Using Tech to Improve PM Reviews

Performance reviews aren't disappearing anytime soon, so how can technology make the process more useful for both sides of the conversation?

Thursday, January 5, 2017
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Just hearing the words "performance-management review" makes most people cringe. Some HR professionals don't believe reviews accurately reflect employee contributions. Managers often complain about the amount of time they require and dread the thought of conversations that can easily turn into confrontations. Many employees believe their reviews aren't frequent enough or balanced, since they might reflect the opinion of only one person: their boss.

However, performance reviews aren't disappearing anytime soon. They still may be the most effective way to measure job performance and ensure that employees are best matched to jobs based on their skills and experiences.

The actual problem may have nothing to do with performance-management programs. Some HR consultants believe that, for such programs to effectively work, more HR professionals need to leverage technology so that every part of this process -- from gathering feedback to analyzing employee data -- is streamlined, objective and current.

Consider the results from the 2016 Global Workforce Study, a survey of 31,000 employees worldwide (3,105 from the U.S.) conducted by Willis Towers Watson.  Less than half (45 percent) say that performance reviews have helped improve their performance; barely half (54 percent) think their performance was accurately evaluated in their most recent review; only 44 percent see a clear link between their job performance and pay; another 54 say their organization does a good job explaining the performance-management process and only 51 percent say people are held accountable for their individual performance.

Although technology won't replace the important role played by managers in delivering the right employee experience, it can still help in many other areas, says Asumi Ishibashi, senior consultant for talent management at Willis Towers Watson in Toronto.

"[It can] tap into different feedback providers such as clients or customers," she says. "Gone are the days where employees are waiting until mid-year for feedback. Technology can accommodate just-in-time feedback after [employees] complete a project or make an amazing presentation. It balances where the feedback comes, the frequency and cadence."

While technology is commonly used to gather and analyze data, it can also help track dynamic or changing employee goals. Because of the fast pace of business, it's rare that employee goals remain the same throughout the year, Ishibashi says. Technology can capture a rich view from multiple sources and house historical data to offer a more holistic perspective of the employee.

Looking ahead, technology can also match developmental opportunities with an employee's current strengths. The process may not only alter the individual's career aspirations, but also update the worker's profile and enhance the person's visibility throughout the organization.

Many companies are thinking about technology and workforce planning, says Ishibashi, adding that some technology aligns workforce planning with performance management. "It would take individual performance and highlight both strengths and development areas. It aggregates it and gets the workplace plan for your team or function and, ultimately, your enterprise view. It ties performance to organizational capability."

Meanwhile, four out of five HR executives believe their performance-management system is "not up to snuff," says Brian Kropp, HR practice leader at CEB, a global advisory firm based in Arlington, Va.

The firm has conducted different surveys on the topic and discovered there are three criteria needed to capture and improve employee performance. HR needs to dramatically expand the people they're collecting employee data from, increase the frequency of their feedback and balance the employee's past with the future by identifying changes they will be expected to make in the future.

"Given that this is what differentiates a more effective performance-management system from a less effective one, the question becomes, 'What do you need to do to enable it?' " says Kropp.

Managers also need a way to track "moving job parts," he adds, ranging from job complexity to an employee's growing network of peers or business partners. "This can't be done," he says, "without technology."

"Given this is what differs a more effective performance management system from a less effective one, the question becomes what do you need to do to enable it," says Kropp. "This can't be done without technology."

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As examples, he points to online tools that streamline processes by capturing peer-to-peer feedback or tracking goal setting.

The reality is that performance management programs are a necessity. Kropp says it's not that these programs are bad, but that their processes are slow, outdated and don't reflect "how work gets done today at the pace at which work gets done today."

Likewise, employee data that's housed in performance management systems is sensitive and must be protected from hackers. Imagine if an employee's social security number or salary was posted on Facebook. The same holds true for information involving performance reviews. He says employers would probably face legal consequences if they were reckless with this type of information.

In the near future, up to 25 percent of employers may do away with their performance management program without giving a single thought as to its purpose or replacement, says Kerry Chou, senior practice leader at WorldatWork, a global HR management association in Scottsdale, Ariz.

So far, between 8 percent and 10 percent have already done so, based on his organization's surveys. But give them time. "Then people will read the rest of the story and decide, 'maybe not' and revert back," he says.

Chou says some organizations are creating databases or repositories for "crowd source" feedback that enables managers to immediately record information about an employee's accomplishments while still fresh in their mind. He says the technology automatically categorizes comments into different buckets and can be easily retrieved by managers when conducting employee reviews. Because the process is so easy, he says it also encourages others to record worker observations.

He says more HR professionals need to take advantage of existing technology or "low-hanging fruit" that can make the performance management process much easier.

"Many people merge the [program's] process, goals and administrative aspects, blur those together, and end up throwing the baby out with the bath water," says Chou, referring to organizations that have terminated their performance-management programs. "There are so many ways we can leverage technology to simplify the accomplishment of the goals we have with performance management and still stay true to the reasons we do it."

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