Chapter 3

Having the right technology

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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