Practices to Forge Engagement, Learning, and Performance

January 12, 2022

Practices to Forge Engagement, Learning, and Performance

Well before COVID disrupted the way we work together and there was concern over the great resignation, organizations were examining ways to disrupt traditional HR practices in order to improve the employee experience. Performance management was on the top of the list  needing disruption.

If the great resignation is really about people re-examining the value they place on work and how it fits into their life, it strikes us that it’s even that much more urgent and important to have people management structures and skills to help employees learn, grow, and achieve faster while also creating a stronger sense of purpose and connection. Here are three trends disrupting traditional HR performance management practices: 

  1. Ongoing Conversations Supported with Conversation Guides

The set it and forget it annual goal-setting process has outlived its utility. The switch to dynamic, agile goals allows for flexibility and real-time relevance as priorities change, as work is completed, or if expectations aren’t being met. Many companies are switching to low documentation processes, but low documentation doesn’t mean low structure. Companies are providing conversation templates for employees and managers to guide ongoing, future-focused, performance-based conversations. These conversations aren’t just about tasks. It’s time for people leaders to:

    • Connect on a personal level. Working from home can be isolating. It also has, in some ways, offered a window into people’s lives that otherwise may not be seen. Managers need to up their game in creating authentic interpersonal relationships with their teammates. Understanding an employee’s life in a broader context than work offers insights to how they show up day-to-day and presents an opportunity to find common interests and common life challenges with which to build an interpersonal relationship. 
    • Connect to purpose. Talk with employees about the relevance of the work that they do every day; employees want to know they matter and their work makes a difference. Connecting to the bigger “why” is critical. As we mentioned in last month’s newsletter <link>, connecting to purpose brings more clarity and with that clarity comes greater conviction.
    • Proactively surface problems and co-create actions to remedy these situations. Employees are on the brink of burnout; they need champions who will remove obstacles and help resolve the conflicting priorities that naturally occur with cross-functional work.
    • Acknowledge effort, learning, and progress. People want to be seen and appreciated, especially when the work is hard, people are going above and beyond expectations, or when there is a need to pivot. Acknowledging effort and the progress made can provide the needed encouragement. Additionally, a conversation that focuses on learning inspires new insights and new actions without activating defense mechanisms.
    • Managers can normalize the learning process and enhance trust by regularly discussing what they are learning and what is motivating to them. This can create a virtuous spark of learning and strengthen shared commitments. 
  1. Feedback Method

Companies are also setting up feedback structures so that employees are learning and adjusting real-time. Giving feedback can be tricky because it can put people’s brains on high alert as they try to decipher intent or interpret vague messages or override the feelings of vulnerability and defensiveness that sometimes accompany feedback. The trend is to focus on improving how to ask for and respond to feedback. Doug Stone and Sheila Heen do a great job of explaining this approach in their book “Thanks for the Feedback.”  

The process of asking for feedback shows that an employee is open, eager to improve and learn, values other’s opinions, and is confident in one’s self. Interestingly, those who seek feedback, particularly negative feedback, are stronger performers and have stronger relationships. Trust is forged in these exchanges. To improve the quality of the feedback, don’t ask, “Do you have any feedback for me?” Instead frame the feedback request so that the respondent knows why you are asking and what you are asking for, and ask for it in advance so that they can prepare. For example, “I’m trying to improve the effectiveness of our team. I want to run effective meetings using everyone’s time productively while ensuring everyone has a voice. Would you mind paying attention to this in our next team meeting and offering me feedback?

When people ask for feedback, it gives them a sense of control—they can steer the conversation where it will be most useful. Givers, in turn, feel more comfortable offering the feedback because they’ve been offered some guidelines for the type of feedback that their colleague is looking for. Employees should also seek out feedback not just from their manager but a range of people who experience working with them on a regular basis. Gathering feedback from people across teams and at different levels in the organization can help to reduce bias. The direct, specific question helps to avoid “kitchen sinking.” Kitchen sinking occurs when people decide to pile on all kinds of feedback. Most people can’t process a range of feedback thus minimizing the true opportunity to learn, grow, and build trust in the process. 

  1. Coaching

Companies are also improving managers’ coaching skills. Coaching isn’t telling. Coaching is asking the right questions which generate insights, support new habit formation, and underscore accountability. (Note: Asking leading questions is a form of telling). It means that managers need to stop telling employees what to do. Telling feels like micro-management which is a total buzz kill. Through good questions, employees derive their own insights and come up with great ideas. When employees have their own insights and ideas, they are more likely to take ownership for action. This in turn fosters both learning and performance—characteristics of a positive employee experience. Strong managers acknowledge that they don’t have all the answers or expertise. Instead, they make connections to other colleagues in the talent ecosystem who can help employees gain different perspectives and capability. They also encourage team members to take on the responsibility of coaching one another within the context of day-to-day work.

WHAT’S NEEDED: When it comes to Human Resource trends, here’s what is needed now:

  • Improving the quality and frequency of performance-based conversations
  • Reducing feedback threat by asking for feedback
  • Upping coaching skills and connecting employees to the right people for development

EMI can help you reimagine your performance management practices and upgrade your people management skills. Contact us for more information: / 770.587.9032.