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8 Min Read

HR at the Employee Performance Frontier: Building a Dynamic Performance Management Practice

Jennie Yang
Jennie Yang

Performance management isn’t an annual endeavor, it’s a continuous need. And if performance reviews are merely a means to measure, rather than drive engagement and growth, then they are certainly not meeting the needs of today’s HR goals.

Recently, at Thrive by 15Five, I had the pleasure of engaging in a fireside chat on performance management with Ben Douglas, the SVP of Human Resources at Advantage Forbes Books. 

Our discussion centered around how to go beyond the traditional performance reviews and transform performance management into a dynamic, ongoing practice.  We explored strategies to get both managers and employees on board, eliminate bias and ambiguity, and shift from mere performance measurement to effective performance management seamlessly integrated into the daily workflow. Stay tuned for some game-changing insights!

What holds organizations back from elevated performance

Before diving into the fireside chat, I provided some additional context on what often hinders organizations from fully unleashing their performance potential. Some of these obstacles include:

  • No defined performance philosophy
  • Lack of executive and/or management buy-in around performance philosophy
  • No defined objective measure of performance
  • Ineffective goal setting and/or lack of prioritization coming from the top
  • Lack of continuous, effective feedback and/or ruinously empathetic managers (high care for team members, low accountability for performance)
  • Lack of perceived fairness around performance reviews 
  • Unrealistic and/or unclear expectations of team members
  • No manager training around continuous performance management

The truth is that many organizations today don’t actively manage performance — they barely measure it. Ben and I discussed how to change that.

Advantage | Forbes Books’ approach to performance management

At Advantage | Forbes Books, the crux of the performance management strategy is first and foremost hiring the right people. As Ben shared, the “who” matters, and once strong candidates are hired, those individuals need to be given the autonomy to have a positive impact on the organization in their area of expertise. This creates a culture where great performance is the expectation, not the exception. 

Furthermore, the leadership team is empowered and encouraged to unlock the individual potential of each person on their team. They are also held accountable to each other to ensure that everyone on the team is performing, through robust quarterly planning and goal-setting processes. 

Performance reviews on a quarterly basis through 15Five are an integral part of the performance management process at Advantage | Forbes Books, but, according to Ben, they are just one part of the performance management process – the culture of exceptional individuals valuing a high performance environment and peer-to-peer accountability is the healthy pressure that leads to exceptional consistent performance throughout the organization.

How Advantage | Forbes Books leverages 15Five to support its performance management approach

In their quest for high performance across the organization, Advantage | Forbes Books strategically leverages 15Five to fortify their performance management processes.

As Ben says “The introduction of 15Five has allowed us to add in some additional, integrated communication tools to support our team toward our collective success.  It is all about unlocking the value of a systematic practice of having intentional and meaningful conversations with those on our team.  Through those conversations and relationships, we can leverage our ability to maximize success in each performance situation and increase the ability of each individual on our team to meet and exceed OKRs.”

Common challenges in making performance management an ongoing practice

Done right, performance management means truly understanding how a workforce is doing—and improving it in an intentional, focused way. A thoughtful performance management plan, integrated into all organizational levels, is the only way to accomplish that at scale. 

But that level of performance management is surprisingly hard to come by. Beyond the primary challenges of putting performance management practices into place, many organizations struggle with the human side of it as well — the part that requires having candid, sometimes difficult, conversations.

“Most of the challenges we face are the same that a lot of organizations face,” Ben shared. “It is in the challenge of having candid conversations about someone’s performance.  It is about telling the truth when and where it matters.  We train and mentor our managers to manage on an individual level with each person on our team.  They need to give each individual the opportunities to excel.”

A key component of making any performance management practices actually have an impact is ensuring that managers are equipped to carry out the implementation of these practices on their own teams. Performance management software, like 15Five, can create a steady foundation of activities that free up managers and leadership to focus less on the administrative aspect of performance management, and more on the human side.

As Ben stated, “15Five allows, and encourages, healthy and ongoing conversations within our team.  The 15Five cadence (Check-Ins and 1:1s), along with comprehensive training and development programs, help leverage our managers’ ability to uplevel performance throughout.”

Integrating performance management into the day-to-day workflow

At 15Five, we strongly believe that the integration of performance management into the day-to-day workflow must be seen as a deliberate and intentional practice. As Ben Douglas aptly puts it, “Performance management is all about being intentional.  It is all about paying attention to the nuances of relationships.  In taking the opportunities to have engaging conversations.  Each conversation and interaction should matter and should make a difference.  When they do not, leaders need to look in the mirror and challenge themselves.  We should be relentless in our pursuit of helping people be successful in their work.  15Five’s software helps to support this, in general practice, and we spent a lot of time coaching and developing our team to be great coaches and to be employees who are receptive to continually receiving feedback that enhances their performance.”

Avoiding performance management fatigue

Performance management fatigue is not only likely, it is inevitable. In an organization that emphasizes continuous performance management, HR leaders are expected to be there at all times to field employees’ concerns, and they are expected to quickly come up with solutions to alleviate those concerns. Most HR leaders would say that they love supporting people, but even the most empathetic, compassionate person can get burned out on caring for the needs of others and trying to drive high performance day in and day out.

When discussing strategies to avoid and alleviate performance management fatigue, Ben drew a parallel between fatherhood and leadership. He said, “ Being a parent is hard.  The same is true for performance management.  It is hard.  But, fatigue as both a parent and a good leader comes from the same place.  I get fatigued when I don’t lead my boys in the right way.  I also get fatigued when I don’t lead my team well.  When I am leading well and doing everything I can to show up as my best self the work somehow gets easier.  It is easier because the results of my labor are evident.  It gets easy because my impact, and my approach, are aligned.  There are times when those things take a great deal of faith that doing the right things for the right reasons will pay off.  And, they always do.”

Actionable steps to implement a dynamic performance management approach

When I asked Ben to share any closing key takeaways for attendees on how attendees can implement a more dynamic, impactful performance management approach in their own organizations, he shared some powerful wisdom about being intentional, being introspective, and ultimately, showing up.

“One of the hardest decisions a leader has to make is to make every interaction with the team meaningful.  To be that disciplined.  Are you going to be an exceptional leader or one that just shows up?  To be that intentional.  It is through the constant internal pressure that one has within that you can pour into the lives of others and support people in their success,” Ben shared.  “You see, I believe and have come to realize that in most cases if someone on my team is failing it is because I need to lead them differently.  I realize there are times when things don’t work out, and I deal with those situations head-on, but until I lose hope in someone on our team I should put every effort and all I am into helping someone succeed.”

People-centric performance management, driven by data

It used to be time- and resource-intensive to provide continuous feedback at scale. That’s changed with 15Five’s performance management software. 

Quickly and easily set up a review cycle, and start analyzing performance in our holistic system designed for fairness. Managers can assess employees without bias, and equitably make workforce choices that empower career growth and uplift your entire company. 

Get a demo and make flexible, insight-driven performance management a reality at your organization today.