Chapter 2 - Engage first or measure first?
The User Experience Problem
For decades, performance tech has had a problem: no one wants to use it. The systems designed to improve people’s outcomes in the workplace do exactly the opposite. Why? Because they were based on the creaky, crumbling foundations of annual appraisals. No one worried about user experience: the focus was on getting as much data from the users as possible.
This seminal CEB Report breaks down why ratings, rankings and “measurement first” approaches not only fail to improve performance, but actually make things worse. The system uses impenetrable forms — first paper, then digital — with no thought for the employees expected to deal with them. Is it any surprise that people got tired of all this?
Unfortunately, a lot of tech on the market is still based on this thinking. You’ve probably seen the sort of thing we’re talking about. Slick screenshots packed with pie charts. Percentage metrics and boxed-out “insights”. And you can see why some find it appealing. Who doesn’t like the idea of data all neatly packaged in one place?
The problem is that the data all needs to come from the users. All the info packing those pretty charts needs to be input by employees and managers (unless, of course, you’re planning on doing it all yourself). And here’s where the elephant comes lumbering into the room and sits on your nicest coffee table.
People hate doing it. And because they hate doing it, they don’t. They either ignore it completely or they do it in a cursory, “let’s not get into trouble with HR” sort of way. So you either get no data or bad data, and either of those makes the whole approach meaningless.
Simplicity & the New User Experience
So much for the old model. Welcome to the new one.
We’re all used to slick and low-friction technology in our personal lives, from smartphones to fitness bands. Why should our work tech be different?
Big brands like Microsoft and Adobe have turned their models completely upside down. When we sat down with a key project leader from General Electric’s own performance revolution, she went into great detail about the importance of simplicity and clarity. Rather than starting with measurement as the goal, GE have prioritised a simple user experience. Why? To enable the only thing that makes a difference: quality performance conversations.
They use software that supports that thinking: tools which are easy to use and designed to support those frequent, higher quality interactions. And this gives you three priceless benefits:
- People recognise the simplicity and value, which means they actually use the software;
- Higher adoption means performance engagement, and engagement leads to tangible performance improvement;
- Now that data is actually flowing into the system HR and Talent leaders have, for the first time, real information to work with. This means you get genuine insight based on human interactions, not contrived rating scores based on poor data.
You can’t truly to get to grips with what the market is offering unless you have an idea of what your perfect world looks like.
That doesn’t mean you have to have everything nailed down in a neat PowerPoint and signed off by the chairman. Before you even start meeting with vendors, there’s plenty you can borrow and steal from them to inform your strategy. Every vendor out there is creating content — some great, some less so — that you can download and review. There are online product demos, videos and webinars to give you an excellent starter for ten. Vendors and analysts are the ones at the coalface, remember: to thrive, they need to understand what their customers’ challenges are, deliver the solutions to fix them and work hand in hand with those customers to help them make that cultural change.
But you do need somewhere to start, if only to prove yourself wrong later. So… how to get started?
What does good look like?
There’s a lot of research out there. A daunting amount, in fact. In the last few years, it’s become accepted as fact that annual appraisals are a broken, clunky mess and that shifting to a continuous model with real-time feedback is far more valuable. But it doesn’t hurt to understand the general themes before you get to the specifics. Start with the heavy hitters: Bersin by Deloitte , this CEB report, and our very own Stuart Hearn’s eBook.
Aim for a list of bullet points capturing the proofs and research that seem to match your own situation. You’ll get a) a handful of killer facts to drop nonchalantly into the right meeting and b) the building blocks of a strategy. We all know that a bit of science is a powerful ally: it will help with key stakeholders and it’ll be a handy resource to have when you do start meeting with salespeople.
Our own take on this, after digesting more articles and whitepapers than any human should reasonably be asked to get through, boils down to two key points:
- Performance management models need to be extremely simple.
- The most powerful driver of performance improvement is quality conversation and clear goals supplemented by real-time feedback.
What are managers and employees telling me they need?
There’s more detail on this in Chapter 2, but it’s worth stating and restating: the most important consideration with software is adoption. Will people actually use it?
Try to spend some time talking to future users about what they need, what they’d like and what they hated about systems in the past. You can do this face-to-face but a quick survey (SurveyMonkey, for example, is free to use) will make the whole process much easier and quicker. You’ll probably end up with a whole messy pile of “I wants” and “I hates” but you should be able to detect the common themes and messages. These can feed into your strategy and give a bit of shape to things.
Can I articulate what we need?
Time to start writing. Again, bullet points or a one-pager are enough at this stage, but you need to start shaping your model. What vision am I building for performance management at my organisation? What really came out in my survey? This can really help to crystallise your own thoughts. You may find that you’re starting to get an idea of a core need and be able to distinguish between that and the nice to haves. Remember: this isn’t about functionality so much as what you want to achieve with this. And yes, of course “effective performance management” is what we ultimately want to achieve: that’s the end goal. This is about exploring the “how” that sits below the “what”. This is about finding the pillars that will prop up the house.
It’s also a really useful way to start building out a deck for key stakeholders. Some of our customers needed absolutely no sell-in to senior leadership. Most did. We do have some resources, including unbranded slides, that can help with this.
To give you some context, the core needs we hear about most often are:
- The requirement for ‘meaningful performance conversations’;
- ‘Visibility and insight into performance management across the organisation’;
- ‘A simple, agile way of doing performance management in the flow of work’;
- ‘Driving a culture of real-time feedback’.
Once you have a core need established, you’ll have a definitive way to judge the strengths and weaknesses of the software you see.