The hybrid era may have ushered in new ways of working, but when it comes to performance assessment and employee motivation, the landscape is murkier.
As much as some employees have appreciated the short-term benefits of the “work from anywhere” world that COVID-19 normalized, many are concerned about the long-term impact of remote work, which could result in some being left behind in terms of promotion and pay.
Everything we’ve learned about work over the past year has uncovered a rather unsurprising, but startling, reality: In this new era, the old ways of “managing” performance no longer serve us or our employees very well. This is uncharted territory for the firms comfortable in the top-down culture of the previous era. We now find managers left mostly to their own devices, without much support to adapt their assessment and coaching methods to this new world of work.
For instance, if leaders choose to use agile performance management, they are committing to a more flexible, empathetic, and bias-reducing process at every one of their decision points.
Here are three ways we can move the ball forward on this complex challenge.
Equalize the power dynamic
While managers were once focused on delivering employee performance reviews, now they must think about enabling employee performance over time. One way to do this is through thoughtful reflection and conversations that are two-way dialogues (rather than one-way assessments). Imagine this: Rather than a typical manager-driven performance “read out” of their opinion, a co-owned dialogue could allow both the employee and the manager to share answers to questions like: How are we doing against our goals, and what one step could make us even more successful; or what am I known for in the org, and how does it impact our brand as a team; and what is one thing that I could do more of that would make your job easier?
When conversations are spread among parties, the process is healthier and more productive; it also helps prove the value of hybrid work tremendously. It increases the chance that both parties will take away actionable behavior changes, building trust and empathy in the process–two factors proven by research to be meaningful boosters of success.
Introduce disruptions to “facetime bias”
With the hybrid work era still in its early days, there is a lot we don’t yet know about its long-term impact on employee performance and career growth, especially around the topic of proximity bias. Rather than running “bias training” classes that have debatable value, we should be looking for ways to disrupt bias in the moment that it happens. This approach will be more integral to effecting real behavior change.
For example, you’re a manager evaluating the performance of two employees: Employee A works remotely two days a week, and Employee B doesn’t work remotely at all. If Employee B gets recommended for a promotion, how do you ensure that decision is driven solely by Employee B’s performance and potential, and not by an unconscious bias created by their more frequent presence in the office?
One way to address this is through “pattern interrupting” prompts during the performance review process. When a manager is assessing an employee’s performance, or considering that person for promotion, they can be prompted by tech-driven behavioral nudges (in the form of questions) that ask them to think through their possible biases. Questions like: Is this someone you interact with more in person than your other employees; or is this feedback relevant for the full year, the past month, or is it dependent on the time spent on a particular project?
These kinds of prompts, while simple, are important because they can help managers assess employee performance in a way that’s more objective and less likely to be influenced by bias.
Talk about expectations more often and with flexibility
The performance goals you set in January 2020 no doubt missed the prediction of a global pandemic that would transform nearly every part of our work and personal lives. And you probably didn’t set goals citing the expectations that you wanted to see from your manager to support you in attaining those goals, right?
Our new hybrid reality means that managers and employees must be more thoughtful about how and why they interact. For instance, managers might find new ways to spend equal time with employees with whom they are co-located, and those who are remote. This will allow them to create bespoke, nimble contracts that align with both manager and employee goals and ensure that their priorities are not at cross purposes. This also helps the manager understand the employee’s expectations in terms of having their success and shifting goals supported along the way.
In today’s workplace a few things are very clear to me: The employee is at the center, empathy is a differentiator, and context is everything. Companies who ignore this reality do so at their own peril.
The pandemic may be a rare event, but its advent underscores why it’s so important to build new employee-friendly ecosystems that can respond to the many professional and personal changes employees face daily. By improving the intention behind how we contract and work with each other, we can meet the new expectations that employees are setting in the new era of work. While this may complicate performance ecosystems in the short term, in the long-term it can only result in more effective managers, stronger teams, and happier employees.
Meagan Gregorczyk is the head of talent enablement at ServiceNow, a cloud-computing company where she has worked since 2019. Before joining ServiceNow, Meagan held leadership roles at Google, Amazon, and GE. She strives to disrupt outdated HR practices with creative, employee-centered models.