Human Capital Foundations: 3 Components - Part 2

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At the end of HC Foundations, Part 1 I left you with a couple of big questions:  What’s  next  for a business that has established a strong human capital foundation (alignment with the business, critical assets in place and an employer value proposition)? And, where should human capital leaders focus their attention next in order to foster world-class talent and stay ahead of the evolving workforce?

A strong human capital foundation is what sets the stage for a business to withstand and evolve with the changing needs of a dynamic workforce, but it is not what drives high performance over time.

The key to sustained and robust employee performance, something every business wants, is a strong culture of feedback. Does your organization have it? Are employees getting the genuine input and guidance they need to achieve and grow? This blog is dedicated to that “next” essential phase of improving human capital management: driving performance. It’s an opportunity to assess the strength of your current performance feedback mechanisms at the beginning of a New Year and take advantage of three strategies for creating a culture of feedback for high performance.

Feedback Starts with Expectations

One place to start assessing your company’s performance feedback is to look at where expectations are first set. Is it through job descriptions? For some businesses, job descriptions are merely a necessary evil in human capital paperwork. They are a list of skills, experience, and duties that HR departments ‘check the box’ on and use to post open job positions at the start of the hiring process. Most job descriptions focus on the prior years of experience needed to get a job, but rarely do they outline the milestones and achievements that define success in a role. Do your employees have job descriptions that list tasks, or are they using job descriptions as a tool to offer an understanding of what is expected of their ongoing performance?

The answers to these questions are important because job descriptions are often the starting point of the expectation setting and performance feedback process between employees and managers. However, job descriptions should not be the only method for setting expectations. Managers take this process further. They articulate a job beyond its task list of ‘essential duties’ and provide employees with examples of the performance, behavior, and success expected in the role. When managers do this, the expectation-setting process becomes as dynamic as the work that is done.

They might connect weekly, if not more frequently, with their employees to talk about what is expected, what is going well, and where there is opportunity, which can be a very effective practice when done regularly and consistently.

Analyze Your Approach

Take a critical look at how job expectations are currently established and communicated with your employees. Do you use job centralized job descriptions? Do your job descriptions outline success criteria? Are managers in charge of establishing, articulating and updating expectations? Do managers offer continued communication and clear guide posts to usher employees toward higher performance?

If expectations are clearly established, it’s also important to make sure they are being communicated in a manner that offers employees the opportunity to engage and clarify. Many employees will tell you they don’t have clear-cut expectations for their workplace performance and results. Meanwhile, most managers feel like they know and communicate their expectations to employees. It’s a common disconnect in workplaces worldwide, and it underscores the importance of both setting expectations and ensuring they are known, heard, repeated and retained.

Three Ways to Cultivate a Culture of Feedback

The real performance-driving power is a company’s culture, which means the business culture needs to be one that embraces and promotes consistent and ongoing performance feedback. This year, for example, Novo Group is moving away from a traditional annual performance review as a way to increase the consistency and frequency of feedback. The new approach will put into place performance review “snapshots,” which will coincide with the conclusion of client projects. At the end of each project, performance will be assessed and new expectations will be set – or current expectations reinforced – for future work. At the same time, employees will receive insight on their behaviors and interactions and how that impacted the client experience throughout that particular project.

The goal is to foster regular performance assessments and expectation-setting efforts companywide in order to put more emphasis on establishing, measuring and meeting (or exceeding) performance goals. These continuous and more frequent reviews will dramatically increase the amount of feedback and recognition employees are getting across the organization and strengthen Novo Group’s culture of feedback. This shift aligns with how Novo Group does business. However, you don’t have to go for a full transformation to make valuable changes around performance feedback. In fact, there are several ways a business can foster a culture of feedback. Here are three:

#1 Ensure Expectations Are Known

It’s not enough to tell employees their job expectations on day one and leave them to their own devices for months or years on end. A culture of feedback demands intention, knowledge and engagement. Find out how (or if) employees are learning their performance expectations and how and when they are adjusted for business, client, personnel and market changes. If employees aren’t clear on expectations, this is the chance for managers to set a new standard and look at what forms and frequencies of communication expectations will work best for your business.

#2 Adjust the Review Process (If Needed!)

Does your performance review process align with how your employees work? Many businesses are finding that with new generations coming into the workplace and the shift in how work is done, annual or semiannual reviews are no longer effective at driving better performance. More frequent and shorter reviews are starting to replace traditional, intensive annual efforts. The key to success here is to adjust the review process to meet the needs of your unique business, workforce and industry. For some organizations, an annual review may still be the right approach but it might need to include feedback from multiple managers or include team reviews. Identify what’s working and whether reviews are doing their most important job: helping employees do their jobs better.

#3 Recognize and Celebrate Performance Excellence

What’s the point of all that hard work if no one is going to acknowledge and celebrate it? Ensure your business is using the feedback process to spread the good news and achievements of its employees. Managers and employees will be more engaged expectation setting and the work it takes to drive greater performance when they and their teams are recognized for their work.

It works!

As a manager myself, I can tell you that a strong culture of feedback is a powerful management tool. I also recognize that it takes time, focus, and energy as a manager to integrate this mode of feedback every day. But in the end, employees who know and understand their performance expectations are often more open to input, eager to achieve and better equipped to communicate the challenges they face. If you want a dynamic, high- achieving workforce, tell them what you want with clear performance expectations and watch what happens.

Talented, focused people with clear expectations are a force to be reckoned with a high-performing force.