The words “ongoing” and “continuous” have been making their way infront of performance management because the norm continues to shift from one, year-in-review event to many regular conversations.
The reason for the shift to more frequent check-ins is to better facilitate employee development. Not only has the frequency of these meetings changed, but so has the content. Rather than looking at past performance, true employee development is about growing individuals’ careers and creating opportunities for them to exercise their strengths and learn new skills.
Continuous performance management (CPM) facilitates this forward-looking mindset, creating more touchpoints between employee and manager. These conversations foster development and ensure each employee is prepared for upcoming challenges — whether it’s a new technology to adapt to or, say, a sudden shift to remote work.
What is continuous performance management?
CPM is a process of regular check-ins between employees and managers. It includes capturing periodic performance updates through ongoing feedback and data collection, as opposed to traditional, annual conversations focused on appraisal. The idea is that managers should be empowered to have conversations with their employees at all times, about anything.
Think about it like driving a car: You've got the rearview mirror, of course, where you review what came before. But that shouldn’t be your entire field of vision. We always want to keep that driver's-angle viewpoint, where we're mainly focused on looking out the windshield toward the future.
The scope of conversations between manager and employee must evolve from year-in-review to include what lies ahead for the business and the employee’s development and skill set. Development opportunities should be made available frequently, instead of being offered based on employee tenure, and they should be available on-demand.
Continuous performance management in practice
CPM can help employees — and their organizations — be more agile and adaptable. And that’s exactly what Virginia Commonwealth University was looking to do when it began to review its performance management practices in 2017.
“Performance management at the time was a once-a-year, check-the-box activity that didn't add value in most individuals' eyes,” said Bobbi Thibo, director of HR service delivery at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU), who joined me during a panel at the CUPA-HR Virtual Spring Conference where we discussed changes in performance management. Thibo noted the traditional performance review process was actually negatively impacting employees across the organization.
“We had a long-term ingrained mentality that a successful performance rating equated to a C. And we all know that in higher education, in particular, that is not a feel-good rating,” Thibo said. “We also were struggling with state compensation programs that at the time didn't support pay through performance, and which ultimately led to inflated ratings being used by managers as a tactic to recognize employees in lieu of a merit-based path.”
After hosting focus groups and brainstorming sessions with managers, individual contributors and HR professionals, VCU transitioned to a calendar year review period that incorporated mid-year reviews to kickstart ongoing feedback and achieve higher success ratings. And when COVID-19 impacted VCU in 2020, the CPM system proved a major asset, helping them address concerns around virtual leadership and remote workspaces, along with social inequities and social justice issues.
VCU also received buy-in for an enhanced calibration process that considered demographic data to provide managers with more support to address diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging (DEIB) initiatives.
With the increased use of technology and new functions within their talent management platform during remote work, VCU was able to facilitate the ongoing feedback loop that people were craving.
Managers are key to continuous performance management success
For many organizations, one of the biggest hurdles to implementing CPM successfully is manager support. It might seem counterintuitive since CPM is designed to support their interactions with employees. But managers often perceive that CPM will take too much of their time.
Additional barriers managers often face include being unfamiliar with the infrastructure to facilitate the process or the sentiment that they lack the coaching skills that CPM demands. In fact, during the conference, Thibo shared that some managers actually avoid conversations about development entirely so they don’t have negative conversations with their employees.
But with the tools and training to execute routine check-ins, these conversations can become much more approachable and meaningful. With more frequent check-ins, managers also have more data to pull from during formal compensation conversations, which can help identify and eliminate bias in how employees are evaluated and rewarded.
Bringing continuous performance management to your organization
VCU added training programs for managers to learn how to facilitate career development conversations, which Thibo said made it easier to have productive conversations with employees.
“Through the use of the technology that is available to us in our talent management platform, we now have a program that highlights ongoing conversations about expectations and goals that don't happen once a year, but have happened on a continuum,” said Thibo.
In fact, organizations that implement CPM will likely find employees proactively seeking out manager feedback, insights and guidance on a regular basis.
These rich conversations with managers and mentors (powered by data), will allow employees to feel engaged and empowered in their careers and in turn, help drive your organizations forward.
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