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Webinar | COVID-19: Performance management in a new world

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WHAT: 45-minute webinar recorded on June 4, 2020

WHO: Melissa Jezior, Eagle Hill Consulting’s President and CEO, and
Jonathan Gove, Boston Office Lead, Eagle Hill Consulting


Good afternoon and welcome to the webinar hosted by Eagle Hill Consulting, Performance Management in a New World. Just a few words on logistics for today’s session. All of our attendees are in listen only mode but we do want your questions. If questions come into your mind during this session please use your control panel and type them into the question box and we will take your questions at the end of the presentation. We are recording this session and you will receive an email with a link to a replay of this session. If you’re interested in more information on our webinars and other information you can find it at www.eaglehillconsulting.com. And of course we encourage you to share information on social media about this information. You can find this on Twitter@weareeaglehill. If you happen to have any audio or technical issues during this session please call Go To Webinar at 1-800-2636317.


Our agenda for today is quick introductions. We will run through some recent survey findings, provide some recommendations that we hope you will find informative and useful and then take your questions. We have two speakers today. The first is Melissa Jezior. She’s president and CEO of Eagle Hill Consulting. And also with us today is Jonathan Gove, the Boston office lead with Eagle Hill Consulting. With that I will turn the session over to Melissa. 

Fantastic. Thank you so much Kelly. Well welcome everybody. We are here today to talk about performance management within the context of COVID-19. We hope to really walk through some of its unique challenges, some of the needs of our employees and the steps that you can take to make sure your people have what they need to perform. We’ve all been working remotely now or most of us have been working remotely now for months. 


If you’re anything like Eagle Hill we have no plans to go back to the office anytime soon. In fact we recently announced that September is the soonest that we will go back, so it looks like we’re going to be here for the foreseeable future and this is our new normal. So with that we really wanted to figure out how to best make sure that we’re giving our employees the tools to be able to manage and maintain performance in this environment. And we’re thinking if we can get it right that we will emerge even stronger after this crisis. To further dig into this topic I’ve asked my colleague Jonathan Gove to join me. Jonathan leads our Boston office and has almost 30 years of experience aligning strategy and human capital issues. I think he’s also very familiar with managing global high performing teams in a remote environment, so thanks for joining Jonathan.

I’m very happy to be here Melissa.


Great. So tell us why do you think performance management is such an important topic for leaders to be thinking about right now? 

Well, for many organizations managing performance in what may now be a 100% virtual or close to 100% virtual context is really new territory, and it’s not just how supervisors, leaders, organizations as a whole manage performance but also thinking of it from an employee lens and what kind of support employees need to perform well. So as we’ve shifted to this new environment we’re discovering that traditional in-person methods of performance management may no longer apply. Many organizations should consider revisiting their performance management programs and practices and to recalibrate how they manage and motivate and reward performance in this largely remote work context. So this crisis may actually serve as a catalyst for improvements to ensure that performance manager programs are actually driving business value. And I think that we would recommend that organizations and leaders start thinking about this now rather than waiting until the end of the year.


Excellent. Well with that why don’t we go ahead and dive into our survey findings next. So Eagle Hill conducted the COVID-19 performance management survey between May 21st and May 26th and it included over 1,000 respondents from a random sample of employees across the U.S. and polled on performance management needs amid the crisis. In the survey we wanted to understand how employees feel about their work in COVID-19, what employees need from a performance management perspective, and the third thing was if there were any differences by age group or remote versus non-remote employees. So with that said let’s take a look at some of our key findings. Across our employee sample more than one-third of employees, that’s 36%, said that the nature of their work has changed amid COVID-19.


Additionally, across the board no matter where you work or your age demographic about one out of every five employees has a clear idea of what success looks like in their role. Not only do employees not have a clear idea of what success looks like in their changing roles amid COVID-19 they also feel the pressure to prove themselves. So 34% of employees said they feel more pressure to prove their value and 37% said they feel more pressure to perform well in their role amid COVID-19. So when you take a look at the remote versus the non-remote workers we see a statistically significant difference. Remote workers feel more pressure on the job than non-remote workers and it’s possible maybe because for remote workers work now is measured more by output, so potentially that’s creating more stress on the system. 


There’s also differences by age group especially among younger workers who say they feel greater pressure in their day to day versus other age groups. So again this could be because maybe they are at the start of their careers and they are wanting to establish themselves and really work on building their reputation. So despite changes in employees work and the greater pressure they are feeling only 13% said their supervisor provides coaching and mentoring or helps them reprioritize their work. If you think about that that’s fairly significant. Additionally, 43% of all employees said their performance metrics are not clear and need to be changed, and when you look at each age group younger workers are nearly twice more likely to say their metrics are not clear and need to be changed other than the other population groups. 


So during these times I think employees need more clarity on their role and performance goals and metrics, especially as they are working in new conditions, for example our extreme teleworking and have potentially new expectations around what they are responsible for. So how can we support our employees from a performance management lens during these times? Let’s talk about a couple of recommendations. I’m going to go through one set and then I will hand it over to Jonathan to talk through a couple more. 

So this crisis while distractive to your business it also might be an opportunity to potentially rethink your performance management program from it’s core. So a couple of ideas that you could potentially explore. The first one is implementing frequent real-time development conversations. So this is something that we at Eagle Hill have taken on and it’s become very much a trend in the industry where organizations are moving away from their standard end of year performance process, and either moving away from altogether or streamlining it.


I think we overhauled our performance management process about a year ago when we realized our end of year was demotivating our employees. It wasn’t getting us the business value that we were hoping and I think at the end of the day wasn’t giving our employees the feedback they need to develop and grow. So what we implemented was something that we call real-time development, which is essentially a model that provides more continuous feedback and support to your employees throughout the year. Part of this is based on team leads meeting with our employees weekly. And in these weekly meetings employees and their team leads discuss three simple questions. The first is what are you working on next week and how can your team lead help you. What went well and how to build upon it and what didn’t go as well as you had hoped and what do you need to do to change. 


And I really think that this shift in this model has allowed us to simplify and go back to basics and focus on what really matters. The key though I would say is that this was something you were something about implementing is the key is in the team leads. They really have the ability to make or break whether performance management or real-time development works and so you’ve got to really make sure that they trained and comfortable with the process because they are really the key stakeholder as ultimately the performance really happens at the team level. 

Our second point here is acting on your performance data. There’s such a trend right now in the market to move more toward quantitative data-driven methods of measuring performance which I am 100% behind with one very small caveat and that is there has to be action. We’ve seen so many organizations just fall into the trap of collecting lots of data, lots and lots of data and then not doing anything with that data.


So at Eagle Hill one of the things we’ve done is we put a structure into place to make sure we’re acting on this performance data, so each quarter we host a talent review where we work on looking at various different performance peer groups and then talking through how we support those various peer groups. So for example, maybe you were going to look closely at the performance extremes, right, our top performers and our low performers and we’ll strategize around how do you best support and position employees for promotion in that group. How do you help people grow and build new skills in that group? How do you recognize the good work people are doing in that group and how do you address identified performance issues in that group? So we walk away with each [00:10:45 account?] review with a clear set of actions and next steps and accountabilities to really help accelerate performance or correct it when it’s needed and then ultimately like support our people. 


And then last but not least is driving employee adoption in the virtual environment. So if you decided to take on some of these changes around your performance management program you may face the added complexity of it being all virtual, right. We’re still all very much in this virtual environment so a couple of thoughts that I think you might need to think through in driving adoption when taking on not only a performance management program but any really large scale change in this current environment. And the first is that communication right now is particularly tough. It’s always a tough issue but it’s particularly tough right now, and right now I think it’s even easier for things to get lost in a sea of emails, so I think you have to really get creative about communication to make sure it stands out and that your employees don’t miss it. For example, one of the things we’ve been doing at Eagle Hill is we created a real-time development podcast. We send out a podcast now regularly. We use storytelling to really grab our employees’ attention and really help 


I think secondly employees are working different hours, a lot more flexibility than we ever experienced at this scale before so I think making sure that the employees have the resources and tools available when they need it, so on demand training, self-guided trainings, webinars are all I think really positive things right now. And then last but not last the team leads. We’re back to team leads. They are so important especially in driving change in this environment and really empowering in a more decentralized approach I think especially in these crazy times really might help and really can help you create more of that daily active role of motivating and leading their colleagues through whatever changes you might be tackling and in this case performance management. 

So with that said I’ve been doing a lot of talking. I would love to hear from you audience. How is your organization re-inventing its performance management programs during this time?


So if anyone has comments to this question if you want to type them into your question box we will read them out loud and Jonathan and Melissa can respond. It looks like we have one comment that has come in. We’re streamlining the performance evaluation process and then another comment, it looks like we’re revising our bonus structure right now. And then we are putting more of an emphasis on coaching. Thanks everyone for those comments. 

With that said I will now turn it over to Jonathan to walk through our recommendations.


Thanks Melissa. So within our survey results we saw that younger workers, so 18 to 34 in our age breakdown are struggling more with performance management than more experienced workers in this environment. Across the board they are feeling more pressure to perform well in their roles and more pressure to prove themselves and prove their value. So with that in mind our second recommendation overall is that you tailor your strategies to meet the unique needs of younger workers, and we’re going to share a mini playbook here with a couple of recommendations on how team leads can best support and manage younger workers during this time. The coaching comment that we just heard was great. So we would first recommend implementing or reinforcing strength-based approaches and for this population strength-based approaches such as coaching is really important to balance constructive and critical feedback. And this means focusing on helping an individual leverage his or her strengths, focusing on where they will learn the most and where they will grow the fastest.


In this environment we just need to be really sure we are providing affirming positive feedback, tell people what they are doing right. Often the informal feedback that newer workers especially receive in an office environment, even as down to subtle things like body language tend to focus more on the positive. So this can be a gap that really needs to be consciously filled in this virtual environment. And acknowledging and celebrating small victories along the way can go a long way towards maintaining motivation and job satisfaction for younger workers.

Secondly, we would recommend team leads taking a high touch empathetic approach to working with your team overall but especially with younger workers during this time. And by this we mean for example checking in more frequently and regularly than usual. If in the old world you used to meet with folks on your team once a week for an hour you may want to break that down and meet three times a week for 20 minutes.


And again, this is addressing things that may have been done formally old normal but can close gaps that were also filled more informally in previous times. Since teams are disbursed working apart, working from home it’s really important to keep social connections and relationships strong. Team leads can show empathy by appreciating the unique personal situations and the environments that employees are operating in now. One of my colleagues likes to talk about meeting younger workers where they are in their own chaos. We all know it’s impossible to decouple our personal and professional lives right now. If you hear my dog barking in the next 20 minutes you’ll know what I’m talking about, but for younger workers especially they are feeling this added pressure to perform to establish themselves in their careers and it’s important to take the time to acknowledge that and acknowledge them.


And lastly we would recommend that teams double down on career path discussions with younger employees. It’s really easy in this environment to get stuck in the day to day and have a short-term focus on productivity, but showing that our survey findings found only one in four younger workers see a long-term future at their organization it’s important that team leads play a role in helping them see a bigger picture, encouraging them to think about longer term career goals, and engaging them min regular conversations about how to achieve those goals. So those are some of our recommendations for this group of younger employees, but again we would love to hear from the audience and the experiences you’re having with tailoring performance management for younger workers in this virtual world.

If anyone has any comments they would like to share just type them into your question box and we will read them out loud. 


One comment that’s come in, we have more frequent recognition and feedback.

That’s great. That frequency is really important.

Another comment, we are connecting their work to purpose, meaning bringing meaning to what they do.


And another comment, we’re using technology more and more to help drive engagement. 

Great. Okay, thanks for those comments. Our last recommendation is about engaging and retaining high performers. So we just talked about making sure younger workers see a career path for themselves and it’s super important to pay attention to high performers throughout the organization, make sure they see a future for themselves and that they are feeling valued. 


And I think you know we heard comments about building a structure earlier, engaging high performers at this time is particularly important given that the economic environment means monetary rewards may not be as available or as robust as they have been in other years. So to do that the first thing you have to do is identify your high performers and you need a clear set of criteria that should be both quantitative and qualitative. On a quantitative side many metrics may exist. It could be existing performance metrics, KPOs, overall performance ratings for example. And on the qualitative side we would recommend identifying some common traits or attributes of high performers. These may be more behavior-oriented, behavioral in nature. At Eagle Hill we spend a lot of time analyzing what it is that makes our top performers successful and as well as using that data in our performance management process we have been using it in our recruiting efforts. 


And once you’ve identified them you know we recommend that you tell their employees that they high performing. Naming it can not only add transparency but be a real source of motivation and confidence building for high performers can especially in this time where that kind of feedback and recognition that might have come more informally in an in-person environment is not as available.

Secondly, you can engage and retain high performers by bringing intentional focus to their career growth. Research says that people say they don’t leave the organizations for money, but often say they are leaving because they’re not feeling challenged or don’t see a clear path for growth. So some tactics to invest in high performance curve growth can include targeting them for [stretch] experiences and new roles, giving them exposure, a seat at the table, inviting them for example to some leadership meetings.


Other ways to give them priority for training and development programs and formal or informal mentoring programs. And then the final tactic that we want to raise is bringing greater transparency to career progression and to compensation for top performers so the folks can connect the dots and understand what it really means to be a top performer. And then lastly we recommend that you outline a differentiated employee experience for high performers. To do this it should be tailored as much as practical to the individual and what they value and care about. For example, if they value recognition, create an intentional strategy and action plan for personalized notes or leadership shoutouts. It’s also important to keep an eye out for potential signs of decreasing engagement so that any interventions with a high performer that’s showing decreased engagement can be made early and deliberately.


At Eagle Hill we use a number of retention strategies, but I wanted to call out stay interviews as a great retention tool. So during a stay interview we ask five questions of our high performers. What do you look forward to each day at work? What do you want to learn? Why do you stay here? When was the last time you thought about leaving us and what prompted it? And finally, what can I as your team lead do to make your job better for you? So we hope those thoughts are useful and once again would love to hear comments from the group on how you might be engaging high performers in particular during this time.

Thank you. If the group has any comments they would like to share use your question box and type in your comments and we will read those aloud. One comment that has come in check-ins for members of the leadership team are important. 


I was agreeing vigorously, yeah.

The second comment, pull them into new opportunities that are spurred by the crisis. And then another comment solicit their ideas and input on any strategic initiatives. 

Absolutely. Those are great examples. Thank you.

So now we’ll move on to the Q&A portion. Once again if you have questions you can type those into your question box on your control panel and we will respond to your question. We already have a couple of questions in the queue. The first one do you have any suggestions for how to have sensitive performance…virtually? 


Yeah, that’s a great question. So I mean this challenge may not be new for organizations that already have a disbursed workforce but other organizations may be figuring this out for the first time. I think one important consideration in a remote environment is to use a phone call instead of video platform for sensitive discussions. I know that can seem a little antiquated especially as we’re all getting so comfortable with various video platforms, but it does provide a higher level of privacy and security against conversations being overheard or recorded sort of knowingly or unknowingly. I think more broadly for any sensitive conversation on performance whether it’s virtually or in person it’s important to spend time to prepare concrete examples of where an employee is falling short and specific constructive actions to correct it. 


And if team leaders have concerns about how to have that conversation I would recommend consulting HR for how they might help and whether and how they might play a role in that conversation. And I guess the last thing is that again especially in a virtual conversation assessing tone can be difficult so I think following up with an email just to make sure things were understood and how the individual received the feedback, offer to answer open questions or identify additional next steps is a good practice as well.

Great. It looks like we have a comment that’s come in and a couple more questions so I’ll read the comment first. We’ve created cross-functional teams of high performer [00:25:44] and given them the time to do this. A great comment. I’m curious to hear a little bit more about stay interviews, how they are received and communicated across your organization. 


I can take this and Jonathan feel free to jump in as well. So stay interviews I think are best done at the team leads to employee level where right now we’ve been working on trying to build it in to our regular real-time development cadence so it becomes just part of the regular conversation. But I think it really is nice to be able to ask people when you can actually still impact the results of the answers that you hear before someone has left, in which case then if someone comes in and says they are leaving your chances of changing the course of that decision are not great. So I think it really helps you get the information and if it’s at the team lead level you are giving the keys to the person who really can do something about it. So I think we’ve found them to be very well received.


We’ve done them throughout various different times in Eagle Hill history and have found them to be a valuable tool and usually very well received by employees. And you would be surprised too how open employees are when you sit down and you ask them these questions because if you really create a strong partnership then you are working together to move the needle. I don’t know if you have anything to add Jonathan.

I think that sums it up well. I like the fact that you mentioned again doing them regularly and periodically and it’s not a static once a year. You do them regularly and act while the information is fresh. 

Great. We have another question. Another performance trend is a shift from individual to e-based performance. Do you have any thoughts or views on this trend?


I can take this one as well. So I think maybe the best way for me to answer this question is maybe to talk about it a little bit from Eagle Hill’s perspective and how we are thinking about that shift. I think we think it’s about trying to find the right balance between us and I and we and making sure that you don’t go one direction too heavily. We find that the best combination is a balance between the two because if you skew too far, like for example if you made your bonus structure for example 100% based on team goals while that might rally some folks behind it it could also potentially alienate some of your top performers as they may feel like they are pulling a majority of the weight but maybe not getting rewarded or recognized for it. So I think it’s just being very thoughtful about the right balance for your organization and your culture and we have found that we do have a balance of a [00:28:57] team at Eagle Hill.


Great. Well thanks everyone for those questions. We’ve got one more come in. Coming from the hospital sector our performance management processes have been all placed on hold for this year. As employees begin returning to work and operations reopen what performance management practices do you see as most critical and easy to implement without burdening leaders that are already stretched thin?

I’ll make a comment Melissa and feel free to weigh in. I think alluding to a theme we talked about earlier which is around frequency, regular quick interactions many performance management systems in the past have been very focused on an annual exercise that can be very time-consuming for all involved, and to some extent ends up being backward looking and fairly quickly out of date. 


One thing to think about is the extent to which you can smooth and streamline that exercise by having more regular interactions that don’t need to be a very large investment and certainly in your sector a distraction from the important business of healing the country.

I agree with that actually. I think that’s great advice. I would actually build on that by saying one of the things we’ve been coaching a lot of our clients to do amidst this pandemic is to increase conversations. And I even heard Jonathan say like if you were beforehand meeting once a week for an hour maybe you do that three times a week now for 20 minutes each. A lot of our real-time development conversations are 15 minutes or less. Sometimes they are longer but they can be really short and still be really effective and it’s so easy to implement, right.


We talked about the three questions that we focus on and as Jonathan mentioned they are meant to be more forward-looking and less backward-looking, so it’s again what are you working on next week and how can I help you? What worked well over the last couple of weeks and how do we keep doing more of that and what didn’t go so well as planned and how do we make changes. That could be something that would be easy to implement and could potentially you could show a nice impact pretty quickly.

Great. Thanks everyone for those questions. A few logistics and I will hand it over to Melissa to close this out. If you need more information about this topic or others just go to the Eagle Hill website, Eaglehillconsulting.com. And just a heads up that on Monday we will be releasing season 2 of the cultured podcast. This season we will be focusing on the restaurant industry and their resilience during the Coronavirus. Last season was a look at the sports industry, bringing insights for business leaders running sports teams.


You can find that on Eaglehillconsulting.com. And with that I will turn it over to Melissa to close this out.

I just want to say thank you all so much for attending. Hopefully, Jonathan and I gave you a couple of things that are good food for thought as you are working through your own journey in performance management amid COVID-10. So thank you so much. I hope you have a wonderful day and we look forward to seeing you again soon.

00:32:33 [End of recording.]