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Roly Walter



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How will performance management evolve in 2021?

How will HR transform performance management in 2021?

Appraisals were created by employers out of a desire to improve performance and to highlight positives and areas for improvement. Over the years they have evolved, with the emphasis now placed on employees taking ownership of their professional development and a fairer balance of power between employee and employer. With the sudden move to remote working for millions last year, 2021 will see yet more change.

Getting managers up to speed

It is impossible to predict how this year will pan out, but it’s highly likely that a significant amount of remote working will continue for the rest of the year. If 2020 was about coping with the challenges of the pandemic, 2021 should be about how to thrive in these conditions. The effectiveness of line managers will be a key part of this.

The most important thing at the moment is to be flexible and be ready to change. An agile mindset is essential. 

Unbelievably, less than half of line managers say that they have ever received any people management training. This has to change if organisations are going to get the best out of their workforce. Line managers are being asked to cope with a lot, and it is unreasonable and unrealistic to ask them to do this without effective support. Providing manager training on topics like how to run effective check-ins, give and receive feedback or supporting positive mental health is essential if the workforce is to reach its full potential.

Regular check-ins are more important than ever

We know that employees value time regular time with line managers. In our 2019 survey, 84% stated that they were important. With many line managers and employees no longer working in the same office, these have become even more vital. Not being physically in the same place, and being unable to have brief chats, pick up on visual cues or observe behaviour means there is a danger of this vital connection between line managers and employees being lost.

Scheduling regular check-ins ensures managers are clear on what their employees are working on and what progress is being made against objectives. For employees, they are an opportunity to raise issues, ask for support or celebrate their achievements. They are a vital pillar for any approach to performance management, providing much needed focus and clarity.

Going beyond performance

Traditionally, many organisations were concerned about measuring performance by numbers, using ratings to determine success, and comparing one employee to another. There has been a recent move away from this philosophy, with most preferring to view employees on a more human level, treating them as multi-faceted individuals and focusing on their particular needs.

In the current climate, where employees are being asked to work in a completely different way, socially distanced from their colleagues, the focus needs to go beyond performance and consider the environment they are working in, their health and wellbeing. Being able to work effectively means being able to bring your best self to work. With employees juggling childcare and other caring responsibilities, plus dealing with worries over their health and finances, many are struggling under the strain. Checking up on wellbeing and how employees are coping needs to become an integral part of performance management and the check-ins.

Embrace employee autonomy    

Through working remotely or separated from their colleagues, employees have had to become more self-reliant and self-sufficient. They have had much greater control over the structure of their day, where and when they work, even what they wear. This new freedom is an aspect of remote working that employees enjoy.

Employers should recognise and embrace this and encourage employees to take control of their development. Giving them the tools that enable them to be proactive and plan their career progression will be invaluable in retaining the best talent. For example, allowing employees to request feedback from colleagues on their performance or a project without waiting for a review ensures they have relevant and timely information that can act upon immediately.

Test and learn

What will work look like after the pandemic? Plenty have tried to predict the outcome, but no one can be sure what the situation will be. It is likely that the answer will vary by industry and region, and organisations may come up with a very individual approach.

In this situation is makes sense to adopt a test and learn approach. Employers shouldn’t be afraid to try new things and monitor how they work. They should also not be afraid to abandon initiatives that don’t offer value. The most important thing at the moment is to be flexible and be ready to change. An agile mindset is essential – keep reviewing what you are doing to ensure it remains relevant and effective.

A crucial foundation for company culture

Most of the traditional ways that organisations look to build their culture involves being physically in the same place. Now this isn’t possible for many, organisations are seeking alternative methods. Culture is created by actions, not words. While having values to aspire towards are important, it is how people behave that really makes a difference. Establishing proactive, continuous performance management, involving shorter review cycles, regular check-ins and feedback on demand creates exactly the type of supportive, inclusive environment that employees want to be a part of.

Interested in this topic? Read The HR power shift: the new reality of performance management.

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Roly Walter


Read more from Roly Walter

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