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Human Resources: Doing Performance Management in an Environment Where Managers Are Working Remotely

There is no question that COVID-19 has dramatically and tragically affected so many lives and challenged basic business norms. It has pushed the outer limits of human resource management. The one overwhelming observation is that senior management in human services responded with compassion, quickness, flexibility and resilience. It has been truly impressive to see agencies who serve some of the most vulnerable in our society responding with such effectiveness.

Arthur Y. Webb

Arthur Y. Webb

The human service world may be getting close to a dramatic change in the way they manage by using more and more remote and virtual work models. Performance management will have to change as a result of the changing business environment where many senior managers and middle managers will continue to work remotely.

While it may not seem that performance reviews are a top priority at this point during the crisis, but I would contend that performance reviews can be an effective and invigorating approach to maintain morale and advance the agenda of agencies.

I would suggest that there are some other dimensions of performance management that need to be examined and developed. For example, the usual highly interactive face-to-face world has changed significantly. The past ebb and flow of daily work is changing to the point that the usual “feel” for working with colleagues has evaporated. What will replace this essential ingredient in conducting performance management?

Trust: Underlying all performance management is trust. You have to trust yourself and your colleagues in this new world. It probably goes without saying that trust is fundamental to all organizations. Without it, enterprises collapse on themselves, while others who have trust as a fundamental building block, usually thrive.

New Dimensions of Performance Management

Purpose: Why do organizations conduct performance reviews?

Most organizations have conducted hundreds of reviews over the years, so it is a well-honed practice. However, the recent phenomenon of remote work should cause a pause on how performance reviews will be conducted now and into the future.

New Dimension: Think about how performance reviews can strengthen the organization’s values and mission. Reviews should be seen as one of the anchors for every organization because it reinforces the goals and purposes of an organization. It also is a way to communicate new goals, new strategies, and new approaches to management.

Note: Stop thinking about how to use performance reviews to weed out weak players.

What are you measuring?

I use the word “measure” because so many performance management policies and practices have become so quantitative that the personal or human side of management is lost. The word measure is being used here as something that captures the quality, quantity and value of something that is important. In essence, you are measuring the amount or degree of contribution a person makes to the enterprise.

New Dimension: Be clear of what you are measuring for what purpose. And what you measure should be consistently applied for all reviews, obviously with a measure of relevance to the particular level of management.

Teamwork and collaboration are critical during these crises so make sure these have a prominent place in your review criteria.

Feedback, Feedback, and more Feedback: It is a useful concept and essential part of performance reviews. You cannot really overdo it. How you do it and when are policy choices for senior management.

Does empathy have a place in performance reviews?

For me, empathy is the essence of reviews especially during this unprecedented crisis. We are all humans first. For managers who are not accustomed to working remotely from home or other settings, the feelings of isolation and insulation can alter and affect established interpersonal and professional relationships.

New Dimension: Psychological impact of these working conditions may require providing some latitude in doing performance reviews. Perhaps think about making reviews shorter and more direct, and less cumbersome. As part of empathy, having compassion for what people are going through may go a long way to supporting your remote leaders.

How will performance reviews be conducted?

We have a new organizational ailment called Zoom fatigue. People staring at the screen trying to use positive facial expressions while not dozing off.

New Dimension: The new environment is calling for better ways to use virtual communication using facial and language in ways that communicate the purpose of the video conversation. Make it interesting for both parties.

New Dimension: The management literature is suggesting that in this work environment, there needs to be more frequent engagement with those that are subject to performance reviews. Not less. In addition, engaging with your team frequently is advisable: learning their hardships, providing solutions, and questioning about their work and everyday tasks builds mutual trust and increases the morale of the team and individuals.

New Dimension: Record your conversations as much as possible on a platform that can be easily used by all managers. Like a doctor who effectively uses the personal medical record to capture important observations and findings.

Is the use of ratings that relevant or useful?

Far be it from me to suggest doing away with numerical ratings or use of scales. However, does an 85% rating mean that much in today’s work environment? Compared to what?

New Dimension: It is better to use some narrative that provides employees with specific and helpful information about what they have done well and where they could improve. It does require managers to get better at writing reviews.

How can performance reviews be used to retain your stars or high performers?

New Dimension: This is the fun part of doing reviews. It is okay to be effusive, as one management guru said about high performers. Not only will the high performers feel appreciated, it motivates them to continue to excel. It also reinforces to them that they are on the right track in making the organization improve and be more effective.

Where it gets tricky in the nonprofit, slim margin business, there are limited ways to reward the high performers. This issue requires examination in a different paper.

In another area for useful guidance is the concept of self-efficacy. There are considerable number of studies of the concept of self-efficacy and how it can affect motivation in both positive and negative ways. In general, people with high self-efficacy are more likely to make efforts to complete a task, and to persist longer in those efforts, than those with low self-efficacy.

Note: Be careful that the high performers do not get burnt out. I am hearing stories of people working remotely who cannot turn off the work. Of course, the crisis has demanded an extraordinary effort on every person’s time and energy.

Conclusion

There are so many other dimensions to performance reviews like setting deadlines, establishing a schedule for reviews, posting review criteria (KPIs), etc. This paper is not intended to be a comprehensive review of performance management but more of catalyst to senior executives to innovate.

The point here is whether or not the existing performance management policies and practices can be adapted to fit the new business environment. But the question is, how can senior managers be creative and effective in conducting reviews in a remote work world? Flexibility and innovation seem to be relevant. Try some different approaches.

Arthur Y. Webb was the former commissioner of OMRDD (now OPWDD) from 1983 to 1990 and Executive Director of Division of Substance Abuse Services (now OASAS) from 1990 to 1992. Mr. Webb has held several senior executive positions in government and the nonprofit sectors. For the last ten years, he has been a consultant working with numerous nonprofits to translate public policy into innovative solutions. Presently is the Executive Director of the New York Integrated Network for Persons with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (a nonprofit collaboration of 12 providers). Contact: arthur@arthurwebbgroup.com or 917-716-8180

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