How to manage performance remotely
With many job functions now being completed from home, HR Grapevine asked the experts how performance should be managed...
There is a risk that performance management goes awry with most of the country currently in an unprecedented work-from-home experiment due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Some managers will still think having visibility of their employees will be enough to ensure they’re on track to succeed. “There’s a significant number who are tracking and measuring [their team] by holding meetings. But the reality is that those meetings are stopping them from doing work,” Brian Kropp, Chief of Human Resources at Gartner, told the Financial Times.
Others might be going in the opposite direction. Instead of using presenteeism as a proxy for good work, not engaging with their direct reports enough – whether it be before a task or project is started, not offering enough support along the way, or refusing to engage in feeback. To unravel what form performance management should take when it has to take place at a distance, HR Grapevine spoke to two experts to find out more.
“One of the key things about performance management is we need to – especially during this time – stop thinking about it in terms of performance management and actually in terms of management management. Performance management done well should just be management.
“Management is making sure people are clear and aligned on their priorities and making sure that’s aligned to what the business needs it to be. It’s supporting them to deliver that and recognising when they do it really well. That is really what management should be about. It’s about setting priorities and deliverables, and supporting them to deliver that and sharing success when they do.
“It should be an ongoing process but I think that during the COVID-19 pandemic with remote working, when we can’t see each other face-to-face, we do need to put proactive effort into the processes that help people to manage effectively.
“I think in the past it’s been seen as a nice-to-have but in the current climate that’s becoming seen as essential – people need to be able to function emotionally and physically – and if they don’t then the organisation isn’t going to be able to deliver what they need to deliver. So it needs to be this dual thing whereby we need people to be able to deliver work and we manage them effectively to be able to do that – and that includes being able to look after their wellbeing too.
“The thing that pulls this together is really good quality conversation and although there are loads of good quality wellbeing tools out there one of the most powerful ones is conversation. We need to make sure they’re structured and tell managers how to have them. We need to make sure they’re booked in and happening – otherwise they won’t happen organically.
“Traditionally performance management is at the backend of the year, but in the current climate that’s definitely not going to work because the speed of change is varying week-on-week. Performance management now needs to be much more regular, frequent and supporting people to deliver.”
“The keys to effective remote performance management are clear task descriptions and explicit conversations. Employees and managers alike are often surprised about how many assumptions they make about how a project should be done. Job and task descriptions are often vague, with managers relying on informal daily interactions to clear up any confusion.
“Remote work makes it harder to watch projects evolve and course correct organically. Therefore, managers and employees must agree upon more detailed definitions of success and identify good milestones for check-ins.
“For example, an employee charged with writing a report might check-in with their manager upon completing 1) initial research, 2) the outline, 3) the first draft, and 4) releasing the report. Planning these check-ins together and in advance of hitting these milestones will help make sure no project veers too far off track and employees don’t feel micromanaged.
“The good news is that this work will still deliver dividends after employees return to the office.”