How Ricoh is trailblazing in performance management

Ricoh’s forward-thinking approach to performance management helped its resilience during the pandemic…

Words by Amanda Vlietstra

How Ricoh is trailblazing in performance management

Ricoh’s forward-thinking approach to performance management helped its resilience during the pandemic…

Words by Sophie Parrott

Words by Amanda Vlietstra

It’s often said that the coronavirus pandemic has shifted attitudes to work, particularly with regards to putting performance under the spotlight. Workers are increasingly focused on a good work-life balance and many are also juggling the challenges of remote working. Although a study from Stanford found that remote workers were 13% more productive, research from career experts Zippia said that remote workers regularly work more than 40 hours a week compared to onsite workers. It’s generally the pandemic that is credited with normalising remote and hybrid working, but although hybrid working has revolutionised the way we work, it has clearly brought with it its own set of challenges – and for organisations, one of these is how they go about performance management.

Performance management is, as the name suggests, how managers assess and monitor the output of their staff and help give them the skills and knowledge to improve. But as Ibec, Ireland’s biggest lobby and business group, pointed out in an article on their website, during the pandemic and the rapid shift to remote working, many managers struggled to work with their usual performance management metrics. They stated in an article: “Where remote working has applied, managers may feel ill equipped to assess performance. Traditionally, there is an association between hours spent in the office and perceived performance. However, remote working requires a shift to focusing on output not hours. Ultimately, it is results that matter, not the hours spent at the desk.”

The future of performance management is when it’s not seen as performance management, just something you do every day

A look inside Ricoh

While all companies have faced such challenges in the wake of the pandemic, some have been better equipped to deal with them than others. Research has shown how resilient companies thrived during the pandemic. McKinsey said that the companies who performed best were those who “...doubled down on actions that many top companies had already started executing before the pandemic as part of the movement toward more agile, more people-focused operating models.” Ricoh, a FTSE 500 digital services company, is a business that’s as focused on values as it is on performance. The company’s founding principles were established in 1946 by its founder Kiyoshi Ichimura, and they are: “Love your neighbour; Love your country; Love your work.” Today, the company has a strong focus on ESG and states that it has “responsibility to future generations.”

This ethical background is reflected in the company’s approach to performance management. Ricoh foresaw the move to hybrid working some time before the pandemic hit. Indeed, although nobody could have predicted the pandemic, the company identified that the workplace was changing, and the direction in which it was headed. In his foreword to Leading Change At Work, Ricoh’s research into the digital marketplace and transition to hybrid working, the company’s CEO Phil Keoghan wrote: “To suggest, as some have, that the sole reason for the newly established ‘hybrid-workplace’ model was coronavirus would be untrue. At Ricoh, it’s been the focus of much of our work in the past ten years. The digital workplace was always coming, the question was not whether it would arrive in the mainstream, it was when.”

  • Ricoh is based in Japan, has over 108,000 employees worldwide and has a presence in nearly 180 countries
  • Ricoh UK had an annual turnover of £496.4million in the year to 31 March 2019
  • In 1955, Ricoh launched its first copier, the Ricopy 101, which became popular in the late 50s and resulted in the coining of the phrase “make a Ricopy” meaning “to make a copy” in Japan. With this product, it entered the office equipment field
  • In 2016 Ricoh was named World’s Most Ethical Company by the Ephisphere Institute for the seventh time
  • In 2020 Ricoh joined the 30% Club Japan aiming to increase the ratio of women executives in Japan

‘Vibrant Working’ at Ricoh

Rebekah Wallis, Director People & Corporate Responsibility at Ricoh UK, explained to myGrapevine magazine that Ricoh was already moving towards a people-led approach to performance management before the pandemic struck. She said: “Almost ten years ago, the company transitioned to what it described at the time as ‘New Ways of Working’ (now ‘Vibrant Working’).”

“It was all about behaviour as opposed to a physical location, and how people work with that,” Wallis said. “We’d gone through the process of training all the managers and employees about how someone who wasn’t present could be managed and it was all very much output-based. Just before Covid-19, we were about to revamp this, having discussed it with everyone and decided that it could work for the majority of office-based jobs, in a much bigger and more flexible way.”

Then the pandemic came along, and as Wallis said, the process was “accelerated.” And of course, performance management was one of the areas that was impacted, as managers had to work out new metrics for performance management within the remote working paradigm. In many ways, Ricoh’s approach to performance management is typical of most companies its size. “We’ve had annual and mid-year appraisals forever; these are very much objectives-based, linked and cascaded down effectively from mission-vision company objectives with a clear line in sight from one to the other,” Wallis continued. “We monitor this through engagement surveys so people can understand how their role fits into it all, and we provide a lot of training.” According to Harvard Business Review, using research from Facebook, engagement surveys are still one of the best ways of measuring performance. The research by and for Facebook found that they’re great predictors of behaviour, they give employees the chance to feel heard, and they’re a vehicle for changing behaviour. Facebook found them to be an effective tool for helping employees to engage with the company too – so Ricoh’s use of them could be an effective tool in its performance management process.

Rebekah Wallis

Director - People & Corporate Responsibility

Our challenge at Ricoh has been to balance people’s needs with what was previously a one-size-fits-all approach to performance management


Evolving metrics

However, although Ricoh’s performance management metrics may have historically worked well for them, performance management itself is evolving, undergoing something of an image change – and Ricoh is helping to accelerate that. “Performance management is always a difficult one,” Wallis explained. “It can have negative connotations but interestingly, more and more people are starting to talk about performance management much more positively. The conversation has shifted to a much more person-based approach, in terms of how performance is enabled. Now we’re focusing on giving managers the skills to have that whole conversation, not just ‘how are your objectives, what have you done, what are your challenges?’, but moving to a much more enabling role. We’re rebranding performance management as ‘Vibrant Working’.”

As Wallis pointed towards, in the past, performance management has tended to have a negative image. For some employees, it might be the only time they had a face-to-face meeting with their manager, and as such, it didn’t tend to inspire confidence. Indeed, research by Gallup in 2019 suggested that, far from helping employees perform better, annual performance reviews, at best, achieve very little. According to Gallup, only 14% of employees strongly agree that performance reviews help them to improve. Ricoh, however, does not see performance management as a one-off activity but much more of an ongoing, evolutionary process.

Positive change

Wallis believes that, rather than dreading performance reviews, both employees and managers should see them as a force for positive change. “People should be looking forward to performance reviews,” she said. “What we’re really talking about now isn’t managing performance, it’s enabling performance. We’re moving away from the idea of people seeing their managers once a year for the dreaded annual review. Performance management shouldn’t be something that happens once a year, it’s ongoing. It’s a conversation – ‘how are you, are there any barriers to your performance?’”

This personalised approach to performance management is a far cry from the idea that it’s purely about helping employees meet their objectives so that the business hits its own targets. But these days, as Wallis said, employees are much more empowered to drive change themselves – and if they don’t like their job, they won’t think twice about leaving. A study by job website CV-Library supports this notion, finding that three in four employees were considering handing in their notice in 2022. “Employees are individuals, there’s not a job for life, there are horizontal career paths now,” Wallis said. “Work has changed – I’d say for the better and the majority of people would say for the better. The need to find that balance between employees and organisations will see organisations needing to transform and change, too.” Indeed, research from CIPD found that three-quarters (75%) of respondents to its 2021 survey on worker wellbeing believe that senior leaders have employee wellbeing on their agenda, up from 61% in 2020. It’s clear that the workplace is transitioning from solely being focused on output to taking a much more holistic approach to employee wellbeing as part of performance management.

Empowering managers

Of course, this isn’t without its challenges. Wallis explained one of the biggest challenges with performance management at Ricoh is empowering managers to have those ongoing conversations with their employees. “Managers need to be supported,” she said. “They have big responsibility but with that comes the weight of adapting to a whole new way of working. Our challenge at Ricoh has been to balance people’s needs with what was previously a one-size-fits-all approach to performance management, and empowering and enabling managers to deal with the whole individual rather than just their work objectives.”

“It’s no longer the case that employees’ experiences outside work are fenced off, and it doesn’t matter what goes on with the rest of their lives. Management is much more holistic now, especially around wellbeing, and it’s important that managers feel supported and able to have those conversations,” she added. Indeed, research by Gallup found that managers account for 70% of the variance in employee engagement, with supervisor support more than doubling the odds of employee engagement.

Performance management shouldn’t be something that happens once a year, it’s ongoing

Technological advances

Technology is the thing above all else that has enabled remote and hybrid working – it’s hard to imagine how the pandemic would have played out had it hit ten years earlier. However, Ricoh was already utilising this technology prior to the pandemic, which enabled it to adapt quickly to remote and hybrid working when it became a necessity. “I have worked flexibly since having my children, so I am one of the trailblazers in terms of that,” Wallis said. “I know the value of not spending five days in the office and now others have had the value of seeing that too. Those who were raised in the 9-5 presenteeism culture can see the benefits of that.” But, she adds, “On the other hand you’ve got people who came into the workforce recently and have only ever seen hybrid working and they are very much wanting the face-to-face contact.”

Technology has played a key and ever-growing role in managing performance for these different groups of people. However, it was, as Wallis pointed out, technology that was already being taken advantage of prior to the pandemic, with global teams able to communicate and work effectively despite being in different time zones. Now, of course, it has transformed the day-to-day business world.

“I’ve seen much more of my team over the last two years because in the past we used to rely on face-to-face meeting so limited the frequency of when we did it,” Wallis said. “[During the pandemic] I was talking to my team (of 35) every week and we’ve continued in that spirit. We now do Town Halls. We didn’t have the technology to do that before but now we can have the whole workforce on a Town Hall and then they can watch it later if they want. That ability to communicate has been enhanced massively.” Which, of course, has a positive knock-on effect on performance management; an employee who has a good relationship and open communications with their manager and their team is likely to be more productive. According to employee communications and advocacy platform Smarp, employees in organisations with effective internal communications are 20-25% more engaged than those without effective internal communications.

Rebekah’s top tips on inspiring employees

Be visionary.
Excite people with the vision and stories which relate to them. Make it real to them. Talk about the future. Ensure they clearly understand the role they play in achieving it – “We can’t do it without you”

Be visible.
Make sure people know that you are part of the team. Talk to them, understand their challenges, clear the way for them to achieve.

Be verbal.
Praise verbally, regularly, and – where appropriate – publicly.

Value people.
Trust, empower + recognise people.  Ensure that everyone finishes work at the end of the day knowing that they make a difference.

Ongoing conversation

All of this can only be a positive thing, and Wallis believes that technology will continue to drive the personalised approach to performance management that is central to Ricoh’s ‘Vibrant Working’ philosophy. “The future of performance management is when it’s not seen as performance management, just something you do every day. It’ll just be an ongoing conversation, ‘can I give you a quick call, I’ve got this challenge.’ That’ll be when performance management really is performance management,” Wallis added.

With the ‘Great Resignation’ in full swing – recent research by Ipsos shows 47% of British workers have looked for a new job in the last three months or considered quitting – it's never been more important for employers to create a work environment that’s as optimised towards job satisfaction as it is towards output. Indeed, research from the University of Oxford found that happy employees are 13% more productive. It seems, however, as if Ricoh are getting the balance right, and that their person-led, holistic approach to performance management will create a positive environment for their employees and see the company continuing to thrive and grow in today’s challenging economic environment.

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