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Is your Performance Management System 'ridiculously easy to understand'?

Easy to use performance management system.

Michael Arm­strong, one of the UK’s lead­ing researchers and authors on per­for­mance man­age­ment says in his Hand­book of Per­for­mance Man­age­ment that per­for­mance man­age­ment sys­tems must be ridicu­lous­ly easy to under­stand’. If not, the sys­tem will hin­der, rather than help the process of improv­ing per­for­mance and devel­op­ing individuals.

So what is it that makes per­for­mance man­age­ment soft­ware ridicu­lous­ly easy’ to use? Here are 5 things to look out for:

1. Rel­e­vant options for the task in hand

Peo­ple often buy a per­for­mance man­age­ment sys­tem because they are impressed by the amount of fea­tures it has. How­ev­er, this can be counter-pro­duc­tive. As a user, if there are too many options when you login to a sys­tem, it can feel over­whelm­ing and imme­di­ate­ly put you off using it. This is par­tic­u­lar­ly true for per­for­mance man­age­ment as, unlike email or Face­book, most users will only log into the sys­tem peri­od­i­cal­ly, so they need to under­stand straight away what they need to do. There­fore, the num­ber of avail­able sys­tem options for the user should be kept to a min­i­mum and any that are not rel­e­vant to what the user is doing at that moment should be hid­den or deactivated.

2. Clear calls to action

When­ev­er you vis­it a well-designed e‑commerce web­site, you will notice that each page has a clear call to action’. These are nor­mal­ly large, coloured but­tons with a clear action verb such as Buy Now’ or Start your Free Tri­al’. They are effec­tive because they encour­age the user to take a spe­cif­ic action.

Unfor­tu­nate­ly, a lot of soft­ware does not use the call to action prin­ci­ple. Users are fre­quent­ly pre­sent­ed with a num­ber of dif­fer­ent options on a page (print, save, save as draft, sub­mit, etc.), often in the form of icons which are not imme­di­ate­ly obvi­ous what they are for. That might be OK for some­thing like Microsoft Word that peo­ple use dai­ly, as users will even­tu­al­ly work out what to do. But for an employ­ee com­plet­ing an online per­for­mance review, there needs to be an obvi­ous call to action but­ton which clear­ly explains the next step — e.g. Send for Approval’, Add Com­ments, Share with your Reviewer’.

3. A sim­ple process

No mat­ter how well designed the soft­ware is, if the process that the users have to fol­low is long-wind­ed or con­vo­lut­ed, they will be put off from fol­low­ing it, or will just pay lip-ser­vice to it. So keep your process as sim­ple as pos­si­ble. If you do per­for­mance reviews that have mul­ti­ple steps (e.g. com­plete pre-appraisal form > com­plete final appraisal form > employ­ee sign-off > man­ag­er sign-off > senior man­ag­er sign-off) ask your­self whether this many steps are real­ly nec­es­sary. For exam­ple, instead of ask­ing an employ­ee to com­plete a sep­a­rate pre-appraisal form, why not just ask them to com­plete the actu­al appraisal form in draft and then have the man­ag­er finalise it? If you have a senior man­ag­er grand­fa­ther’ sign-off, why do you need this? If it’s about qual­i­ty assur­ance and con­sis­ten­cy, you could sim­ply allow senior man­agers to access any review in their report­ing tree and ask them to sense-check a selec­tion of reviews, rather than mak­ing them for­mal­ly sign-off every sin­gle one.

You could sim­pli­fy your per­for­mance man­age­ment sys­tem even fur­ther by fol­low­ing in the foot­steps of com­pa­nies like Adobe and GE and not have per­for­mance reviews at all. Organ­i­sa­tions are increas­ing­ly replac­ing tra­di­tion­al per­for­mance appraisals with reg­u­lar check-ins and in-the-moment feed­back.

4. Con­tex­tu­al help

It is inevitable that at some point, a user will be unsure of how to do some­thing in the sys­tem. This is where con­text-sen­si­tive help real­ly makes a dif­fer­ence. Whilst most soft­ware offers users a help’ option, often this takes them to a menu where they need to browse help pages or search for help. Con­text-sen­si­tive help on the oth­er hand knows what user is doing that that time and imme­di­ate­ly presents them with rel­e­vant help for that spe­cif­ic task, with­out the need to browse or search.

When it comes to per­for­mance man­age­ment, employ­ees and man­agers only have a lim­it­ed amount of time to devote to it, so if they can’t find the help they need straight away, they will be inclined to give up. So con­text-sen­si­tive help is essential.

5. Sim­ple per­for­mance review forms

One of the biggest pit­falls in tak­ing a per­for­mance review process online is get­ting car­ried away with all the pos­si­bil­i­ties. In the ide­al world, you prob­a­bly want your per­for­mance review to meet a num­ber of dif­fer­ent goals, for exam­ple — assess per­for­mance against objec­tives, assess demon­stra­tion of behav­iours / val­ues / com­pe­ten­cies, cap­ture career aspi­ra­tions, plan and review per­son­al devel­op­ment, plan forth­com­ing objec­tives and pri­or­i­ties, rate over­all per­for­mance for reward pur­pos­es, iden­ti­fy poten­tial, etc.

If you were try­ing to achieve all of this in a sin­gle review, you could eas­i­ly end up with a mon­ster of a form that takes hours to com­plete. The per­for­mance review then becomes a box-tick­ing exer­cise, rather than a high qual­i­ty dis­cus­sion. So focus the con­tent of your review or check-in on what’s most impor­tant. And remem­ber that you don’t need to cap­ture every ele­ment of an appraisal dis­cus­sion on the form. You can sim­pli­fy things by giv­ing employ­ees an agen­da of items that should be dis­cussed, and use the form to cap­ture the infor­ma­tion that gen­uine­ly needs to be record­ed in writ­ing or needs to be col­lat­ed cen­tral­ly for analysis.

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