Moving from a traditional, once-a-year performance-management process to a continuous performance-development process can help a company improve engagement, productivity, and retention. But there is no one-size-fits-all formula for this evolution.
When deciding to make changes, some companies choose to pilot them before fully rolling them out, others go all in right from the start, and others tie the implementation of something new to changes in other processes and software. Regardless of its size, though, any organization that wants to build a culture of performance must take a close look at the company as a whole and be prepared to change mindsets and culture, promote new leadership skills, and revise processes.
Step 1: Establish a Growth Mindset
An organization that wants to build a culture of performance must first embrace a growth mindset, an attitude that assumes that all employees have potential, encourages them to develop it, and rewards them for improvement. Only in a growth-mindset environment can continuous performance development truly flourish.
- Focus on one area of growth at a time (such as active listening and learning from mistakes, for example). People are much more effective when working on one task at a time than when trying to tackle several tasks simultaneously.
- Make learning social. Allocate time for teams to reflect both on what went well with their completed projects and on what could have been done better. At the beginning of a quarterly meeting, for example, a team could analyze the “mistake of the quarter.”
- Integrate the growth mindset throughout the various talent processes, including leadership development and hiring. For example, ask candidates not only about their current skills but also about which skills they are working on.
Step 2: Lead by Example
To emphasize that feedback is a normal part of growing and learning, encourage leaders to discuss the feedback they receive and how they learn from it. When a project launch goes poorly and an executive says, “I own this error” in front of hundreds of employees, for example, that sends a very strong message throughout the entire organization. By publicly discussing what went wrong, what the team learned from it, and how he or she will make changes moving forward, that executive helps create an environment in which it’s safe and acceptable to acknowledge mistakes—and learn from them.
Step 3: Communicate Extensively
The reinforcement of culture change requires ongoing communication and internal marketing to support that effort.
- When teams embrace new processes, take the time to reward and publicly acknowledge their efforts. (Social recognition and special shout-outs at company meetings are just two possible ways to do this.) In fact, it can be even more meaningful to praise people who make mistakes but learn and grow from them. This makes it safe to fail and learn.
- Once a month, have a company-wide event at which everyone requests feedback from each other. Market this event internally with plenty of signage (maybe call it “Feedback Friday”!) and make it a community celebration.
Step 4: Bring Everyone On Board
Everyone (including executive leadership) at all levels of the organization must be on board for it to succeed at building a culture of growth and continuous development. When just part of the organization learns how to give and receive feedback, that doesn’t build the support and momentum needed for the change to succeed throughout the organization. Change can be an uncomfortable process, but it’s easier when the entire organization goes through it together.
Step 5: Work On One Thing at a Time
Build excitement, momentum, positivity, and community around one aspect of continuous performance development by having the entire organization focus on changing or developing one habit at a time. For example, encourage all managers to start having monthly check-ins with their employees. Once that’s accomplished, move on to something else.
Step 6: Be Prescriptive & Require Accountability
Rather than just tell employees and managers to “have continuous development through check-ins,” give them guidance on how to do this. Specify how often check-ins should happen and be prescriptive about what should be discussed during them. (For example, questions covered at an operational check-in might include “What did you do well?” and “Where did you get stuck?” along with “What will you do differently next time?”)
At the same time, hold managers and leaders accountable. If they’re expected to have monthly check-ins with their employees, for example, track which leaders are—and which leaders are not—having those meetings. Remember that any behavior change involves some pushback at first, so be prepared to understand and coach around resistance.
Step 7: Be Patient
Moving to a continuous development process takes time. Changing behaviors, encouraging new mindsets, and helping people be comfortable with an intrinsically uncomfortable process aren’t things that can be accomplished overnight.
Step 8: Define Success & Measure Progress
To evaluate whether a transition to continuous performance management has been successful, answer these three questions:
- Is there an increase in ongoing communication between individuals and managers?
- Is the quality of those conversations improving?
- Is engagement improving?
Establish baseline measurements and remeasure key metrics as changes are implemented. At the same time, set realistic and inspiring goals for the six-month, one-year, and two-year marks. As progress is made on each success metric, celebrate that achievement as an organization.
Moving to a culture of ongoing performance development will enable an organization to improve its productivity, engagement, brand, and employee retention. It will inspire employees. It will drive employees to love going to work. It will enable work to become more human.