The driving force of Aston Villa Football Club (the “Club”) is to win the next game, then the next, and the one after that. A key part of this initiative was exploring ways of optimising the performance of the 200-strong workforce – the people that make the club tick behind the scenes.
A key challenge identified at the outset was a general lack of clarity on how each individual contributed to the bigger picture. On appointment, HR Director Mel Millner was tasked with bringing clarity and accountability to people’s roles and expectations.
In kicking off this project there were some initial concerns. One being that there was no real history of performance management in the club and certainly no formal framework, so introducing a modern continuous performance management approach felt risky. Some people had previous experience of outdated appraisal models, and others had no experience of performance management whatsoever. Another consideration was the wide variety of people and roles. The makeup of a football club meant there was an unusual mix of skill sets and levels of seniority.
There was also a requirement for both HR and the wider leadership team to have insight into performance engagement metrics across the Club. There was no framework in place for performance management and therefore an inconsistency as to whether performance conversations were taking place, what the quality of those discussions were and, how objectives were being set, if at all.
After an initial but extensive research phase, the HR team decided to deploy a non-traditional continuous performance approach leveraging the agile principles of effective ongoing quality conversations, real-time feedback and near-term SMART objectives. This decision was based on Mel having a better understanding a few months into her new appointment about the culture and ways of working at Villa and what would work best at the Club. Having settled on this approach the HR team set about finding a technology partner with an aligned methodology and who would enable this new cultural shift to really take off.
“It was love at first sight when we saw the Clear Review software and immediately felt comfortable with the user-friendly look and feel of it! It was also very cost effective, which was an important factor for us as well.
The extremely intuitive and straightforward user experience meant the HR team were able to focus on the human elements of making the shift to continuous performance management, such as objective setting development support and how to conduct meaningful check-in meetings, rather than spending a disproportionate amount of time on showing people how to use a clunky system. All of this contributed to the successful adoption of the new performance model.
The simplicity of the technology from a user administration perspective was also key to a quick and effective implementation and launch and in Mel’s own words:
“The system set up was extremely simple. Before we knew it, we pressed a button and we were away!”
As this was a bold new step for the club, HR needed a technology provider who they could partner with over time to help them evolve their approach and understand best-practice from other customers. The usual reactive ‘contact us if you have a problem’ approach was not going to cut it.
“The team was very knowledgeable and helpful during the sales process, but have continued that post-launch. They have been hugely attentive and have even implemented many of our improvement feedback requests into their platform. Their online customer community has also been really helpful.”
The key goal of the project has very much been achieved with a huge uplift in clarity as to what each individual is responsible for and how their contribution is vital to the success of the Club, the team, and the results on the football pitch. Despite there being initial fears about how the new approach would be received, the opposite has been true. Both the methodology and the technology have been fully embraced by both managers and team members with universally positive feedback across the board.
“People have taken it and run with it. There have not been the usual complaints you get when rolling out clunky HR Systems.”
The system itself has provided a clear and accessible framework to continually monitor and improve performance with managers stating that it has genuinely enabled them to improve in their role as people developers. This new level of performance focus has resulted in a source of accurate and meaningful data to draw on. Insights by division, team, manager and individual on key performance indicators are now a few clicks away.
Mel and the team are aware that performance management is by definition a work in progress and there is always more to be done. But for the first time they can say they are on a clear path towards ever-increasing focus, engagement, and performance management excellence.
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