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Upgrade Your Performance Strategy to Overcome HR Challenges

Description

Sabrina Park, senior director of global talent management at Rivian, Bhavya Gopalakrishnan, SVP, head of human capital at Arcesium, and Jeff Andes, VP of talent management at University of Phoenix, joined Betterworks Customer Success Manager Team Lead Ingrid Cullen for a discussion on how their three companies have transformed their performance management processes. Watch now or read the transcript to uncover their insights on cultivating a successful performance management program.

Transcript

Laurie Ruettimann:
Hi, everybody. Welcome back to Empower HR. I’m your host, Laurie Ruettimann. We’ve had a really good first half to the day where we’ve heard from Jenn Lim and all sorts of thought leaders and experts and true practitioners thinking through the challenges around how to make work better. And that’s exactly the theme that we’re going to continue today with my friend Ingrid Cullen.

Ingrid Cullen is the principal customer success manager at Betterworks, and she has assembled a panel of practitioners who lived through the day in, day outs of COVID, where public health experts and facilities managers and real estate gurus have now really become psychologists and coaches to both workers and the business itself. And these three individuals really understand what it’s like for HR to be at the center of important discussions and fight for that elusive work-life balance, and all the things we need in order to make work great. So without further ado, Ingrid, are you ready to begin your awesome panel?

Ingrid Cullen:
Yes, thank you, Laurie. It’s great to have everyone here today. As Laurie mentioned, I’m a customer success manager here at Betterworks, so I get to partner with our organizations as they’re leading these really incredible transformations. So I’ve worked with everything from small teams, changing how they set goals, to global organizations upending their performance strategy across thousands of employees. So today I’m joined by Sabrina, Bhavya, and Jeff, and I will let them introduce themselves and tell us a little bit about their organizations. So Bhavya, why don’t we start with you?

Bhavya:
Thanks, Ingrid. Happy to be here. Hello everybody. I’m Bhavya, and I head human capital at Arcesium. Arcesium is a global financial technology firm that solves complex data-driven challenges for sophisticated financial institutions. We’re about 1900 employees strong globally, but our US and UK footprint is much smaller. And very excited to be a part of this conversation today.

Ingrid Cullen:
All right, and Jeff, we’ll go to you.

Jeff Andes:
Thank you. My name is Jeff Andes. I lead the talent team at University of Phoenix. University of Phoenix, we have about 70,000 students, primarily online, focused on adult education. At University of Phoenix, we have about 3,200 staff and about 2,500 part-time faculty members. And in my role, I lead the talent team, which is composed of acquisition, talent management, learning development, and internal communications. Looking forward to having this discussion today, Ingrid.

Ingrid Cullen:
Thank you, Jeff. And Sabrina, over to you.

Sabrina Park:
Hi, everyone. So Sabrina Park and I live in Orange County, and I have two girls who are obsessed with skiing and are on a ski team in Utah. So we find ourselves going back and forth between Orange County and Utah during ski season. In my current role at Rivian, I have the privilege of heading up talent management, which encompasses performance management, employee listening, and navigating complex change.

For those of you who might not know what Rivian is, we’re about a 15,000-person company today. And just a fun fact, when I started three years ago, we were at 1700 employees. So if you can imagine almost an 800% growth in headcount in just three years. So hypergrowth, hyper-scaling company.

We make electric vehicles, and so our product offering is two-pronged. We have a B2B side, with our commercial vans and Amazon being our primary customer, and then we also have our consumer business, which is a truck and an SUV. But at our core, the mission of our company is really at the forefront of everything we do, which is helping to keep the world adventurous forever. So just wanted to touch on that.

Ingrid Cullen:
Great. Well thanks, everyone. Before we jump into our questions, we have a quick poll for the audience. So you’ll see on your screen the question, which part of the HR function is your greatest pain point, greatest point of pressure or stress at work right now? So I’ll give everyone about a minute to respond. Is it around recruiting, hiring and retaining talent, employee engagement, performance management, compensation and benefits, learning development and training, risk management, or those audits, legal compliance?

So yeah, we know HR teams are facing pressure from all different directions. We’ll be touching on a number of these things today, but just a minute to understand where the audience is coming from and what things are top of mind for all of you.

Okay, so it looks like recruiting, hiring, and retaining talent. Yep, retention is definitely a big theme that we hear about. Employee engagement, making sure that your employees are feeling connected to the organization. Performance, compensation, learning, and development. That audits compliance risk is coming in at a smaller end. So really great to hear where people are seeing these different challenges, and we’ll get into some solutions that we’ve seen.

Alright, so jumping into our discussion, my first question is about looking at the environment that we’re in right now and often being asked to do more with less resources. And HR leaders like yourself typically look at your performance management tools to gather insights and figure out ways to improve and enhance employee performance and really drive the company performance. So I would love if you could share a little bit about what your current performance process looks like. And Sabrina, since you went through some of these changes most recently in this group, would love to start with you.

Sabrina Park:
Sure. Joined about three years ago. We did have an annual performance review process done through our former HRIS system. And it was really a series of qualitative questions and answers. And then when I joined and we were looking at redesigning our performance management process, we zoomed out and at the highest level, we started with our talent philosophy centered around how do we foster a high-performance culture?

And some of the highlights of our tenets that are most relevant to performance management include this belief that performance can always be improved, employees should always know where they stand, and development is owned by employees and enabled by managers. And I share this because these are the design tenets and how we then shape our performance management process and our guidelines, and also then helped shape requirements for when we were looking for a system. And so again, it was our North Star and how we looked at performance management programs.

And it evolved from what was once an annual performance review to a more conversation-based check-in, and it’s shaped by a series of meaningful interactions with your manager on a regular basis. And so with Betterworks, which we ended up becoming clients of, it actually helped to have a technology platform that’s aligned with our thinking and our philosophy and enables what we’re trying to do, and having it be very simple and intuitive from a user experience. And, surprisingly, for employees more than managers, we really wanted a way to document our conversations and have a platform to do it on so that they had some continuity from conversation to conversation and also all the managerial changes that come with a hypergrowth, hyper-scaling organization.

And then the next evolution of our performance management journey was to then bring in talent reviews or assessments for our managers and leaders so that we had a way to strengthen that muscle in assessing performance and potential. And so with that, having that connection with these regular occurring conversations, they all ladder up and then feed into this assessment that we have.

Ingrid Cullen:
Great. Bhavya, would you like to share what you’re doing at Arcesium?

Bhavya:
So we’ve been through a few cycles of changes. We had our annual review, then we went to a quarterly format, and now we’ve landed at a place where we do annual performance reviews. So we do ourself, downward, upward review, annual cycle. Promotions are done annually.

But what we’ve now done is on a quarterly basis, we do what we call check-ins, which are mostly focused on our OKRs. So they give managers and employees an opportunity to sort of review what they had in store for the previous quarter, how did they perform against the OKRs, what does the next quarter look like, and help them course correct. We do this across all levels. We do this right from the top, company objectives, all the way to individual employee-owned OKRs. This is what we have now, but this year is a year of big revamp. So we’re in the process of revamping our entire system later this year.

Ingrid Cullen:
And Jeff, I’d love to hear from you.

Jeff Andes:
Yeah, absolutely. Our program, we call it everyday performance development, and really our philosophy is around empowering employees and leaders to both have conversations ongoing, and to be a dual approach where leaders have an opportunity to share the feedback and the coaching and have the discussions that they feel like are most important for them, but also give our employees equal opportunity to be able to share their perspective on where they would like to focus or what they would like to focus on in terms of developments and potentially even giving feedback to their leader as well. We’ve really tried to create a culture where feedback is at the heart of everything we do.

So we’ve moved to a quarterly check-in process. Our check-ins are really focused on the conversation, like we’re doing right now, and less on the process, the form. We really want that conversation to happen. We feel like the documentation of it is important, but we feel like the conversation, the voice-to-voice, the eye-to-eye, is the most important element. So that’s kind of how we built our process. So our check-ins every quarter are mandated. We expect every leader to have a check-in with their employee once a quarter, but we only document or only expect documentation from at least one a year. Even with that minimal documentation expectation, we get about 75% of our check-ins are documented every single quarter. So we tell people it’s a best practice to document, but we don’t mandate it. We really focus on having a conversation.

The other thing we do with our check-ins is they’re short. There are two to three questions per check-in, and we try to keep the check-in fresh and keep the conversation evolving from check-in to check-in. So typically in our Q1 check-in, we’ll focus on giving our employees the opportunity to give feedback to their leaders around how could I as your leader operate differently or support you to help you be more successful? So we’ll make that a key focus of our Q1 check-in.

Our Q2 check-in is typically focused on peer feedback. We do a peer feedback challenge where we go ask employees to go solicit feedback, and we utilize the system in Betterworks in this case to use that, but we like to get feedback from other folks across the business. And we have that as our focus in Q2.

And then our Q3, we usually focus on development feedback, and that’s typically a conversation between the employee and their manager, really focused on their development. And I think we’ll talk a little bit more about that later today.

And then our Q4 is focused on goal setting. So we try not to consolidate that all into one conversation, repeat that, but instead break that up throughout the year, have shorter, tighter conversations that seem fresh and relevant in the time.

Ingrid Cullen:
Yeah, great. Some of the things I heard across all of those is this greater frequency of really performance enablement isn’t something that just happens once. It’s something that’s ongoing and it’s really a two-way dialogue. It’s not just the manager speaking out to the employee about what they’ve done. It goes both ways, the employees speaking to their experience, they’re collecting feedback from multiple perspectives. It’s much more of a dialogue that’s happening throughout the year.

And even with this agile approach, it’s important to keep that evolving I think. Jeff, you mentioned you do different things each quarter. Bhavya, you mentioned that you’re thinking through some changes. And it’s important to keep making those changes because the needs of our organizations change. So I’d love to hear about some of the changes that you’re making to your performance program for this year, and Bhavya, maybe I’ll start with you since you mentioned you were rethinking a number of things.

Bhavya:
Yeah, so we’ve actually got two strategic projects that we’re focused on this year, and that’s really triggered a complete review of our performance and goal management philosophy and framework. So the first is this concept of global levels and titles. As I mentioned before, we’re a global organization that has a footprint in three geographies, with plans to scale. However, for legacy reasons, we’ve had a disparate system of levels and titles across regions. We’re about a week away from announcing global levels and titles to our organization. But what we’ve really done over the past year and a half, two years, is create a common unified structure where we have baseline expectations for every level. What it means is if you’re a VP, your role must meet this threshold. If you’re an SVP, your role must meet this threshold, and so on.

Second, we’ve created a global role architecture, which means that every individual in a certain role/level will have similar responsibilities regardless of the location they’re in. So an example is if you’re an L4 solutions architect, you have the same set of responsibilities as any L4 solutions architect across the globe, and therefore we have similar expectations of performance from you.

So what this change has done from a performance management process for us is, A, it’s standardized roles, responsibilities, expectations. It’s going to bring in transparency and fairness, with a common promotion philosophy. It’s going to provide career trajectory for our employees because in our global role architecture, what we’re also showing is how people can move across different streams, both from IC to people manager stream, as well as streams from if you’re a solutions architect and you want to become a data strategist, what does that move look like?

And the system’s also going to ensure that employees and managers are having periodic conversations around skill level. So conversations around, where am I right now? What does it take for me to move to the next level? What do I need to get better at? When will a role become available, and therefore when can I move to the next level? That’s the first strategic focus.

The second area that we’re focusing on is really around enhancing our culture of accountability. And one of the big levers we’re using is our goal management process. So we’re currently testing a couple of initiatives with pilot groups, but really, my vision for goal management for Arcesium is sort of a three-tiered approach. 

The first is keep the lights on, BAU, like KTLO BAU type of goals. So every individual member is going to have KTLO or BAU types of tasks that they’re responsible for that’ll have clear metrics to measure success. Second is KPIs. Every department will have KPIs to measure performance, and the department head will own KPIs. Individuals in the team may or may not work on tasks that’ll ultimately influence KPI achievement. And the third is OKRs. Every individual will likely have OKRs that are discretional or strategic in nature. Really, what are the biggest rocks that individual needs to know? So depending on the level of the individual, the biggest rock might be, what can I do to help my business grow 3x, 5x, 10x? Or the biggest rock might be what do I need to do to make my function more scalable?

But this clear distinction between KTLO, KPIs, OKRs is going to help us create a system that allows people to focus on their top priorities, but in a metric-driven way. If you’re a junior employee, it’s likely that 80 to 90% of your time is going to be spent on KTLOs. And that’s okay. That’s what’s expected. And if you’re a department head, you should spend 80% of your time at least on KPIs and OKRs.

So we’re aiming for the system to create a transparent way to help people be accountable for their priorities and also be able to measure how they’re performing. So because of these two strategic priorities, really what we’re doing is we’re revamping the way we’re setting our goals and we’re revamping how we’re talking about our goals, how we’re talking about performance through the year. That was a long answer.

Ingrid Cullen:
I think that there’s an element of the way you set goals is going to mean something different for people in different roles. There are different expectations, and people can connect to the form of goal setting that makes the most sense for them and for their goal. And we can set realistic expectations, but also aspirational ones as well, and provide the support around that to help them be successful in that.

Bhavya:
Correct. So eventually, this is what we have planned for this year, but eventually, with the role architecture that we brought in globally and the way we’re thinking about our goals, we want to be able to create a more systemic way for managers and employees to have more structured conversations around what should goals even be at certain levels, at certain roles.

So that way you’re removing some of the individual brainstorming out of the exercise because it’s not really going to be different. If you are a software engineer, what you need to do is fundamentally the same, just the product you’re working on is different. So instead of having every manager and employee reinvent the wheel, hopefully, this will start creating systemic solutions for our staff.

Ingrid Cullen:
Great. Great. Thanks for sharing that. Sabrina, at Rivian, what are some of the changes that you’re thinking about?

Sabrina Park:
Well, we’re not doing all the wholesale changes like Bhavya is planning on doing, but for us, I think similar to the environment that we’re in, it’s like there’s so much growth, innovation, new tech competition entering the market every day. So we have to set goals and objectives and align people quickly. So speed was the name of the game, and so that’s why we were more quarterly focused and didn’t have set annual goals as much with our check-in conversations.

However, what we’re finding now, that as you grow and you become a large size company, is that there is a desire for this longer based, longer-term OKR-type goals that we have, along with the quarterly goals. So while not in the system, while not everyone having been aligned to it, we do have annual goals now and it almost feels like whiplash if we just have quarterly is what the feedback that we got. And so based on that feedback, we do have this North Star that everyone can align to. And then in our quarterly conversations, it’s very much more individualized.

And the next evolution for us, too, from a talent perspective, is last year we introduced annual talent assessments or talent reviews, but this year, again, to continue to build that muscle around assessing performance and potential is really to have this a midyear as well and making it a very light process. We’ve also last year, late last year, tied the promotion process to our talent assessments. So for those who are coming out, they can nominate, managers can nominate within our talent assessment process and then also during calibration as well, have another item where you do promotion reviews.

Because what we were finding out is that when we had disparate processes, it sounded a lot like the same in terms of calibration and reviewing promo requests. And so we said to make it more efficient for our leaders who have very little time always, can we then streamline the process and bundle these two together? So that’s been great. So then we have our semi-annual or biannual talent assessment process that are aligned with semi-annual promotion as well.

Ingrid Cullen:
Great. Yeah, something you said that really resonated with me was you were talking about having these North Stars, and I’m just thinking about being in an environment that’s going through such hypergrowth, and I’m sure things are changing so much on a weekly basis that having those North Stars, having that consistency in how you talk about performance and how you talk about promotion probably creates a lot more stability for your team members so that they feel more comfortable amidst all this change.

Sabrina Park:
Absolutely. And also it’s this notion of fairness and equity that also then starts to be weaved in, that we are all evaluating at the same time, we’re all looking at promos at the same time, versus one-off. And so that’s what we want to start to also layer in as well.

Ingrid Cullen:
Jeff, you started to touch on some changes that you’re making at the University of Phoenix. I’d love to hear more.

Jeff Andes:
Yeah, absolutely. So we’re focused on really thinking differently about talent planning this year, and specifically the calibration process. We really want to spend more time on the discussion. I talked a little bit earlier how important we feel like that face-to-face or voice-to-voice discussion is and less time debating if somebody is a box six or a box nine or eight or seven, which we spend, like many organizations, hours and hours and hours of time on that. Instead, we really wanted to try and pivot to say, how do we spend more time on actual development conversations?

And so we’re going to pivot this summer, this spring and summer, to kind of put a pause, at least for this year, on doing that full calibration process and instead really integrate talent development concepts, talent planning concepts into the flow of work. And so the flow of work that we found that makes the most sense to us is the check-in process.

So we will utilize the check-in process in Q3 this year, which for us starts in the month of May, to really facilitate talent development dialogue. And the way we’re doing that is we’re going to provide some questions to our leaders as part of the check-in process that are confidential, that the employees can’t see, it’s just for the leader’s visibility, to ask them those traditional talent planning questions around what’s the performance level of X employee? What’s the potential level of X employee?

But instead of using that to generate the nine-block, we’re using that to really generate the thought process around where is my employee at, what are their needs, and what type of conversation should I have with them in this check-in conversation based on those factors? So we’ve been spending the last two months building training for our leaders to go through to help them think through these things with the purpose of better understanding a targeted approach for each employee.

One of the things we didn’t want to do was overwhelm them with the various different types of conversations that they could have, and we don’t want to mandate that either. So we’ve really identified three key types of conversations that we’re going to teach them how to have. One is what we call the accelerator conversation. And that, for this audience, as an HR audience, we all know what high potential is, and we use a nine-block at University of Phoenix, or at least historically have. And that’s that accelerator is somebody that would traditionally fall into a box six, eight, or nine. They’re your high potentials.

And how does that conversation look different from a development perspective, from a conversation where the masses typically fall, which is kind of that in the middle, they’re really good contributors, they may or may not have some potential, or they might just be really skilled in their role in doing a great job. How do you focus on helping them get better at their jobs, stay engaged, and continue to develop them as well? How does that conversation look different from the HIPO conversation? And that conversation we’re calling the enricher conversation.

And then the third type of conversation is what we call the concentrator, and that would be traditionally your lower performers or new in the role. So for us, historically that box one, five, or seven. We typically do potential on the Y axis and performance on the X axis. So that conversation’s really focused on those underperformers, who really need to obviously improve or move out.

And the other element of the concentrator is those just new in the role, that we’re a hundred percent virtual and we need to continue to help them make connections in the business and continue to grow and learn and understand our processes and their roles and whatnot. And how does that conversation look different than the other two? So we’re kind of flipping our effort from hosting these calibration sessions and having a lot of debate to educating our leaders and helping them, guide them on different types of conversations, just three different types of conversations, that they can pick to use to have hopefully very meaningful development conversations in their Q3 check-ins.

One of the things that we’ve heard from leaders over and over again, and I’m sure a lot of folks on the phone probably hear the same thing from leaders, which is, “It’s hard for me to have a development conversation if there’s not a lot of opportunity for that person from a talent mobility perspective to grow into bigger roles.” And so we want to acknowledge that, but we also want to help our leaders understand the opposite effect. If we do nothing, if we don’t have these conversations with these folks, what happens to them?

And one of the things that we believe will happen is when you have the conversation, you’re building trust. You’re building trust that you care about that team member, and they understand that. And one of the most valuable pieces of development is having conversations, imparting your wisdom and your guidance on your team member and working with them and getting creative to find development opportunities, even if the traditional development opportunities may not exist or in the volume that you want.

So we think the conversation’s more important than not having the conversation because we’re scared that there’s not that talent mobility opportunity in the near future. So that’s what we’re shifting this year, and we’re going to try it out, see how it works. We’re still going to have the nine-block in the backend. We’re going to have that for our HR business partners and HR folks in the backend, but we’re not leading with anything, we’re not even talking about the nine-block, which we typically do with our leaders. We’re leading with, this is all about helping you have a great conversation, and we’re going to give you some guidance on how to do that.

Ingrid Cullen:
I really loved what you said about trust, because I think that that’s so fundamental to the manager-employee relationship. And if there’s that trust there, it enables so many more possibilities. And also what you said about if we’re not having these conversations, what’s happening? And maybe there’s not a promotion opportunity coming off one of these conversations, but you’re laying that foundation for really tracking that individual’s development and also letting them know that they’re supported by the organization.

Jeff Andes:
Yeah, absolutely.

Ingrid Cullen:
Yeah. As you’re running these programs and as you’re having these conversations with your employees and setting goals and tracking, what insights are you pulling from that? What are you focusing on now, given the changes and challenges that you’re facing? Sabrina, maybe I’ll start with you.

Sabrina Park:
Sure. Again, so we talked about having the insights from our talent assessment programs leader or the results lead directly into a promotion cycle as well. So then you’re not having to duplicate the conversation. But we also measure in our employee engagement survey the efficacy of these research conversations, which that’s the branding that we have for our quarterly check-ins. How are these meetings going for you as an employee? Are you finding that it’s a good use of your time? Do you feel like you are more aligned on priorities? Did you get feedback? Et cetera, et cetera.

And so we do ask very specifically about these quarterly check-ins, and we do find that for those who are having that connection and a focused, dedicated conversation with your manager on feedback from the past quarter and then aligning on the current quarter, that it does make such a huge difference. It is very impactful for the employee.

Ingrid Cullen:
Yeah, it’s great to see that actually show up in survey results. Bhavya, have you seen anything similar, or any other ways that you’ve drawn insights from the work that you’ve done?

Bhavya:
So historically, we’ve been a little slow or behind the curve and just using insights, but we’ve slowly started to do more surveys. So late last year we did a large employee engagement survey. Feedback that we got was around career development and feedback. We didn’t necessarily do very well on that. So a lot of what we’re doing this year through our global levels and titles project and our revamp of performance management is focused on those two themes. We’ll poll our staff again end of this year, and hopefully, they’ll see the change.

But we’re doing some interesting, I wouldn’t go as far as calling it insights, but we’re just doing some interesting work around our OKRs right now as it relates to accountability and our high-performance culture. So we’re doing a bunch of deep dives in terms of how are we setting our OKRs, how are we measuring success? How much are we able to achieve historically? And therefore, are we overestimating our ability or underestimating it? And what might some reasons be for the way we perform against our OKRs? Again, how much of the OKRs we’re achieving. But we’re also doing some work right now around helping teams either pivot, preserve, or perish their OKRs, so we end the year successfully. So what we’re working on right now is more forward-facing, all for the rest of the year.

Ingrid Cullen:
Great. And then Jeff, I want to ask you about insights that you’re focusing on, but also we had a question come in in the Q&A. Just if you could say the names of the three types of conversations that you’re doing, that you’re having your managers do.

Jeff Andes:
Yeah, absolutely. So we call the first conversation is the accelerator. That’s what we would typically look at as our high potential, the top talent. How do we continue to accelerate that talent? We call it the accelerator. The massive middle, where some people have some potential but maybe not that accelerator-type potential, or they’re just good performers or strong performers, we call that conversation the enricher. And how do we continue to enrich and get the most out of them? Because that is the beating heart of any company, is that massive middle who are doing their jobs every day and doing it well.

And then the lower performers and/or new enroll, we call that the concentrator, and that’s the focus of that conversation is how do we continue to help them either get up to a performance level or increase their speed to productivity for the new folks, and really focus on the role and just the basics to perform well. So it’s the accelerator, the enricher, and the concentrator.

Ingrid Cullen:
That’s great. Yeah, I really like that terminology, especially the focus on the enricher as the beating heart of the organization. It’s such a valuable component.

Jeff Andes:
And one of the other things I responded to in the question, as well, is we are asking our leaders to align with their leader at least informally before the conversation. So we’re teaching them how to assess performance, assess potential. We’re also asking the employee to share their aspirations as part of this process. And then we’re asking that leader to say, hey, in your next one-on-one or whatnot with your manager, talk with them. Get aligned with them around the type of conversation that you’re going to have. We don’t need to document it or do it in some sort of system process but have a conversation with them. Make sure that you check that base real quick to make sure you’re setting the right expectations when you have that conversation with your team member.

And that’s to mitigate some of the risk of not having calibration because I think we all know as HR professionals, some leaders have blind spots to their team members. They think they’re the greatest thing, and everybody else is like, what are you looking at? So we want to make sure there’s a little bit of a checks and balances there, but we also didn’t want to make it an erroneous process. We just said, just have a conversation with your leader, check in, make sure you’re aligned before you have that conversation.

Ingrid Cullen:
Yeah, I think that’s an important point. Any other insights that you’re focusing on as you’re going through these changes?

Jeff Andes:
Well, I mean ultimately for us, we really want to increase the development that comes out of this. We spent all this time on talent planning, and historically we don’t get a whole lot of traction, and I don’t think it’s a unique problem. I think a lot of companies, I think probably most of us struggle with that in terms of, okay, we spent hours and hours, hundreds of hours probably on talent planning and doing the nine-block. Now what? What has actually been done?

So one of the things that we’re going to try this year as well is in our next check-in an outcome for those accelerators, of the conversation they’re going to have next month is okay, you’re an accelerator, we’d like for you to think about the feedback I gave you today, think about the development opportunities I talked with you about today, and set a development goal. Create your own development goal, and let’s talk about it and how I can come alongside you and partner with you in our next check-in.

So we are going to track that for those accelerators. We’re going to track who has development goals, and we’re not going to police it, but we want to track and start to measure it and see what’s happening because then the following check-in, we are going to have some private confidential questions to the leader to say, “Hey, six months ago you told us this person was an accelerator, last quarter you had a conversation with them around their development goals. Now we’re six months later. What have you done to support them in their development, and/or what do you plan to do?”

Again, we’re not going to police it. It’s not going to be a negative if they don’t do anything, but we’re trying to keep the conversation alive in the check-in process so it’s not once a year, we do this every spring and then we’re going to do it next spring. We’re going to do three out of four of our quarters, our check-in quarters, we are going to have a focus specifically for our accelerators on what are we doing to support them. Because one of the things we expect our leaders to do is to be advocates and champion their accelerators.

Our development model is employee-driven, manager-supported, but if they’re an accelerator, they’ve already expressed that level of engagement and ability to achieve greater roles and broader roles. So your job as a leader is to nurture that, and we want you to nurture that. So we’re going to follow up with them and encourage them. And part of the training that we’re doing right now is giving them all kinds of different ideas and things to think about around how you can support folks based on various different factors of where they’re at from a development perspective.

Ingrid Cullen:
I love how there’s really a follow-through on the actions at each stage and they build on each other. And I think that’s actually a good segue to my next question, which is zooming out of just the talent processes, what impact do you see in the business as a whole result of the performance enablement that you’ve done? Sabrina, you mentioned that you saw much higher engagement on your surveys, but I’d love to hear about what that really means for the business and what that impact is.

Sabrina Park:
Sure. Yeah. So when we did our survey and asked about our recharge conversations, we were able to do a crosswalk and see that for those who say, and this is the employee saying that, “Yes, I did have a conversation, a quarterly check-in conversation with my manager,” they show that they had 14% higher engagement with the company than those who didn’t. And so it provides a legit business case that these quarterly check-in conversations are important and they are valued by the employee, and they just want to feel recognized and heard and just have that human connection, which again, if you’re in hybrid or virtual, it’s so hard to maintain that. So again, the importance of these conversations comes through loud and clear.

The other thing is that we do ask questions about are you getting what you need on priorities? We talked about, we get feedback that we can then directly say how do we improve organizationally, for instance, around making sure that our priorities are aligned, that again, to the point of they want more development. So Jeff, I’ll be shamelessly borrowing some of the concepts that you shared today. I think that we’ve been talking about that. So I love to see that come to life. But again, how do we incorporate development and rotate those questions in these quarterly conversations?

And then also just knowing that we need to get better at feedback, especially hard feedback, and that manager, enabling that courage for managers to have that. And so how do we do that? So a lot of those, getting many inputs and insights through various channels, all to improve our cycle of end-to-end performance management.

Ingrid Cullen:
Great. Thank you. Bhavya, I’d love to hear about some of the impact that you’re seeing.

Bhavya:
In terms of impact, I think I want to rely on the OKR goal management framework that we’ve been able to put together. For what it’s worth, this is year four of using OKRs. We’re nowhere near perfect. We’ve gotten really good at our top-level objectives and somewhat okay for some departments, but we’re nowhere near perfect company-wide. But the impact that we’re definitely seeing with the help of our quarterly check-in conversations is around adjusting the OKRs, adjusting the priorities. We’re actually seeing managers, employees engage in conversations periodically to make sure that we’re adjusting our priorities for business needs. We’re adjusting our focus for the rest of the year, and therefore make changes to business plans.

I was recently working with one of our pilot groups for accountability, and one of the things that we were trying to work through was that they were missing their milestones. A couple of sprint cycles, they missed their milestones. So the question was like, okay, how do we then steer a ship that’s already full-blown in a certain approach? How do we use the OKR methodology? How do we use the check-in conversations that we have and the frequency to help steer the ship? The impact that we’re seeing really isn’t helping the business really use the OKR framework in its truest sense and keep on training as the year goes by.

Ingrid Cullen:
Yeah, yeah. I think that kind of refresh and rethinking about what you’re doing at regular points.

Bhavya:
Yeah. And even at the top company level, the conversations that we’re having right now is when we set up our OKRs, in fact, one of the top company objectives, when we set up our objective and OKRs, we had picked something as a priority, which is why it was a KR. But two months into the year, the management team and us met and we’re like, yes, this is a priority but not the priority. So we suspended that KR.

And then now we’re talking about some of the other metrics that we set in terms of are we actually going to meet this? Are we going to beat this? Should we adjust the metrics? So those are the types of conversations that we’re having periodically, and that’s because we’re meeting for the OKR review.

Ingrid Cullen:
Great. That’s great. And Jeff, you’ve touched on a lot of the changes that you’ve made and would love to just hear more about the impact it’s had on the business.

Jeff Andes:
So like anything, especially in HR, I feel like it’s hard to measure a specific impact around one program or one initiative or one policy or benefit offering or whatever it might be. But I will say that we moved from a public company to a private company about six years ago, and through that, we’ve really focused on reshaping our culture. And so there’s a number of different things that we’ve done to reshape our culture to just be more of a culture that’s supportive of our employees, that empowers our employees, that kind of puts everybody on equal standing. We’re all adults trying to drive after the same mission, and what do we need to do to change to create that environment?

So there’s a myriad of different things, but I will say, and this is one of them, like performance management and the changes that we made to our process and everyday performance development, but over the last couple of years, our engagement scores have increased by 15%, and now we’re up eight points over a national benchmark. And so that’s been really positive.

We ask our employees a lot of questions about their leader as well. And with these three questions, I’ll share with you in terms of impact. To me it is really a lot of alignment with the stuff that we talked about today, which is “I would recommend my manager to others.” We have a score of 91 out of a hundred, that I would recommend my manager. We have the question, “My manager supports and encourages my development,” a score of 90 out of a hundred. And then, “My manager provides me with actionable coaching,” 87 out of a hundred. So I don’t have historicals as we’ve just been asking these questions just recently, but we’ve seen all of our engagement scores, almost every single one of them, increase really significantly over the last three to four years.

And it’s a myriad of different things that we’ve been doing around what I just said, like empowering our employees, looking at our different policies and procedures to say how can we continue to empower them to be better at their jobs, to take more ownership of their outcomes, and have good managers that support their development and help them be better? So I would say those are some of the things that we’ve seen. It’s hard to directly tie to any one thing, but I think globally it’s really, really positive results.

Ingrid Cullen:
I mean, those are really impressive engagement scores and scores for your managers, and I think you’re so right that there’s no one thing that drives those outcomes. It’s really everything done together, all the little pieces add up to this culture that is really supportive of your employees.

Well, my last question is to share one learning or advice for fellow HR leaders who are looking to tackle a performance process, an overhaul, or just an evaluation of what they should do. And I’ll let you, whoever wants to speak first.

Jeff Andes:
I can go ahead. I can get started. I think one of the ladies on the call said earlier about really establishing your philosophy, and that was I think one of the most important elements for the success of our program, was starting with what’s our talent management philosophy, establishing the process that we wanted to follow. And then at that point, we went and found a system that supported that. You’re not always able to do that. I’ve done it the opposite way, where you’re stuck with the system and you have to try and shoehorn your philosophy and process in there. But we were lucky enough to not do it with performance management, and I think it was really successful.

Also, I would say we’ve had great success using performance management councils, where we get groups of leaders for about a 12-month commitment, where they come on board and once a month we meet with them and we bring them along the path around the different changes that we’re making to our performance management program. And then when we launch them, they are the champions in their business units, driving why this is really important for us. Because they feel like they were part of it and they had a voice in it, and it kind of feels like it was their idea, which in a lot of ways it was their idea. They really helped shape whatever it was that we launched as part of our performance management process and the program enhancements that we’ve made over the years. So I think those performance management councils have also been really helpful for us.

Sabrina Park:
I can go next since the talent philosophy, you stole my answer, Jeff. And so that was really the one piece of advice that I would say is that, again, it helped us tremendously in not only crafting our guiding principles, our philosophy, but then gaining alignment from our stakeholders and iterating with them because to the point of those folks are our champions, and that all of the design decisions that we make needs to have some stickiness to it. And so it’s always then pulling it out and saying like, “Okay, does this meet our requirements or criteria for what we deem to align to our talent philosophy?”

And again, having that North Star was really great, and it works from an end-to-end performance approach. So from writing policies and guidelines to designing our programs, from quarterly check-ins to our talent assessments, to also managing performance concerns, making sure that the tone and voice and all of those are present in anything and everything that we do. 

Bhavya:
I think my advice is more generic. There’s no one true performance management philosophy, and every organization is just trying to get it right in the current context of their world. We’re talking about a process that’s exclusively focused on people. So even if anyone thinks they’ve nailed it out for their organization, cracks will start showing up pretty soon. So I think in the context of this, the two pieces of advice that I have is, one, Ingrid, you were talking about agility. If there was ever a need for agility, resilience, integrations, performance enablement, performance management is the space for it.

And second, somebody told me this, and I keep saying it at every opportunity I can, if everything is a priority, nothing is a priority. Don’t try to fix everything all at once. We’re never going to get that clean slate, or very rarely are we going to get the clean slate where we’re able to change everything fundamentally. So pick the top changes, pick changes that’ll give you the most impact, and sort of leverage your time on that.

Ingrid Cullen:
Yeah, I think that’s so true. And something I think about when I am working with groups is that making a change to your talent process can be really scary because it touches every single employee. It’s really a company-wide … What you’re doing is going to be on full display. And that can be really scary. And I think sometimes just starting can be the hardest part. And to Bhavya’s point, there’s no one true philosophy. It’s going to be different for every organization. It’s going to be different for every point in time and different business situations. So that flexibility and agility is certainly super important.

I’m going to pop into our audience today and see if we have any questions, and if anyone from the audience has something that you want to ask in these last few minutes, we can touch on that. There’s a question here about inclusion and whether you require people to be vocal in all roles. It said something about voice-to-voice and how you’re thinking about inclusion in some of these. Oh, I see Laurie here. So we’re wrapping up.

Laurie Ruettimann:
No, I love asking that question. I think that’s a really good one. What’s the role of inclusion in all of this? And I heard your panel talk about the importance of trust, and so I think that might be a good place to start. Does anybody have anything to say about that?

Jeff Andes:
Yeah, I think one of the things we talk with our leaders about is that we empower you as a leader to make decisions that make the most sense for you. So we don’t tell them specifically when to have their conversation, how to have their conversation, but we tell them, “Hey, listen to your employee. If they can’t be on video that day and it’s more comfortable for them that day to be on audio, is that a game changer? Is that a big deal?” In most cases, it’s probably not.

We encourage face-to-face. We’re a hundred percent virtual, so we do this, we’re on Teams or Zoom all day, but we don’t mandate it. And so it just really kind of depends on the situation between that employee and the manager, whether it’s voice-to-voice, and we’re just going to do this over the phone today, or if it’s kind of face-to-face and we’re going to do this over Teams and Zoom.

Laurie Ruettimann:
Anybody else have any thoughts on that? Well, Ingrid, any other questions from the community?

Ingrid Cullen:
I think we’ve covered all our audience questions, and I really appreciate the input from all of our panelists.

Laurie Ruettimann:
Yeah, absolutely. Well, don’t go anywhere, panel, because one of the questions that keeps coming up are book recommendations. What got us here today won’t get us there tomorrow. And so I’m just wondering, and we can start with you, Sabrina, if there’s one book you can recommend to this audience, what would it be?

Sabrina Park:
So we’ve been really, it’s Learning Around the Impact Players book from Liz Wiseman. It’s fantastic. Just learned so many great nuggets about when you look at high potential, high performance, and fostering a culture of high performance, it’s been fantastic. I’m also digging into the Irresistible book that Josh Bersin just put out.

Laurie Ruettimann:
So it’s an HR conference and Josh Bersin gets a shout-out. It’s official.

Laurie Ruettimann:
So Bhavya, what about you? Do you have a book you can recommend?

Bhavya:
Five Dysfunctions of a Team. I love everything about how that book is written and just how it resonates regardless of where you are and which organization you’re working at. That’s my all-time favorite. I’m currently reading a book around simplicity, which I think for our organization and for me particularly is really helpful because we all have the ability to over-complicate things when we’re thinking programs and interventions. So I’m trying really hard to be simplistic with my approach and solutions.

Laurie Ruettimann:
I love that. I love that. Thank you. And Jeff, how about you?

Jeff Andes:
I’m currently reading, I’ll use that one, I’m currently reading Inspiration Code. It’s really about helping leaders think about their communication style with their team members and inspiring them. So that’s been an interesting book so far that I’m currently reading.

Laurie Ruettimann:
And Ingrid, we’ll close it out with you. Is there any book that you can recommend, anything that comes to mind to really help make the connection between what you were just talking about and the wonderful audience that we have today?

Ingrid Cullen:
Yeah, one of my all-time favorites is the book The Power of Habit, which talks about building little habits and how you actually change your behavior. Not an HR book per se, but particularly in my role, since I’m supporting organizations, the hardest part of what they’re doing is not the technology. And that’s kind of my position. I’m helping them with software, but ultimately it’s changing people’s behavior. And so thinking about ways that you can make those changes a little bit more manageable, a little bit more realistic, I think is so important for any transformation.

Laurie Ruettimann:
Wow, all great recommendations. And once again, I’d like to thank our panelists. Thank you, Ingrid. I mean, it was really just a fun conversation, super helpful, focused on actionable takeaways, so we always appreciate that.

And just for everybody else, coming up next is a conversation that we’re going to have, another wonderful and amazing panel where we’re talking about unleashing HR’s potential as architects of business transformation. That sounds a little buzzwordy. I promise it’s not. It’s really fun, really inspiring. So I would invite you all to just exit out and join us in the next session. And thanks again to the panel today. Ingrid, you were amazing, and everybody, we’ll see you in a few minutes. Bye-bye.

Ingrid Cullen:
Thanks, everyone.