It has been hard to focus this year. Whether it is managing the general anxiety that comes from living and working through a pandemic or delivering business expectations while working from home, it’s been tough.

Leaders have certainly felt the challenge of managing, motivating and enabling their people in the face of difficult conditions and the usual approach to performance management isn’t coming up to their expectations.

At the same time, performance management remains essential to positioning businesses for post-pandemic success. Here, we look at the challenges for performance management in current times and how organisations can optimise their approach to continue to motivate and inspire their people through uncertainty.

Performance management remains essential to positioning businesses for post-pandemic success but the usual approach to performance management is falling short of delivering this. Click To Tweet

The 2020 performance management challenge

The first question most leaders are faced with is: how can you appraise performance in such an uncertain and chaotic environment? While some businesses are struggling to survive, others are unexpectedly booming. And then there are the hybrid cases where some departments are inundated with work, while others have little to do.

Many employees realistically won’t be able to deliver their 2020 objectives agreed in January. Sticking with those January goals will feel manifestly unfair to those employees and companies need to consider how they can fairly adjust how they assess performance to account for disruption.

No more set and forget

Setting and forgetting goals in 2020 is simply not an option. The current business landscape requires a more agile approach. At every stage, the impact of COVID-19 on productivity, employee morale and resources needs to be considered.

Dynamic goal-setting is an essential management consideration in these times – as well as during the post-pandemic recovery. It involves adjusting goals to align employee efforts with business needs.

However, a word of caution: dynamic goal setting is only effective when it is carefully considered, managed and communicated. Otherwise, employees may feel that the goal posts are constantly shifting which will only exacerbate any drops in morale.

Caution: dynamic goal setting is only effective when it is carefully considered, managed and communicated. Click To Tweet

Prioritise performance (reviews)

According to a Gartner survey, the great majority (73%) of employers still intend to run their performance reviews this year. Just as in any other year, performance reviews are still necessary – they offer a good way to acknowledge employees’ contributions and provide meaningful feedback. 

Done well, performance management can support employees’ focus and motivation, enabling them to perform at their best. However, current performance management programs often fall short of delivering these positive results.

We propose five key steps to optimise performance management processes in today’s uncertain times.

  • Redefine and clarify

Team and individual goals need to focus on what matters most – and that can mean adjusting goals through the performance cycle. Any changes should balance “rear view” critical business and financial outcomes with leading indicators like customer satisfaction, learning and operational effectiveness. Leaders at all levels must work to create ongoing clarity through clear communication.

  • Build discipline

True performance coaching remains rare in many organisations, but now is the time to build discipline around frequent and substantive feedback. Support may be necessary for managers as they build effective listening and feedback skills, while the wider infrastructure to establish broader feedback loops via pulse surveys may need building and/or reinforcing.

  • Differentiate rewards

Rewards don’t just have to involve salary increases or incentive payments. Our research shows that non-financial rewards, like recognition programs, career development opportunities, meaningful work and culture, are essential for keeping employees engaged. Support managers to broaden their conversations around rewards, recognising that individuals all have different needs and motivators.

  • Develop a more dynamic performance cycle

The number one performance management rule is that employees need to know where they stand. Clarity and transparency are the key. Performance expectations must be clearly defined and managers need to be held accountable for providing the real-time feedback that’s essential for employees to perform at their best.

  • Make it a driver of organisational success

While it may seem like change is ill-advised in these uncertain times, the opposite is the case. Now is the time to act to position performance management as the driver of success. Bring focus to what matters through setting expectations right now, but consider a phased approach to implementation to assist the transition to a more dynamic process.

Our latest paper looks in detail at current performance management issues and how to resolve them. Download the paper here.

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About Contributor

Gautam is a Senior Principal in Korn Ferry’s Organisational Strategy practice. He is based in Melbourne, Australia. Gautam’s passion is helping clients achieve their strategic business objectives and performance improvement through a more effective organisation. This includes engagements covering organisational design, operating model development, workforce capability & career architecture, strategic workforce planning, performance management & rewards and organisational capability uplift.

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