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6 Tips to Make Your Performance Management Remote-Work Friendly

6 Tips to Make Your Performance Management Remote-Work Friendly

Even in the best of times, no manager enjoys conducting performance reviews which can often be an uncomfortable and anxiety-inducing experience for both, the manager and the employee.

You may have conducted many performance reviews over the course of your career, but in the times of Covid-19, everything is different. You and your team have been working remotely for most of the year. How then, do you begin to evaluate your employees’ performance during such a challenging time? How should you consider the impact of Covid-19 on your annual performance reviews or appraisals? Now, reviews will most likely be remote and you will be evaluating a period that has been very different and uncertain. Nothing that you started with exists now, and everything has changed – targets, goals, strategies, roles, in fact, the entire marketplace is different.

In the best selling book, ‘7 Habits of Highly Effective People’, Stephan Covey, says the 5th habit is  – “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”  How much listening the Manager has displayed all through the year is going to be important. This is because Managers must be extra careful about avoiding any biases that may be perceived due to a pandemic. For example, how would you evaluate an employee’s performance who has struggled with remote-working due to the so-called “new normal”? Would you call such a person a non-performer outright? Managers often peg the performance of employees in their team against each other. However, this time they may not be comparing apples to apples.

Given these challenges, how can you then make the review fair? Based on our recent experiences while supporting teams to navigate their performance appraisals, we have compiled a list of 6 tips that you could apply in your organisation. Starting now will enable you to optimise your processes ahead of the next review cycle.

Identify new performance indicators and the right tools to measure them

The key is to streamline the review process for employees, managers as well as the HR team. For this, it not only means using old methods and tried and tested tools but also new technology tools to monitor employees. Simple work tools like Slack, Google Drive, MS Teams and Blink that have become popular during the pandemic lockdown, not only help in communication between employees but also facilitate productivity and team cohesion.

You need to test tools to discover which one will best suit your organisation. Use that as a guideline to structure your review process. Identify the kind of data that needs to be collected. Data is still a key driver of performance management, even with a more modern style of performance review. Consider some new measures beyond plain simple productivity such as volunteerism for new tasks, availability, and readiness to help others, social engagement with peers, and other key result areas. Some of the parameters could be more process-oriented, rather than purely being goal-oriented.

Incorporate an evaluation of critical incidents that influenced the employee’s performance

A manager must make note of positive and negative incidents involving each employee. This involves noting incidents where the employee did something well or maybe something that needs improvement or suggested a highly successful initiative. This doesn’t rely on traditional ratings or rankings alone but is subjective.

This requires more diligent involvement of managers, who must make note of critical incidents. This also helps employees improve since the feedback is more detailed. Sometimes, managers encourage employees to share these incidents in self-appraisals. This helps them corroborate with their assessment. This, however, cannot be done via a one-time appraisal but requires year-round engagement to ensure detail and accuracy.

Set micro-goals along with annual goals for the following year

Annual reviews are daunting. Given the changing dynamics of work setting micro-goals is more realistic and manifests growth. It’s no wonder that more and more businesses are adopting this type of frequent communication. This particularly lends itself well to remote working. Instant feedback helps employees develop over time and ensures daily accountability. They allow people to pivot quickly and make timely changes, rather than wait for a yearly evaluation to understand areas of improvement.

Rather than annual appraisals, it helps to review things monthly and have a detailed assessment every quarter. Include these micro-goals as part of regular follow-ups, and not just for performance appraisals. The idea is that the performance appraisal process should just summarize whatever has happened all the year round and not appear like a new process in isolation from what the employee does on an ongoing basis.

Take stock of new roles and new skills that may be emerging in the organisation

Remote work has inadvertently created a demand for new kinds of jobs and skills. Today, more and more job listing sites are dedicated to showcasing remote work positions, some of these have been completely realised during this pandemic.

As more companies transition teams to remote arrangements, managers and employees have learnt first-hand that it takes a different skill set to work from home. And this is an ongoing, continuous process. Those companies that are beginning to hire afresh, will be looking for employees who can demonstrate that they have what it takes to work from home or anywhere straight away. Some of the skills that need to be highlighted for example include more self-discipline and structure, adaptability, collaboration, good and clear communication among other skills. It is the duty of managers to highlight these to the employee during an appraisal.

It has been observed in several situations that some employees have unexpectedly shone in these alternative work situations but the existing appraisal process cannot capture these instances.

It is critical to appraise the employees about new roles and responsibilities that may be emerging from this situation. It is also important to offer recognition to them and reward behaviour which was favourable to develop good work culture, and also understand if their roles can be transformed into something more structured.

Continuous feedback has become a necessity

Feedback must be individualised to fit the specific person and situation – and it should be ongoing. This is possible if you create a system of open communication periodically, not just to give a voice to employees but also to communicate your expectations clearly from time to time and state the unacceptable as much as the acceptable. It is necessary to focus it on the behaviour or action you are concerned with and want to improve and not get personal.

Feedback should also be multi-dimensional – from managers to employees, from employees to leadership, and between colleagues. It should be ensured that corrective feedback is also included. This makes people more receptive to criticism. Finally, it must be delivered as soon as possible after the positive or negative action and before the next performance. Of course, this does not come naturally, ensure that your managers are trained to manage this communication else it can do more damage even if you have the best intention at heart.

Help employees articulate what support they expect from you

Change is not easy and for most individuals, it is a precarious process. Given the current times, your employee may need a lot more support from you to transition to working in the new normal than you might think. A good way to assess and manage this is to include information gathering during the process of appraisal. Often organisations shy away from checking with the employee about what support they need because then they will have to provide it. Many refer to this exercise as opening up the ‘Pandora’s box’.

However, as of date, this will prove to be the best strategy to speed up change and enable your employees to remain productive. Since working from home is the new normal for the foreseeable future we must consider performance evaluation in this context going forward. It will help the organisation to watch for opportunities to teach, provide additional support, or invite the right training for your employees. A good manager understands that there must be a balance between the company or client’s needs and the needs of his or her employees.

The pandemic has inadvertently become a catalyst in changing performance culture itself. It is an opportunity to move toward a people-focused management system that is more sustainable in the long run, and built around resilience and agility, instead of just efficiency and competitiveness at any cost. For the next few years, you will need to carefully consider each person’s situation and then consider output. In the absence of this, your organisation stands a chance of coming across as unreasonable and insensitive. Going by group averages and norms is passe. Yes, performance appraisals are a great tool for retention but given the current times, we must also use them as a platform to express gratitude and set course for the upcoming uncertain time. After all, we cannot reiterate enough that a happy employee is a more productive employee.

At YellowSpark we help you not only design and implement people-focused, sustainable performance reviews but also prepare your managers for the process. To know more write to us at contact@yellowspark.in.

Author Profile: Aparna Joshi Khandwala is a passionate HR professional. She co-founded Yellow Spark to work with like-minded people who believe in the power of leadership, which is the only business differentiator in today’s time.