When executives at Ontario Systems decided to remotely work some employees, talent development manager Kira Childers knew that maintaining strong connections between managers and their immediate employees would be key to making the transition successful. That meant it had to be easier for managers to provide feedback, set clear expectations, and monitor employee engagement.
“In remote or hybrid work environments, you need to be much more conscious of your communications,” says Childers, whose company in Muncie, Ind., Offers enterprise technology systems to give employees feedback or prioritize when they are out of sight. “
Two months after Ontario Systems employees went remotely, Childers introduced a new performance management technology platform from 15Five to address these communication challenges. The platform has a continuous check-in system that allows managers to assess on a weekly or bi-weekly basis how employees are achieving goals and delivering results. That way, they can provide performance feedback and stay up to date on how employees are doing as they adapt to a new hybrid work environment.
“Having the check-in … built into the platform is very useful in a remote environment as it makes it easier for managers to provide feedback to their teams,” said Childers.
These platforms include features like automated nudges that remind managers to log into their direct subordinates, analytics that show managers how they communicated with employees or gave them feedback, tools that make it easier to document one-on-one coaching conversations, and options that allow employees to request and obtain feedback from colleagues after events such as giving a presentation or completing a project.
“Agile performance management technology is useful when we have employees who work from home and in offices in different states,” said Childers. “It enables managers to be better coaches and to keep in touch with their people when everyone is not right next to them.”
Avoidance of “second class citizens”
HR leaders continue to make extensive use of performance management technology with the aim of improving feedback and communication. According to Sapient Insights Group’s 2020-2021 annual HR systems survey, the most widely used talent management applications are in recruiting, performance management, and onboarding, with over 70 percent of respondents using performance management technology.
However, Stacia Garr, co-founder and principal analyst of RedThread Research, a human capital research and advisory firm in Woodside, Calif., Said there are special considerations that companies need to consider when using performance management tools in hybrid or remote work environments.
“There is a lot of research that shows we are biased towards positively evaluating people who are closer to us,” Garr said. “Managers need to be aware that there may be an unconscious bias against employees who only come to the office once a week compared to those who come three or four days a week.”
Managers can help mitigate such biases by making sure they provide regular performance feedback, set clear expectations, and often stay in touch with employees who continue to work from home, Garr said. Technology can make these tasks easier.
David Hassell, CEO and co-founder of 15Five, said that CHROs often warn of the danger of creating “second class citizens” in hybrid work structures. “Human resource managers want to make sure they are level playing field for those who work at home and in the office,” said Hassell.
He added that using tools like dashboards can give managers better insight into the engagement, performance patterns, and wellbeing of remote and in-office workers.
“When you’re in the same physical space, you don’t have to think about your culture as you can tune in to subtle cues and get around by walking around,” said Hassell. “But when you become hybrid and still have remote workers, you need good and regular reporting so that HR and managers can keep track of what is happening to the workforce.”
Garr said technologies like Natural Language Processing (NLP) – when computers understand and analyze text and spoken words – available on some platforms can help improve performance management in hybrid work.
“NLP can give managers insight and raise awareness of the type of written feedback they give to employees,” said Garr. It can also search text for topics or trends that may contain potential bias.
Research shows, for example, that managers are more likely to give behavior-based feedback to women – for example, “Mary, you did a good job making this customer feel good.” On the other hand, men receive more business-oriented and objective feedback such as “Steve, you have yours.” Sales and customer success targets well achieved. “
Hassell said that tools that help create structure and provide impetus can promote consistency in dealing with employees. “Some managers are consistent by nature, others are more creative or intuitive, and often forget to give feedback or set expectations to employees when they are busy,” he said.
“One of the easiest things is to give people structure and remind them to do the right things,” he continued. “We believe in creating organizational habits rather than leaving things to chance, because habits determine results.”
Dave Zielinski is a freelance writer and editor based in Minneapolis.