Workforce Productivity, Coronavirus, and the Performance Evaluation Process

I listened as he gave it to him stone-cold, “I will be bringing this up during your performance evaluation”. What is this rhetoric, that I am sometimes guilty of, meant to achieve? Is it a threat that will make Mr. Employee shape up? Or is this a temporary relief (paracetamol) that will make Mr. Supervisor feel good? Feel more in charge? Why postpone a problem to seven months into the future? You are waiting seven months, and then you forget about what happened at the beginning of the year. Is the Supervisor’s procrastination not in itself a non-performance? At best, this kind of rhetoric from a Supervisor to a junior colleague is a rant, an orotundity that has low impact and a high failure rate. And if used often enough to manage employee’s behaviour, it erodes respect for leadership. One of the highly rated skills that are essential for leaders to develop is the ability to give tough feedback in a way that motivates change, instead of making the other person feel defensive. Managers must learn to continually provide feedback with empathy, authenticity, and assertiveness.

In managing workforce productivity and the performance evaluation process, Managers make some common mistakes. Those mistakes can be particularly costly, during these times of the pandemic. Like fuming at an employee and using the feedback conversation to blow off steam, rather than to coach. This is wrong. The performance evaluation process is best served objectively – without emotions. There are a lot of raw emotions flying around in these uncertain times, which have to be properly channeled. Another error is in employing the “sandwich style” – sugar coat negative feedback with positive feedback, like hiding a bitter pill in a pile of molasses. This approach, at best, is ill-advised. The “negative” feedback or the lesson in the whole process can slip by unnoticed, amidst the sweetener. And, the whole essence of coaching is lost.

As an alternative, it’s essential to create conditions in which the employee can take in feedback, reflect on it, and learn from it. Another error is to shelve giving needed feedback, because we anticipate that the employee may become confrontational and refuse to accept responsibility. This delay tactic shows sheer lack of courage, or laziness on the part of the Manager. Think about it. Is the performance evaluation event in seven months, meant to solve all the employee’s infractions and the organisation’s shortcomings? Giving developmental feedback that stimulates growth is a critical skill for business leaders, because it can make the difference between an employee who contributes powerfully and positively to the organisation, and one who feels diminished by the organisation and contributes far less. A single well planned, well timed conversation can switch an employee on — or shut him down. And, a good Supervisor should seize every opportunity to have that conversation, ensuring the message is clearly communicated and well received.

A true developmental leader sees the raw material for success, in every employee, and creates the conditions to let it out, even during tough times. Also, a developmental leader should develop the good sense and courage, to know when to prune or cut loose a bad apple. The jury has been out, on the counter-productivity of deferring a performance discussion to the future. – the verdict is now clear. With geographically dispersed employees and working increasingly becoming more remote as a result of the pandemic, the need for creativity in handling workforce productivity and the performance evaluation process is key.

A Coronavirus Compliant Performance Evaluation Process

Most of us can access the daily sobering WHO Coronavirus statistics – the last time I checked – globally we had 94,312,257 recorded cases; 2,017,844 deaths; and 24,950,067 currently infected active cases. Apart from practicing good hygiene, the health advisory to stop the spread of the virus, is less human contact – limited meetings, cut off non-essential travels, we are even advised to stop handshakes and use only non-contact greeting methods. How will all these affect productivity and the performance evaluation process? For starters, the performance indices are fast changing. Not too long ago, some firms measured productivity based on how much time employees spent in the office, at their desk, in the library, etc. Those firms always have a positive bias for staff who “sleep” in the office, or work round the clock; it somehow shows their commitment to client’s work. With Coronavirus, that has changed – it is certainly not first to clock in, and last to clock out anymore that gets the AA rating. We will review more of the changing indices.

Change is hard. However, some years before Covid-19, a few organisations had taken the lead in overhauling their performance evaluation process. Moving it away from the formal, once or twice a year, traditional performance management system, to a system that is more forward looking – a continuous performance development process. Instead of an event-driven system, backward-looking system, these organisations introduced performance management systems that provides “real time” feedback tied to their business goals. There are a few interesting examples.

The EY Platform: LEAD

In 2015, an article from EY’s People Advisory Services group, noted that its clients were finding traditional annual-review programs costly and time-consuming, and that they were recording poor outcomes. The research paper revealed that employees wanted feedback from Managers to be more frequent, more conversational and more geared toward self-improvement. Since EY – the global consulting and professional services firm prides itself as experts at providing innovative solutions, it is not a surprise that it thereafter, rolled out its own employee-performance platform called LEAD evaluation system. The system, reflecting what it had learned from working with clients and talking to its people in-house, is a departure from the annual performance review with numerical ratings. The EY platform is built around rapid real-time conversations. It is described as a technology enabled real-time platform, that allows employees see how their work activities contribute to the achievement of the organisation’s goals. The EY system measures employee’s performance against their peers across geographies and regions, and against what they call “gold standards,” meant to inspire higher achievement. The firm’s Americas Vice Chair, Talent, Carolyn Slaski, explained that, LEAD, “emphasises a shift from retrospective performance evaluations and detailed written assessments, to real-time feedback and better conversations that focus on individual career journeys and long-term future aspirations.”


Another good example is GE. In 2016 General Electric, a company with over 300,000 employees, covering 170 countries, changed its 40-year-old performance review system to one focused on performance development – a mobile app called PD@GE to enable more frequent feedback. The new system, PD@GE, works on a system of “Insights” that can be offered to employees by managers or fellow employees. The emphasis being on performance development, not on evaluation – there are two types of “Insights” – “Consider Insights and Continue Insights.” A “Continue Insight” celebrates and encourages an employee when they do something good, while a “Consider Insight” offers constructive criticism when employee performance shows opportunities for improvement or needs guidance. GE Managers were expected to have frequent conversations – and have summary touch-points with their employees on how far they are from agreed business goals.

IBM: Checkpoint

Another example is IBM. The organisation uses an app-based performance review system named Checkpoint. Employees set short-term goals throughout the year on Checkpoint, and receive feedback from their Managers at least every quarter.

Also, in 2018, a leading law firm installed an online portal that enables real-time submission of performance data by employees. The portal also provides a formal coaching platform, that ensures all employees can access continuous feedback and guidance from Supervisors on identified performance gaps. The portal is a multi-tier evaluation system, based on the grade level and seniority of its Lawyers. What is common in these organisations is that they have a performance evaluation system that can be described as Covid-19 compliant – it is not event-based, and it is contactless. What is primary is that, goals are set and there is constant feedback being provided and recorded.

What Performance Evaluation is Not.

Performance Evaluation, is not an annual rating anymore. It is a regular, continuing mentoring discussion

It is not a three-hour annual event. It is a development opportunity that occurs as required.

It is not about the organisation being the centrepiece, but it is a conscious attempt to put the employee at the centre of Organisational Growth.

It is not just an assessment of an individual, but of the organisation’s leadership.

It is not judgement day. And, if it is, shouldn’t mentors and supervisors have their share of the verdict? It is an opportunity to open the brag book, and the manager’s responsibility to develop and release the enhanced performance of an employee – a manager’s opportunity to shine.

Performance Evaluation MUST DOS

It is early in the year. SET GOALS. It must begin with clear goal setting. Ample time spent with your team on goal setting is time well invested – SMART goals – “BHAG” Big hairy audacious goals -whatever the goals, they must be continuously reiterated until everyone gets it .

Focus on Employee development.

Prioritise Innovation.

Prioritise Implementation.

Agree Timelines with your teams on every project, but be flexible and provide allowance, so you remain sane.

Prioritise Regular Training for Line Managers and Appraisees. Provide managers with a lot of training on getting comfortable in giving insights.

Focus on how to Increase transparency around compensation, rewards and career progression in your organisation.

Move the emphasis from Performance evaluation, to performance development. Show an intention to help the employee grow, rather than to show up his or her wrongs. When preparing for a feedback conversation as a manager, reflect on what you hope to achieve and on what impact you would like to have on the employee, by adequately preparing – you can even simulate a conversation before the meeting. Openness and calmness on your part as a manager, is essential to high quality connection that facilitates change. If you start off feeling uncomfortable and self-protective, your employee will match that energy, and you may both leave the conversation frustrated with each other.

The process should increase, not drain, the employee’s motivation and resources for change. In this era of Covid-19, managers should use the process in providing insights and coaching geared toward clear business outcomes, not to settle scores. The process, which should be a daily priority, is about having forward-thinking, actionable conversations with employees. Employees always want to know how they are doing. Invite the employee into the problem-solving process. You can ask questions such as: What ideas do you have? What are you taking away from this conversation? What steps will you take, by when, and how will I know? The discussions should focus on priorities, knowledge sharing, career dialogue, and coaching.

Though all the organisations highlighted in this article, employed technology to enable the performance evaluation process, it is important to mention that despite the huge importance of technology, it is not the ultimate objective. The main objective of the performance evaluation process, is the quality of the conversations that employees and managers are having. What drives a good conversation are trust, vulnerability, authenticity.

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