feel overly complicated while providing value to those adopting it. 

Tip 3: Set Guardrails and Expectations

As much as performance management must be owned by employees and managers, it’s also important to establish some organizational guardrails. HR, senior management, and team leaders all need to align on how to conduct conversations, set expectations, and give constructive feedback. Providing proper training to both managers and employees sets everyone up for success and helps organizations reduce bias in their systems.

Without a set approach and agreed-upon expectations, it can be easy for employees to find themselves disconnected from their (and their organization’s) performance, putting vital economic influencers like growth and innovation at risk, according to a Gallup study. This same study outlined the importance of performance management that goes beyond annual reviews:

“When performance management is done well, employees become more productive, profitable, and creative contributors. Gallup found that employees whose managers excel at performance management activities are more engaged than employees whose managers struggle with these same tasks.”

Tip 4: Measure, Track, and Refine 

As the saying goes, what gets measured gets done. Just as it’s important to evaluate individual performance, it’s important for organizations to monitor and evaluate their performance management improvements over time – and this requires a quantifiable baseline and concrete targets. Before making changes to your approach, think about what outcomes you’re seeking to achieve and how they should be measured. Performance management needs to be directly connected to the numbers – which can be quantified in terms of performance, engagement, quality of feedback, training effectiveness, etc. Employee surveys that measure some of the “softer” metrics lend great insight into how management can get better results out of performance conversations while also giving the company a glimpse into the overall health and culture of its organization. At the same time, these measurements are only useful if there is an organizational readiness to use the results to inform future practices.

Tip 5: Ensure Your Culture Is Well-Defined

One of the benefits of performance management is reinforcing your organization’s culture and values. Focusing on how a goal should be achieved – not just on the desired results – sends a strong message regarding which behaviors are valued and rewarded. In addition, if an individual in your organization is becoming difficult to work with or their work-life balance is non-existent, regular conversations to discuss goals, priorities, and obstacles can help quickly identify solutions when things are out of sync. 

On the other hand, if you aren’t regularly discussing performance and goals, it can allow problems to fester, leading to organizational issues like prolonged underperformance, high turnover, low employee satisfaction, and difficulty in managing work-life balance.

First, there needs to be alignment around what your culture is, including organizational values, desired behaviors, and shared beliefs. At Mix Talent, we developed MixOS to align every decision and goal to one cultural standard. This means that when managers are talking to direct reports about short- and long-term goals, they all align to how we behave as a team at Mix. 

These values define how and why we do what we do, how we work together to care for others, ourselves, and the big picture, how we solve problems and thrive in any situation, how we create win-wins wherever we can, and how we deliver on results that change the game for our clients. 

This means every time a member of our team meets a goal that exemplifies one of these tenants, we know it’s time to celebrate. But we also know how to course-correct when goals aren’t aligned, keeping employees well-supported and the organization high-performing. 

Tip 6: Find Support

Sometimes, you just need a little help from your friends. With everything going on in the world, bringing in an outside team of experts who can help you build and implement the right performance management system may be the best way to ensure your culture can thrive in the midst of adversity. 

At Mix Talent, our team of Industrial/Organizational Psychologists can help you find the right balance, incorporating cutting-edge performance management research into a lightweight, engaging process consistent with the culture of high-growth companies.

PerforMix is a practical, effective performance management development solution from Mix Talent that helps you find a performance management mix that’s just right for your organization.

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