Performance Enablement in the Modern Workplace

By Betterworks
February 9, 2022
6 minute read

Employees want to be valued for more than just the work they do.

A recent Gartner survey found that 82% of respondents want their employers to see them as complete people, not just as workers. Unfortunately, legacy performance management processes don’t leave any room for that kind of holistic approach.

A static performance management system looks backwards, unable to recognize a person’s full potential. The ongoing process of performance enablement, on the other hand, not only affirms employee potential. It also equips employees to achieve it.

That’s why performance enablement is such a powerful process for the modern workplace. Performance enablement motivates success by giving employees the tools and resources they need to both exceed their potential and drive the business forward. 

Here’s how to implement a performance enablement model, empowering your people to succeed in the most dynamic, challenging conditions.

What Is Performance Enablement?

Performance enablement is the next stage of legacy performance management systems — a new performance management solution that aligns an employee’s potential with business results. Performance enablement doesn’t limit employees with paper-pushing processes that only look backwards. Instead, they’re part of a dynamic process that uses ongoing feedback to help them set and reach progress-oriented performance goals.

What Is the Performance Enablement Model?

The performance enablement model is a collaborative model of performance management. By using this model, HR leaders equip managers with the resources they need to assess each employee and their potential. With assessment as their goal, managers become coaches that help employees achieve their professional goals within the company.

Since performance enablement is focused on moving forward, the model helps employees see their managers as an important resource for their development rather than a source of judgment or, worse, a roadblock to success.

Performance Enablement vs. Performance Management

For employees to do their best work in today’s dynamic business environment, they must experience feedback, coaching, and development every day — not just during a quarterly or annual review. While performance management relies on a static, top-down approach, performance enablement focuses on finding every opportunity to empower the employee.

Traditional performance management looks backwards and takes too narrow a focus because employee appraisals only happen once or twice per year. That can introduce recency bias, where only recent performance can be evaluated effectively. Performance enablement actually reduces bias by equipping employees with feedback in real time.

Legacy performance management also reinforces power imbalances between managers and their reports because managers hold the power to offer a good or bad appraisal. Instead of trying to reach their potential at the company, employees are simply trying to live up to management standards. Enablement, on the other hand, creates a larger scope by aligning employee performance directly with company goals and strategy.

The enablement model also incorporates more 360-degree feedback and encourages employees to chart their own career paths within the company. It gives team members more opportunities to see where they can improve not only their performance but also take ownership of their roles and contributions to the business. 

 The performance enablement model can be used in any work setting, whether that’s in-person, hybrid, or remote work. It relies on frequent conversations between employees and managers as opposed to an annual performance review. The focus on intentional and deliberate communication supports more trust between employees and their managers, regardless of their physical distance.

The State Of Performance Enablement in 2022

Faced with this year’s existential labor crisis, companies have been reassessing not just their hiring and total rewards — but also how they engage, develop and motivate the talent they have.

A search for root causation has caused companies to rebalance their priorities. Companies now understand that empathy, purpose, autonomy, and flexibility are more important to employees than ever before — and that they have an outsized impact on productivity, engagement, and ultimately shareholder value.

Enter: The State of Performance Enablement, our global HR research report.

Key findings of “The State of Performance Enablement” include:

  • Companies can do more to control voluntary churn
  • Counteroffers can be used more effectively to retain top talent
  • Employees feel trapped by rigid, out-of-date goals
  • To be effective, feedback and check-ins must include a connection to both goals and employee growth plans
  • Dedicated software tools are more effective — but having underperforming tools can be worse than having no tools at all

Overall, we found when companies provide a model of performance management inclusive of regular check-ins, continuous feedback, and agile goal setting, they are best positioned to support employees in the ways that matter most to them. Download the report to learn more about how you can enable great performance.

Download the report here.

What Is a Performance Enablement Plan?

A performance enablement plan sets concrete goals for unleashing an employee’s potential. Performance enablement plans should be aligned with each employee’s objectives and key results (OKRs) and stretch goals. 

Rather than just offering feedback when performance runs off track, this model encourages managers to function as coaches to keep performance enablement plans on track. When managers are aware of employee career goals, they can help match employees with learning and experience opportunities to hone desired skills.

When Should a Performance Enablement Plan Be Implemented?

Performance enablement plans should coincide with company OKRs and align employee performance with business results. These plans should be implemented alongside OKRs on a quarterly basis and close with a quarterly formal review.

Using enterprise performance management tools, managers can collect data each quarter on how their reports are progressing towards reaching their potential within the company. At their quarterly review, managers can share this information with their reports. This review process is the only time managers should look backward, and only with the clear intention of using past performance as a learning opportunity.

4 Elements of a Successful Performance Enablement Model

For the performance enablement model to be successful, you need a few specific elements that encourage collaboration, communication, and learning. These are the four elements of a successful performance enablement model.

Empower the Managers

Managers play the most critical role in performance enablement. And yet, they often receive the least amount of training and guidance to carry out their duties. Managers need to become coaches who can collaborate with employees to identify and remove roadblocks to success.

Human resource leaders must assess manager roles, adjust their priorities to focus less on operational tasks, and instead focus more on coaching their team members. Your company should also work with learning and development to provide managers with practical scenario-based training designed to hone their coaching skills on an ongoing basis.

Make Learning a Daily Priority

As you shift from performance management to performance enablement, it’s important to embed learning within employee workflows to help them develop their knowledge and skills throughout the workday.

Train managers to communicate the learning opportunities inherent in an employee’s daily tasks and work experiences. A data entry task, for example, offers an employee the opportunity to exercise their attention to detail. Each employee has a unique learning style, so managers may need to start by introducing larger concepts and then reinforce those concepts in daily practice. 

Clarify Roles and Expectations

Employees need to know what managers expect before they can improve their performance and move forward. Collaborate with managers to clearly define and document OKRs for every role. When your business sets its annual OKRs, managers and employees should work together to set their own individual goals aligned with company objectives.

Individual, team, and organizational OKRs should be updated and clearly communicated as performance expectations and business priorities evolve. Employees should be able to access OKRs whenever they need to track their progress, adjust their learning goals, or seek out specific feedback from their managers. 

Use Data To Keep Moving Forward

While performance isn’t usually black and white, managers can leverage performance data points to hold employees accountable and gauge their contributions to overall business objectives. They can also align each employee’s individual OKRs with a desired business outcome so that employees can see their progress.

Performance data also serves other crucial purposes such as helping managers proactively identify skills gaps and learning opportunities, providing personalized coaching, and recognizing team member achievements. 

Top Advantages of Implementing a Performance Enablement Plan

Where performance management can often feel too narrowly focused on daily tasks, performance enablement acknowledges that each employee is a person with distinct career aspirations. It focuses on unleashing each employee’s future potential by clarifying their personal goals and building them directly into their OKRs. As a result, employees feel more valued and know that their goals are not just being heard— they are actually written into company strategy.

Performance enablement also gives employees a greater sense of purpose, improving employee engagement and investment in their work. 

3 Companies That Support Performance Enablement

Although the term “performance enablement” isn’t widely known, many forward-thinking businesses have successfully embraced the concept.  Here are a few companies that have benefited from adopting a performance enablement model.

Former Google CEO Larry Page was among the biggest early adopters of the OKR model, but that’s not the only ground the company has broken. The tech giant’s “Project Oxygen” focuses on training managers to enable their team’s performance every step of the way. The program doubles down on manager training as a vital piece of performance enablement, and Google leaders update the program frequently based on team member feedback. 

Agriculture company Cargill shifted from traditional performance management to a dynamic performance enablement model called “Everyday Performance Management,” focusing on the day-to-day rather than an annual review. Everyday Performance Management has been met with success from internal stakeholders and praise from external organizations. The program even won an award from SIOP.

Similarly, Adobe implemented its “Check-in” program, focusing on real-time communication and coaching training for managers to improve daily performance. Managers and employees collaborate frequently to continuously increase performance across the company.

Performance enablement is an ongoing process that can elevate your company and work. By giving employees the support and development they need on a daily basis, managers can unlock their team’s potential to drive business results. Learn more in our guide.