Josh Bersin, on Enabling Performance in the Flow of Work

By Alex Larralde
August 4, 2022
4 minute read

Annual performance reviews traditionally have had little effect on outcomes, especially when divorced from daily performance. A better approach, according to veteran HR industry analyst Josh Bersin: Enable performance management in the flow of work.

This model offers “an integrated process that uses information from many parts of the organization to create alignment, clarity of goals, and development and growth for individuals,” Bersin shared in a webinar for Betterworks, “Enabling Performance in the Flow of Work.”

Performance management in the flow of work drives better outcomes because it improves employee performance, “which will, in turn, make them feel better about their jobs and their lives and their careers and your company,” Bersin said.

Check out these highlights from the webinar to learn about Bersin’s ideas for enabling performance in the flow of work.

Set Clear, Relevant, and Achievable Goals

Effective performance management in the flow of work starts with constructive goal setting.

First, make sure that everyone’s goals are visible to the rest of their team, Bersin said. Seeing everyone’s goals “gives you the insight to work with them in a way that both of you can achieve your goals, and you both understand what you’re responsible for.” 

Employee goals should be relevant and achievable. “Having more frequently updated goals, making sure they’re relevant to the job … and having discussions about them on a regular basis is really what makes a big difference,” Bersin said. Employees will start to recognize when they’re achieving their goals in their daily work, which can help them get more out of the performance management process.

Emphasize Long-Term Learning Over Short-Term Results

Leaders must talk about their performance philosophy and what that looks like in practice. For example, many companies have shifted to prioritizing future-oriented learning over micromanaging performance results.

Many companies today believe “performance management is about performance enablement,” Bersin said. “It’s about coaching. It’s about development. It’s not about rigid stacked-ranking evaluation.”

In practice, that can be hard to achieve. Managers need to know what is expected of them in the development planning process.

Of course, not all managers were selected to manage because of their leadership and development skills. “Many managers are not career development people,” Bersin said. “They are functional managers who know how to do the job really well: they’re not career gurus.” To take the pressure off managers and assist employees with career development, some companies are adding career advisors or managers, Bersin said.

Empower Managers to Practice Timely Feedback

One of the keys to enabling performance is offering feedback in the flow of work. Companies with a feedback culture consistently outperform companies that don’t encourage and offer feedback, Bersin said. And with good reason: “You get constant alignment and feedback from your manager, so you don’t feel like you’re drifting,” Bersin said.

More frequent feedback is better, Bersin said. Consider having managers be available to employees for quick 5- to 10-minute one-on-one conversations as the need arises. An alternative, especially in organizations where managers have a lot on their plates, is to rely on scheduled check-ins. Set standards for manager-employee check-ins but allow for customization, especially within business units, Bersin said.

Integrating performance management with other daily tools, as Betterworks does, can make it easier for managers to record data from check-ins in real time.

Support Flexible Check-In Cadences

The integration of performance management check-ins into the flow of work takes different forms across organizational levels, as well. “What you need to think about, as a designer of performance management,” Bersin said, “is you’re going to have a different cadence of review for different purposes.”

At the operating level, you’ll have ongoing check-ins, but at the management level, these may only occur monthly or quarterly, Bersin said. Meanwhile, check-ins at the senior level might only occur once a year.

Differentiate Employees Fairly and Transparently

A functional performance management system must include formal performance targets. But the way we view performance appraisals and manage performance targets has evolved.

First, it’s important to realize that there’s no bell curve. There are a small number of people who do exponentially more work than everyone else — these are hyper-performers, and they fall into a power curve, not a bell curve, Bersin said. You want to shift people to the right with the hyper-performers, Bersin continued, not force them to the middle.

Bersin has experimented with differentiation models over the years. In one instance, employees received feedback from their project teams after each step as they progressed toward a larger goal. Performance data was aggregated over the course of a year to show progress.

“We found a lot of differentiation between people evaluated by their teams,” Bersin said. “It didn’t force you into some model that applied to everybody at your level. It gave you the sense that, as an individual, whatever you could do to improve your performance would be rewarded at any point in time.”

Provide a Simple, Straightforward Process

Managers need performance-tracking processes and tools that are accessible in the flow of work. Among companies responding most quickly to the pandemic, simplifying performance management was a big part of their success. In practice, that shift can be a big challenge. “Making something easy is very difficult,” Bersin said.

How can companies succeed with simplified performance management?

Start by integrating it into daily work. People are using the tools and platforms that help them get their work done, Bersin said. “They don’t spend all day in their performance management system.” Betterworks, for example, has shifted to plug-ins to help with alignment in the daily flow of work. Instead of logging into a separate HR technology system, managers can input data right from their daily tools, like Microsoft Teams or Slack.

Offer Clear Options for Growth Opportunities

One of the most important components of performance enablement is finding avenues for development. As employees hit their performance targets, you have to facilitate their continued growth at the next level.

“Ultimately, career management and development is about understanding somebody’s strengths, capabilities, and desires — and then giving them access to opportunities,” Bersin said. Employees need resources to find those opportunities within the business. This used to happen via structured career paths, Bersin said. Today, there are additional options, such as talent marketplaces, open agile structures, and lateral career-pathing tools.

Connect Performance Management With Daily Work

Help managers and employees understand why performance management is so important — notably, the benefits it can generate for them. “This should be something that they want to use because it helps them do their jobs better,” Bersin said. “And I know that isn’t easy, but that’s really what performance management in the flow of work is all about.”

Watch the full webinar, as Josh Bersin shares how recent innovations in workforce performance technologies are enabling exceptional individual and organizational performance.

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