Your business can’t reach peak performance until everyone is empowered to achieve their full potential — and that can’t happen with legacy performance management processes. It’s time to embrace performance enablement, the next evolution of performance management.
Static performance management systems look backwards, unable to recognize a person’s full potential. The ongoing process of enabling performance, by contrast, affirms employee potential and prepares your people to achieve it.
That’s why performance enablement is such a powerful paradigm shift for the modern workplace. It gives workers the tools and resources they need to develop themselves and drive the business forward.
Learn how to implement a performance enablement model and empower your people to succeed even in the most dynamic, challenging conditions.
What is performance enablement?
Performance enablement is the next stage of legacy performance management systems — a new solution that aligns employee potential and business results.
Performance enablement doesn’t limit employees with paper-pushing processes that only look backwards. Instead, employees become 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 for goal setting that helps team members to achieve their goals. With this approach, HR leaders equip managers with the resources they need to assess each worker and their potential. With assessment as their goal, managers become coaches who help employees achieve their professional goals within the company.
Because performance enablement is focused on building toward the future, team members see their managers as an important resource for their professional development rather than judgemental or, worse, a roadblock to their success.
Performance enablement vs. performance management
For employees to do their best work in today’s dynamic business environment, they must have access to feedback, coaching, and development every day — not just during a quarterly or annual review. The overarching difference between performance enablement and performance enhancement is that while performance management is static and top down, performance enablement is about building relationships that empower employees to perform at their best.
Traditional performance management looks backwards, takes a narrow focus, and is infrequent — usually once or twice per year. That setup introduces recency bias, where only short-term performance is accurately assessed. Reducing bias in performance management starts by delivering real-time feedback to employees.
Another difference with legacy performance management is that they reinforce power imbalances between managers and their reports. Managers have the power to decide the employee’s fate through a good or bad appraisal. Instead of trying to reach their potential, employees are simply trying to live up to their manager’s standards. Performance enablement, on the other hand, creates a larger scope by aligning employee performance directly with company goals and strategy.
The enablement model incorporates 360-degree feedback and encourages employees to chart their own career development path within the company. It gives team members more opportunities to learn where they can improve not only their performance but also take ownership of their career goals and contributions to the business.
You can apply a performance enablement model in any work setting — in-person, hybrid, or remote. This model relies on frequent conversations between employees and managers rather than depending on an annual or semiannual performance review. By focusing on intentional and deliberate communication, you build trust between workers and their managers — regardless of their physical location.
The state of performance enablement in 2023
Performance enablement is a new twist on performance management, and it’s growing in popularity and use. There’s a good reason for that: Workers who feel supported and empowered to reach their potential tend to be more engaged and perform better than workers who lack that support.
Yet there’s still a long way to go before performance enablement is the standard. To enable performance, managers need to have frequent coaching conversations with their reports that focus on goal progress. But according to our 2022 State of Performance Enablement report, one-third of workers said they don’t have these meetings more than twice per year — and one in 10 employees said they rarely or never receive feedback.
That lack of communication and direction has a big impact on performance. Only 20% of employees feel that they’re working on the right things — and that those tasks align with their skills and interests.
As more organizations see how performance enablement solves many of their problems with performance, we expect to see greater adoption of the model.
What is a performance enablement plan?
A performance enablement plan sets concrete goals for unleashing an employee’s potential. Performance enablement plans should align with each employee’s objectives and key results (OKRs) and stretch goals.
Rather than waiting until performance falters to offer feedback, this model encourages managers to function as coaches who regularly check in on performance and goals. When managers are aware of their workers’ career goals, they can help match employees with the most relevant learning and experience opportunities.
A performance enablement plan can also help to prevent employee burnout by keeping team members informed and grounded in actionable next steps.
When should you implement a performance enablement plan?
Performance enablement plans should coincide with company OKRs and align employee performance with business results. If you review your OKRs on a quarterly basis for continued relevance, for example, consider implementing a quarterly formal review. In this review, managers and team members assess the performance enablement plan and make sure it aligns with the latest OKRs.
Using enterprise performance management tools, managers can analyze data each quarter on how their reports are progressing toward their potential within the company. At the quarterly review, managers can share this information and discuss. 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 deliberate action to encourage collaboration, communication, and learning. These are the four elements of a successful performance enablement model.
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.
HR leaders must assess manager roles and adjust their priorities — focusing managers less on operational tasks and more on coaching their team. HR leaders should also work with learning and development leaders to add practical scenario-based training to learning management systems. This type of training helps managers 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.
Train managers to communicate the learning opportunities inherent in an employee’s daily tasks and experiences. Each employee has a unique learning style, so managers might start by introducing larger concepts and then reinforce them in daily practice in ways that match individual preferences.
Clarify roles and expectations
Employees need to know what managers expect before they can try to improve their performance and chase goals. HR leaders and managers should work to clearly define and document OKRs for every role. When your business sets its annual OKRs, managers and employees should work together to set individual goals that align with company objectives.
Individual, team, and organizational OKRs should be clearly communicated — and updated as performance expectations and business priorities evolve. Employees should have on-demand access to OKRs to view their progress, adjust learning goals, or seek out feedback from their managers.
Use data to keep moving forward
Managers can leverage performance data points to hold employees accountable and gauge their contributions to overall business objectives. Data also informs each manager’s efforts to align individual OKRs with desired business outcomes. You want employees to see their progress so they can be proud of how they’re contributing to the business.
Performance data serves other crucial purposes, such as helping managers identify skills gaps and learning opportunities, provide personalized coaching, and recognize achievement.
3 top advantages of implementing a performance enablement plan
Performance enablement models help employees feel supported and do work that supports business-critical priorities. Check out three benefits a performance enablement plan can drive for your business.
Drive revenue and profit
Organizations that prioritize employee development have 11% higher profitability and enjoy better retention, according to Gallup. These organizations focus on empowering employees and encouraging innovation from the bottom up.
When employees enjoy the opportunity to build skills, pursue career goals, and satisfy their need for well-being, they perform better — and your organization generates higher profitability.
Unlock employee potential
Performance enablement unleashes each employee’s potential by clarifying their goals and embedding them in OKRs. As a result, employees feel valued and can connect their goals to company strategy.
The performance enablement process encourages employees to think strategically about what they have to offer the business. And you as HR leaders foster a thriving and engaged workforce that’s performing to the best of its abilities.
Empower career growth
Where performance management can become too focused on daily tasks, performance enablement acknowledges that each employee is a person with distinct career aspirations — even if that means changing job roles or departments.
The manager’s role is to help employees explore their skills and interests to find where they fit best within the organizational chart. By capturing a variety of data in performance management software, including from one-on-one conversations, HR can build a comprehensive skills inventory and create an internal talent marketplace.
3 companies that support performance enablement
Performance enablement is gaining traction with forward-thinking businesses. Here are three examples.
Former Google CEO Larry Page was among the biggest early adopters of the OKR model. Additionally, the tech giant’s “Project Oxygen” research project focused on training managers to enable employees at every step. The program doubled down on manager training as a vital component of performance enablement, with Google leaders updating the program based on team member feedback.
Agriculture company Cargill shifted from traditional performance management to a dynamic performance enablement model called Everyday Performance Management. This program focused on day-to-day interactions instead of annual reviews. Everyday Performance Management was embraced by internal stakeholders and has been praised by external organizations, even winning an award from the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology.
Adobe implemented its “Check-in” program as an alternative to annual performance reviews and ratings. Check-In focuses on real-time communication, coaching, and two-way feedback. Managers and employees collaborate frequently to continuously increase performance. The program has become digital-first to emphasize conversations and online tracking of goals, discussions, and career growth
Frequently asked questions
Performance enablement is a relatively new concept. Here are answers to some of the common questions people have about performance enablement.
What is performance enablement, and how does it differ from performance management?
Performance enablement is a process that focuses on helping employees reach their peak performance levels. It’s different from performance management in that it focuses on providing resources to employees to help them achieve their best performance, rather than primarily assessing performance retroactively.
Can performance enablement work for small teams?
Yes, performance enablement can work for small teams, as it emphasizes the manager-employee relationship. This approach can be especially effective with smaller teams by empowering managers to get to know each person and their individual interests and career goals.
How does performance enablement foster employee engagement?
Performance enablement empowers employees to develop their skills, set and reach ambitious goals, and receive feedback that helps them improve. By giving your people input into their goals while keeping them on track, they feel valued while also seeing a clear connection between their work and what matters most to the business.
What role does technology play in performance enablement?
Technology plays a critical role in performance enablement. Goal alignment software helps everyone see what they’re toward and how their contributions fit into the broader performance landscape. Feedback software helps managers and reports easily track conversations related to performance and goal achievement, as well as progress made.
What are pitfalls to avoid when implementing performance enablement?
Performance enablement requires clear goals and objectives. If people don’t know what they’re working toward, managers and team members will struggle. These performance objectives must be aligned with organizational goals. When team members don’t understand how their work drives business impact, they may lose focus and become disengaged.
Don’t forget about the user experience: Poor manager and employee experiences will hurt workforce enthusiasm and lead to lower usage of performance enablement systems.
Enable performance, enable potential
Performance enablement is an ongoing process that can elevate your people and the organization. By supporting employees and helping them grow on a daily basis, managers unlock everyone’s potential to drive business results.
If you want to empower employee growth, look at how performance enablement can help your organization. Learn more in our Global HR Research Report: The State of Performance Enablement.