Managing performance in a hybrid working world

With many employers embracing hybrid work structures, Richard Chappell, Managing Director at Wilson Learning shares a few thoughts for getting performance management right…

According to Investopedia, performance management is defined as a “corporate management tool that helps managers’ monitor and evaluate employees’ work”. Performance reviews, KPIs and measuring achievement towards goals and objectives, are examples of some components of a performance management system. According to a 2017 McKinsey article, “effective performance management is essential to businesses”, and “through both formal and informal processes, it helps them align their employees, resources and systems to meet their strategic objectives.”

With many employers continuing to navigate the uncertain future of work – XpertHR found that 97% of organisations are implementing some form of hybrid working model – ensuring that workers are on track to meet their goals, remain happy, engaged and productive in the process, is critical. For example, researchers at Indiana University – cited by Forbes – found that high-performing workers can deliver up to 400% more productivity than an average employee. But, what does best practice look like when managing performance in a hybrid working environment?

Richard Chappell, Managing Director at Wilson Learning said, “the thing to avoid is out of sight, out of mind”. He continued: “Just because you might not be seeing someone every day does not mean that their need for ongoing support and performance management has diminished.” For employers looking to reap the benefits of an engaged, retained and motivated workforce, prioritising the performance management process could prove key.

“With [performance management] it should be an ongoing, continual activity”

Keep in contact

When it comes to managing performance in a hybrid working world, Chappell believes it is critically important that there is time in the diary for regular contact between line managers and direct reports. He is not alone; the importance of regular communication is not apropos of nothing. In fact, it aligns with data which showcases the follow-on benefits for employers and employees. For example, previous statistics from Gallup found that staff whose line managers regularly communicate with them are almost three times more engaged than those whose managers don’t hold regular catch-ups. Additionally, staff who feel that their voices are heard (which could be achieved through regular communication) are 4.6 times more likely to feel empowered to perform to the best of their ability, according to Salesforce Research, cited by Inc. In a hybrid working world, where staff and managers aren’t constantly face-to-face in the office, communication will play a big role in helping staff keep on track and also give them the space to speak up if they require any support.

Make it formal or informal

Another tip from Chappell was that these regular catch-ups don’t have to be “overly formal or onerous”. He explained: “Regular contact, talking through the individual’s area of expertise or focus, shows you are interested in what they are doing and value their contribution. It also demonstrates that you are there to support and guide them where necessary, and manage any performance issues as and if they arise.” Ergo: raising and dealing with performance-related issues as and when they crop up can help nip things in the bud, i.e., before they have the chance to escalate. Despite this, data has shown that a significant portion of companies still don’t communicate regularly with staff via performance reviews. In fact, 2018 Reflektive data found that 69% of companies still rely on annual or bi-annual performance reviews. However, over half of office staff want performance check-ins at least every month, and 94% would like their line manager to address mistakes and opportunities to help them improve in real-time – something which employers should take note of if wanting to improve performance.


The role leaders play in performance management

In any organisation, leaders play a critical role in supporting the business, their co-workers and their teams. When it comes to managing performance specifically, what role do leaders play and how do they set the tone?

Chappell explained: “Leaders are responsible for creating the culture, the environment, the feel of the organisation and, personally, I believe it needs to be supportive where integrity and ethics are highly valued. Staff should feel encouraged and engaged rather than fearful and berated, mistakes are how you learn,” Wilson Learning’s Managing Director added.


“[Performance management] is about supporting, guiding and encouraging and creating the right environment”


Ensure support is ongoing

Chappell stressed another benefit of regular contact between manager and employee, “there should never be any surprises when it comes to employee performance assessments”. He explained: “There should never be an appraisal where the feet are kicked out from under an individual, that is the opposite of what good performance management looks like. Performance management should be an ongoing, continual activity where the individual being supported and managed knows exactly how they are doing, and if there are any issues, they know all about them.” Aside from being beneficial for individuals, Betterworks data found that companies adopting continuous performance feedback significantly outperformed competition at a 24% higher rate.

The importance of performance management

While the approaches to performance management may have shifted as a result of the pandemic, the need to get the messaging and positioning right, hasn’t! Chappell explained: “When you think of the phrase [performance management], does that conjure positive or negative connotations? For some, the phrase may fill them with dread, especially if they’ve had a bad experience with a previous employer, they may immediately link performance management as being ‘managed out of the business’. Good positioning and communication will reverse the unhealthy mindset.” He went on to say that performance management needs to be for everyone in the organisation, including those considered top performers.

“[Performance management] is about supporting, guiding and encouraging all employees and if done well, will help create a positive and supportive environment. However, the flipside could prove painful for employers, especially at a time of high employment rates – if it’s a case of ‘performance miss-management’ then staff may choose to vote with their feet.” Chappell’s thinking rings true with research. For example, Robert Walters data found that almost three-quarters (73%) of workers have left a job because they didn’t like the company culture, while 2018 research from Udemy – reported on by Inc – found that almost half of staff had quit their job due to a poor manager. Like with any levels of employee turnover, this could hurt an organisation’s retention, hiring and engagement strategy and, ultimately, impact business success, which is why a well-executed performance management process is critical.

So, as Chappell sees it, while things in the workplace have changed – to a place where staff aren’t necessarily in the office everyday – it “doesn’t mean that you should neglect their need for ongoing support and performance management”. Instead, line managers should utilise technology to arrange regular catch-ups, encourage frequent communication and consider different styles of managing performance to get the desired outcome.


Giving effective feedback

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