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Star Interview

Stephen Pierce, Deputy Managing
Director & Chief
HR Officer,
Hitachi Europe


Hitachi’s HR chief on how the firm tackles the “complicated” issue of performance management with flexibility and clear communication...

Words by Liam Soutar

 

Ask a handful of HR leaders what they think defines good performance management, and you’ll likely hear several answers. Some might say a focus on employee training yields the best results, others may say that staff engagement is key, and a fair few might lead on workforce wellbeing as the answer to performance woes. However, what’s clear is that, no matter what approach HR prioritises, consistent and clear communication with employees on an individual level, not just the workforce as a whole, is key. This is backed up by data, too.

According to a 2019 survey from Clear Company, more than half of office professionals want performance reviews with their boss at least once a month, and a whopping 94% of staff would prefer their manager to address mistakes and opportunities to improve in real-time. Despite this, 69% of companies still rely on annual or bi-annual performance reviews, according to the same study.

It’s these statistics that underpin the thinking of Hitachi Europe’s Deputy Managing Director & Chief HR Officer Stephen Pierce, who firmly believes the first step in good performance management is an ever-ongoing process of communication between managers and their employees. In this exclusive interview with myGrapevine magazine, Pierce – a people function veteran with more than three decades of experience – sheds light on what he thinks defines performance management and how he helps the firm to deliver its plans. You’ll also be able to read about the key areas of performance management that Hitachi will be focusing on in the year ahead.

 

CV of Stephen Pierce

 

Experience

 

Deputy Managing Director, Hitachi Europe

Oct 2017 - Present

Chief Human Resources Officer, Hitachi Europe

Oct 2014 - Present

HR Director, Hitachi Europe,

Nov 2008 - Sep 2014

Non-Executive Director, Hitachi Rail Europe

Oct 2014 - Apr 2018

European HR Director, Chesapeake Corporation,

Nov 2004 - Jun 2008

EMEA HR Director, WR GRACE

May 2000 - Oct 2004

HR Controller - Management Development, United Biscuits

Feb 1997 - Mar 2000

HR Manager, United Biscuits

Jul 1992 - Feb 1997

Employee Relations Manager, United Biscuits

Sep 1989 - Jul 1992

Training and education

 

Durham University

1983 - 1986

 
 

Q

What defines good performance management, for you?


A

Good performance management is simply everyone understanding the company direction and their role in supporting it with clear objectives and regular discussions on how things are going. Those discussions should identify what’s going well, what needs to change and what support is needed. In my view good performance management is not a form or an event but it is an ongoing process of communication between managers and their team members.

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“Hitachi has a well-established performance management process with the real value coming from managers talking with their staff individually on a regular basis”

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Q

How can you tell when your approach is working, and how do you identify areas for improvement?


A

Performance management can be complicated, because people are complicated. There can be a lack of clarity or ambiguity around objectives or external factors that make delivery of performance more difficult. Covid-19 has been a really good example of this, as it has brought challenges because everyone has been affected in some way by the pandemic. Regular discussions on performance can pick up issues at an early stage, and allow discussion on what actions are needed. Covid-19 has shown we have to recognise individual needs and wellbeing as essential parts of managing performance, and we need to have authentic conversations which take a wider view rather than just focussing on objectives.

 

A bit about Stephen Pierce

 

Can you tell us a little bit about your journey in HR?

I began my HR career in the food industry as a graduate trainee and worked in manufacturing sites before moving to head office roles. I then became European HR Director of a couple of US companies before joining Hitachi Europe in 2008 as HR Director. I am now Deputy Managing Director and Chief HR Officer which gives me a great opportunity to interact across all Hitachi businesses in Europe from Rail to Energy, and IT to Automotive systems. One constant in my HR journey has been a desire to learn including about the function, the business, best practices and what we can do differently or better as a function to increase our impact and contribution.

What are you most proud of achieving over the past few years?

I have always been most proud of my team and all they have achieved. The best thing a manager can do is to find great people and then support and enable them to do their roles effectively and I have always aimed to do that and have been fortunate to work with very talented people. I am also proud of all we have achieved as a team through the Covid-19 pandemic as HR has been at the centre of the storm which stretched everyone more than ever before but they delivered extraordinary performance to meet the challenges and emerge stronger from the experience.

What do you consider to be the most important part of your role?

I consider myself a business leader first and an HR leader second. The most important part of my role is working with the Managing Director, my senior colleagues and my team on developing and leading the business which provides continual opportunity and challenge. I have a passion for people and my greatest satisfaction is in seeing them succeed in their roles as well as in the smaller things at work. I've worked in HR for 35 years and I've always found that if you have a passion for people and their success then you will never reach the end of the interest and challenge.

 
 
 

Q

How does Hitachi deliver its performance management plans?


A

Hitachi has a well-established performance management process, with the real value coming from managers talking with their staff individually on a regular basis. I recommend everyone schedules regular calls with their team for at least an hour every month to catch up on how things are going, what have been the recent successes and issues, what has been learned, and also to discuss how the manager can support and what development and learning interventions may be needed. These conversations are also a great chance to talk about how they are, and during Covid-19 this has been really important to check-in on how people are doing rather than what they are doing. A strong focus on wellbeing and supporting staff through tough times brings huge benefits in engagement and retention, and recognises that relationships between employees and their employers really comes down to those they work for and work with.

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"We need to have authentic conversations which take a wider view rather than just focusing on objectives"

 
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Q

Are there any specific successes in these areas that you can highlight?


A

We have focused on staying connected with our staff through the pandemic when everyone has been working remotely. We all know that this has been a tough time and it has been really important to communicate continually, and recognise that flexibility is more important than in the past. The pandemic has meant that we have not been in the same place as often, which has brought performance management challenges. And with hybrid working arrangements in the future, we need to recognise that trusting our staff to do the right thing continues to be important, and then to manage any issues by exception. We also need to ensure we stay in touch virtually as well as when we are in the office together so we continue to be aligned with clear direction and feedback. These are new challenges for many managers and we need to keep working on it.

Q

Are there any key areas of performance management that Hitachi will be prioritising in the year ahead?


A

As we emerge from the pandemic, our focus will be on performance management in the hybrid world. Our new ways of hybrid working are uncharted territory, so we need to decide how to ensure successful delivery of performance when we are splitting out time between office and remote working. What are best ways to discuss performance and how is this different from before and during the pandemic? Are different development interventions needed for this way of working? How do we deliver development if we are not travelling as much or in the office as much as before? In my opinion this is a key requirement for future success because it will create a culture which attracts and retains talent and engages everyone if we get it right!

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Hear from Stephen Pierce at HRGV Live 2022, featuring two days of virtual insight, discussion, and peer-led learning.

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