Why do we need technology?
In an eBook that is about meaningful conversations, it might seem at odds to raise the subject of technology. However, if we want to embed a culture of performance conversations, having an empowering framework is not enough. That framework needs to be reinforced until it becomes a habit. And technology is an essential tool for building new habits in today’s world. Here’s a practical example of what I mean by this. Let’s say you have agreed on a new performance management approach with check-ins at the heart of it. You have decided that your employees should be having check-ins every 8 weeks, be getting feedback at least once a month and should be working on at least 1 – 3 quarterly goals at any one time.
You run some training sessions with your managers explaining the new framework and what they need to do. However, after a month or so has passed, will your managers remember what they have to do and when? Unlikely. This is where technology comes in. We can use technology to highlight to managers and employees what they should be doing at any given time and what needs their attention. For example, a clear dashboard like the one below can instantly show a manager what is expected of them, how they are faring against those expectations and where they need to take action.
Encouraging new behaviours
Probably the hardest aspect of building a culture of meaningful conversations is changing behaviours, and technology plays a key role in this.
To understand why we need to delve into a bit of psychology.
Dr. B.J. Fogg, from the Behavioural Design Lab at Stanford University, has designed a model to understand what drives our actions as humans – it’s called the Fogg Behavioural model and it’s represented by the following formula:
B=MAT: Behaviour = Motivation + Ability +Trigger.
We will only get that behaviour if the individual has the right motivation, the ability to carry out that behaviour at that time and if there is a trigger to initiate that behaviour. From a performance management perspective, we can fulfil the motivation aspect through change management interventions such as training and communications that focus on “what’s in it for me” – how employees and managers can personally benefit from engaging in regular conversations and feedback. Providing training can also help with some aspects of ability, in terms of the skills involved in giving feedback and coaching. But in order to completely fulfil the ability and trigger aspects of Fogg’s formula we need to have technology.
Let’s start with triggers, as that is probably the most obvious element of how technology can drive behaviour. Technology can provide automated triggers in a way that a manual process simply can’t, by:
• Sending automated notifications or emails to remind individuals when they are due for a check-in meeting or when they haven’t given or received any feedback in a while.
• Offering visual ‘badges’ and alerts which nudge us into taking action.
Until habits are formed people need these triggers to remind them to take action. And even when behaviours are embedded, people get so busy that they still need these triggers to remind them when they need to do things.
Moving onto ability – this is not just about someone having the necessary skills, which is addressed through training and practice. What Fogg is referring to in his model is the ability to carry out a specific action at a given time. This ability is influenced by a number of factors including:
• Time – how long it takes to complete the action
• Brain cycles – the level of mental effort and focus required to take the action
• Disruption – how much the action disrupts existing routines
With this in mind, consider the steps a manager might take in preparing for a one-to-one check-in conversation without dedicated technology to help. To begin with, they have to dig out the notes from their last meeting, think about what to discuss and what kind of questions they should ask, track down the person’s objectives, and trawl through emails for feedback — the list goes on. How does this stack up against Fogg’s ability test? Well, it fails on all three counts – the Time and Brain Cycles required and the level of Disruption to the individual’s routine. So much so that only the most motivated of managers will do this regularly.
If we compare that experience to having a check-in conversation using a technology platform like Clear Review, one click of a button and the check-in is ready to go with pre-populated prompts for the discussion and recommended questions. [screenshot] The notes and actions from the last conversation are readily available so we can pick up where we left off last time, and the employee’s goals and recent feedback are all on hand to feed into a rich, meaningful discussion for both parties. It’s quick and involves minimal brain cycles and disruption.
Making conversations meaningful
Of course, simply having regular conversations is not enough to improve performance, they need to be meaningful. One of our customers, Perkbox, came to us with this problem. Their staff were having regular discussions but they were not focused. Their People Director, Shaun Bradley, described them as “So, how are you?” conversations. There was no direct link from those conversations to driving increased performance, development and productivity.
Being a technology company, Perkbox knew they needed software to support their transition to a new model. They created a new framework for conversations – The ‘6 Ps’ – Performance, Progress, Proficiency, Problems, People and Priorities, and used our technology platform to serve up questions to generate focused discussion on these topics and enable their staff to capture, measure and act on their conversations.
The outcome has been much richer conversations that have resulted in improved productivity. After implementing the software platform and rolling out a cultural change project, Perkbox can proudly say they have made the move from
‘Performance Measurement’ to ‘Performance Conversations’ with 94% of managers having conducted check-ins.
Using technology to give feedback
Another example of how technology can improve ability to take action is in giving feedback. Managers often fail to give feedback as often as they should.
They may not be in the same location, or the person may be away from their desk, so by the time they next see them the moment has passed and the feedback is forgotten. However, if you provide technology that enables managers and employees to give feedback in-the-moment with just a couple of taps from their mobile phone, they will be much more likely to do it as events occur, rather than saving up their feedback, or worse, not giving it at all.
Use the right technology
One of the fears about using technology is the concern that it might replace discussions or get in the way of them. However, in our experience, if the technology has been purpose-built to empower meaningful conversations and feedback, it actually results in much richer discussions.
Of course, not all technology solutions have been designed for this purpose. In fact, the majority of performance management software has been built around data capture and approval workflows (even though these systems may now say they support regular check-ins and feedback). Whilst these kinds of systems may tick a compliance box, they will not support a cultural transition towards meaningful conversations.
So when choosing your technology platform my advice would always be to choose one that has been built specifically to support the framework that you would like to embed and then do a trial to weigh it up against Fogg’s criteria of time, ability and disruption.
It’s an ongoing journey but we are now on the path towards my own personal goal of creating a high performance culture where people can bring their best selves to work.
Shaun Bradley, People Director