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Another year has begun in earnest. Have you gotten all your strategies and processes in place to maximize employee productivity in 2017?

In 2015 and 2016, the business world witnessed a growing trend in which some of the largest and most successful companies shifted their performance management strategies away from strict reliance on annual reviews. Reviews are either being completely abandoned or are being integrated into a holistic management strategy that includes weekly real-time feedback designed to positively influence performance. The route a company chooses to take depends on company culture and the specific HR or management model in place.

Making performance management work

This change comes at a time when companies are struggling with a shifting demographic and challenges with employee engagement and performance. Think about it: how often do your employees work more than 40 hours each week, without actually making a significant difference in revenue or hitting other goals?

Working hard without direction or benchmarking can be a waste of time. You need a strategy and January is an ideal time to implement it. In his best-selling book, Mastering the Rockefeller Habits, Verne Harnish – “the guru of fast growth companies” – recommends three behaviors that businesses leaders should embrace to scale and become more successful: set priorities, collect and analyze data, and communicate early and often.

1. Set priorities

What is more important – the hundreds of things that you do every week to keep your business running or the handful of targeted tasks that really move your business forward? These two paths are distinguished as working in your business versus working on your business. Both are critical, but in many businesses the important goals are often subsumed by the whirlwind of tasks.

You have to set priorities or you will always be putting out fires and fighting to survive instead of thriving. To accomplish this at my startup, 15Five, we use a process called Objectives and Key Results (OKRs). Here’s how it works:

  1. The company establishes 3-5 top priorities for the year and for each quarter.
  2. Each department and individual employee creates objectives that are in-line with the company-wide priorities.
  3. Employees work with managers to set 3-5 objectives and corresponding key results that are aligned with team and company objectives.
  4. Every employee has measurable results that are tracked and updated each week. This could be a percentage rise in certain KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) or completing a project by a set date.
  5. Employees regularly update their performance statistics so that management can see the performance of individuals, teams, and the entire organization at a glance.
  6. Managers implement a rhythm of feedback and meetings that maintain alignment and accountability.

Transparency in priorities enhances accountability and facilitates performance management

Make OKRs transparent throughout the company so that everyone sees the bigger picture and can hold each other accountable. Employees evaluate (score) their key results at the end of each quarter. Targets set by your company should typically be between 60-70% completion.These goals are meant to be aspirational and while quarterly objectives will likely not be reached, everyone gains valuable insights from failed OKRs. They in essence become learning lessons for the company to improve future performance.

OKRs are not a to-do list. Allow people to fail at them since OKR performance is not tied to annual reviews, compensation, or bonuses. At the end of the quarter everyone debriefs and learns from the failures. Managers and employees all learn how to set better objectives for the upcoming quarter.

Everyone at the company must hold themselves accountable to achieve these clearly articulated goals. Employee and managers alike must be able to measure performance, which means it’s time to look at the numbers.

2. Collect and analyze data

As Harnish suggests, the second behavior is to have sufficient data to provide insights at least every week, along with key performance metrics for each employee. Managers and executives can utilize technology that can automate this process:

  • Ask employees metrics-based questions every week. Everything from how they feel to how many times they meet with another employee for lunch or a drink is an option.
  • Have employees identify their top 3 goals for the upcoming week and mark them complete or incomplete after 7 days.
  • Circulate a culture survey to see if people are still aligned with the company’s core values.
  • Aggregate the data to isolate trends among individual employees, teams, and the entire company. Managers can focus their efforts in response to what they learn.

Of course, the quantitative data by itself only provides half the picture. Communicating with employees on a regular basis allows for trusting relationships to develop between managers and employees. These conversations provide context so that managers can see how much support to offer. Employees can then experience the excitement of creative and intellectual challenges, without the stress that accompanies overwork and overwhelm.

3. Communicate early and often

Few of us like meetings, but setting priorities and collecting data are worthless unless you establish a rhythm of feedback to maintain alignment and accountability. This means a communication rhythm of effective weekly check-ins, bi-monthly or monthly one-on-ones, and quarterly meetings.

My friend, Kyle Porter, founder and CEO at SalesLoft, has experienced unprecedented growth by being intentional with his meeting strategy. Here are the five meetings that he recommends to keep people aligned and connected.

  1. Daily Scrums.
    Each team has a 10 minute standup where employees discuss what happened yesterday, what’s happening today, and any roadblocks they are facing.
  2. One on Ones.
    Schedule 30 minutes with every employee each week and follow through. Emails back and forth are inefficient and can end up costing managers even more time than the one-on-one would have.
  3. Weekly Tactical.
    The leadership team comes together to discuss highlights, lowlights, and metrics. Each leader also discusses the most important thing they’re working on, shares how they’re trying to solve it, and opens up the topic for dialogue.
  4. Monthly Breakfast.
    This company-wide meeting is used for status updates, and the co-founders end with a transparent ask me anything session.
  5. Quarterly Offsite.
    A change of scenery can help people stay focused, encourages creativity, and is a great way to bring remote teams together.

Communication provides context to your data so that when employees and teams fall off target, managers have a method for discovering why. Holding efficient meetings at the right cadence is the most vital element for creating growth.

2017: The year of peak employee performance

So now that you have the philosophy and strategy in place, how will you implement them at your company? The best part of 2017 is that there is no shortage of technology available for employee performance management. Whether you want to track weekly goals, manage your team’s objectives or transform your meeting experience, there are, indeed, apps for all that. However, technology will only work if you have an overarching philosophy to manage your people and a strategy to follow-through.

Most of all you need a team of dedicated managers who believe in the priorities you set and know that communication is the key to success.

Which of these practices resonate with you and are you ready to start implementing? Let us know in the comments section below or tweet me @dhassell!

David Hassell

David Hassell is a serial entrepreneur and currently the CEO of 15Five, performance management software that allows businesses to maximize their talent by creating a culture of feedback. Through a lightweight weekly check-in, 15Five delivers a full suite of integrated tools - including continuous employee feedback, objective tracking (OKRs), pulse surveys, and peer recognition. To learn more, visit https://www.15five.com/.

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