“Why would you ever want to be in a place where you can’t thrive?” asked Jamie Aitken near the close of our conversation. It’s a good question. We contemplated many on this episode of the video podcast, Jamie’s second appearance on #HRTechChat. As vice president of HR Transformation at Betterworks, she’s party to (and helps lead) many discussions with employers looking to modernize their approach to, and related software for, promoting employee engagement and measuring and improving employees’ performance.
“Why Modern Organizations Need Modern Performance Management and How to Get There” is the unofficial title that Jamie and I gave our chat. Continuing on the theme we covered last time, of moving from operational to strategic HR, this latest conversation of ours closely examined just why performance matters. We landed on employee engagement, retention and the high costs associated with disengaged employees, as well as modern performance enablement’s criticality during times of economic uncertainty.
As Jamie explained, in the voice of the hypothetical disaffected employee most of us know, “Think about times where you’ve been in an environment where you thrived, and other environments where you were thwarted: ‘I’m in a relationship with my boss and work environment. I’m not getting clear direction on what I need to do. I’m not getting an idea that my manager has my back, and there’s no trust that they’re going to help me through any challenges.'”
A modern approach to performance management should anticipate these potential roadblocks to optimal productivity and embed them into the process of improving matters. It’s part of the essence of modern performance enablement. The alternative, the old way of the clunky, process-heavy, administration-laden annual review, is counterproductive and has the potential to alienate employees and hurt the employer culture.
Jamie continued in channeling the all-too-real-for-most-of-us hypothetical: “Even if I stay, I’m going to be second guessing myself. I’m not going to feel recognized. So I’ll be demoralized. I’m not going to bring my full sense of self to the job. Everybody can tell a story about each of those experiences within their career.”
Importantly, modern performance enablement occurs within the flow of work, and here is where advancements in modern technology come into play. It is now possible for an employer to deploy solutions that will capture, wherever it happens, anything relevant to employee performance.
For example, perhaps an exchange occurred via MS Outlook or Slack. Perhaps the contents of this exchange are germane to a more regular cadence of performance-related conversations. The state of the art in software for employee performance enablement will capture the exchange for posterity, in turn removing the points of friction that have for years impeded managers’ ability to interact with their direct reports with a natural cadence that reflects the reality of project work (which almost never follows annual timelines).
The ultimate goal is to greatly increase the frequency with which managers and staff discuss performance, because “frequency builds competency,” as Jamie put it. I want to thank her for being my guest again. Anyone interested in hearing about the benefits of modern performance enablement and the dangers of failing to embrace it will find something interesting in this episode.
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Brent Skinner 00:00
Well, hello, everybody, and welcome to this episode of #HRTechChat, the video podcast. With me today we have a guest who has with us before previously for another episode and in late 2022, and is Jamie Aitken of Betterworks, where she is VP of HR transformation. Welcome.
Jamie Aitken 00:21
Thanks, Brent. Great to be back in chatting with you again.
Brent Skinner 00:24
Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. We had a really great conversation last time. And we’ll put a link to that one in this one when it does go live. But Betterworks does, you know, performance, I hesitate to say management performance enablement, you know, this new progressive type of modern approach to performance management, which is called performance enablement. And, and we’re here today to kind of talk about, you know, why modern organizations need modern performance management and how to get there. So maybe we could start off with something pretty, you know, fundamental just to kind of give our viewers their bearings, what is modern performance management? How does it differ from, you know, the old ways that conventional traditional approaches?
Jamie Aitken 01:16
Okay, well, let’s start with the traditional approach that’s, you know, over 100 years old, invented by the US military to manage performance. And, and, you know, as, as you know, I’ve been in HR her my entire career, 25 plus years. And that is, has been the norm for many, many organizations for a very long time. And we started to see it shift a little while ago. But I think the pace of it of that shift to performance enablement, is certainly speeding up. So let’s, let’s go back to traditional performance management, which is classically a twice a year, you know, you have your, you set your goals, your career goals up at the front of the year with your manager, you might have a mid year review, where you’re talking about either just specifically your career goals, or a little bit of both. And then you have that year end, plus new year, where you’re talking about what you’ve done for the past year. So there’s, there’s a bunch of problems with that, as far as we see, first of all, the idea that if you establish a goal in January, that that is maybe going to be the only thing you’re focusing on throughout the 12 months, is I think, you know, I think it could pretty much say prompt, certainly over the last two, three years, I don’t know that any of us have been able to come about kind of stability there, you know, the world’s changed fast organizations need the agility to pivot. And also projects themselves can last one month, three months, five months, they don’t last the whole year. So the idea that you know, you have you set it and forget it at the beginning of the year. And then at the end of the year, your manager looks at you and says, Okay, let’s talk about that goal that may or may not be relevant to what you’ve been working on throughout the year, because we’ve had to adjust. And also, I’m going to try as best as I can, as your manager to remember all of the strengths that you brought to the table, all of the obstacles you were over to overcome? Probably not they’re probably, you know, you’re probably thinking, you know, maybe two, three months behind if that’s so there’s, it’s laden with the recency bias. I’m so and the notion of how were HR plays in this in a traditional way. Because, and I’ve been in this situation where entire HR teams spend the time at the end of the year, their goal is, did we complete the process did didn’t how many? How many performance reviews for completed, how many development plans were completed, and that’s the metrics that they were going with, again, very compliance focused, you know, HR as a police in literally chasing, I worked with one organization where for, you know, the last two weeks before the process ended, they were literally going from office to office collecting manual paper docs of you know, so that they could then check off the box that yes, it’s completely the best old school. Right. And, by the way, that the Reacher’s research has been telling us for years, it doesn’t actually affect performance in any significant way. It just ends up in making everybody agitated and demoralized managers and employees alike. Right. So that’s the old way. And
Brent Skinner 05:08
the check for a second before we talk about. I learned something today. I did not. Unless I forgot someone told me previously, I didn’t know it was actually developed by the US military,
Jamie Aitken 05:20
huh? Yeah, we write about it in the book, the CEO, and I dug down a line, and I just wrote a book about it. And we have a whole section on, you know, where this came from. So if you imagine the mindset of that, right, yeah. As opposed to what we’re, well, what we’re talking about is as it relates to performance, which is performance enablement. So not I’m going to micromanage you, I’m assuming that it’s a hierarchical top down kind of manage that human resources in an organization. But rather, if we’ve been putting on posters for the billion years and annual reports that people are our most important assets, then why can’t we make the jump to say, well, if they’re our most important assets, let’s spend a year having multiple conversations about what they’re working on what they’re trying to achieve? Is it still aligned? If so, fantastic? How can I, as your boss help get rid of anything that’s getting in the way of you achieving that, by the way? What is it that you as an individual want to accomplish in your own career and your own development? And how can I help you get those resources? So it’s a completely different mindset that comes into play, which is much more engaging for employees. And for managers, the manager experience now goes from something I have to do to I’m actually giving support to have a high performing team to each member of my team. So massive difference. Yeah. And what why is it important that we should be doing it? Well, I mean, if you think about it better engaged employees, stronger, capable, competent managers, you know, being able to have the coaching sessions that they need to, to being able to have those frequent conversations. And you know, one other point on this before, before I finish off on this, you know, one of the questions I get when it gets to continuous performance management is from a manager experience, oh, gosh, wait a minute, you’re telling me that I need to have more conversations and more feedback. And what we’re not saying is it’s that burdensome tax that the old way of doing it is this is very lightweight, it’s in the flow of work. It is. It’s not something that is considered a tax to the employees or the managers. In fact, the opposite.
Brent Skinner 07:59
Yeah, I’m glad you said that. Because, you know, it’s this isn’t about shoehorning it into the process or forcing it into things. It’s, it’s about actually. Well, I know, we want to talk about this to this idea of reducing friction. Right? In the workplace. Yeah. And how you can reduce friction in the performance assessment, process by bait, I guess, by making it more about enablement, and, and about frequent conversations again, again, in the flow of work. Couple of things that just pop out for me, you know, just kind of echo or sort of underscore a couple of things that you said he absolutely right, is I’ve thought about this, that we have this tendency or this inclination to think about things and annual, you know, annual cadence, right? Oh, it just makes sense. You know, at first blush, he said, Yeah, we should do it every year, you know, once a year, or, you know, and maybe, even maybe there’s a thinking that well, you know, this is just the performance, you know, a review, you know, this isn’t, you know, obviously, the manager and their direct reports are having, you know, multiple conversations over the course of the year with their projects and all that. But, but so, you know, on the surface, there’s a thin veneer of, you know, of, of intuitiveness, I think, when you think about sort of the annual review that old performance management process, but when you dig in a little bit more, it’s actually very counterintuitive and counterproductive. So
Jamie Aitken 09:43
I mean, just think about just let’s forget about it as an HR process now and think about it just in terms of the relationships you have as a human with other humans, whether it be your partner, whether it be your sibling, do you actually sit down once a year and have a review of your and your interactions? You give a review of the health of that. Right? Like, it doesn’t make sense. It’s not how humans interact.
Brent Skinner 10:09
Yeah, no, it’s not. Absolutely. You know, what’s funny also is, it’s a source. It’s almost as if the technology that’s existed up till recently, when I say recently, in the past few short years, that technology is almost sort of been a factor in our, in our annualized thinking around performance management, there’s, there’s better technology now that enables frequent sort of effortless frictionless interaction that did not exist previously. And so there was there wasn’t really a way from a technological standpoint, and certainly not from a paper pushing standpoint, to support this, this modern, progressive approach to performance enablement?
Jamie Aitken 11:03
Well, I mean, I’ll say, as an early adopter of, of cloud technology around us, frankly, I don’t know, even if there was a buying inclination to, to challenge what the process was, at that point, we were such, so thrilled that we could take a very heavy manual process and when I mean manual, I mean, you know, print out a form, fill it in, we were just absolutely wowed by the idea that that could now be done in the cloud. That’s, that was huge. So I don’t know, x, h, R, or the organizations that were looking at those solutions at the time, were demanding that they be anything other than the transformation then was take their existing process and digitize it. And that was a leap, that was a big leap. But of course, there’s been a lot of things that have happened since those early days that have I think, pushed the innovation envelope, and I would I would call out Adobe, in particular is one of the first to really make a bold step to say, you know, what this, this is, this process is stupid, let’s slow it up and make it something more, more humane. And, and in the flow of work. And I think the in the flow of work is certainly an element that Betterworks has a differentiation, which is, you know, in a nutshell, because I think I’ve been in the flow of work in a bunch of different ways. From a technology perspective, it’s the idea that I don’t have to go from where I am in my job, ie if I’m in Outlook, or teams, or whatever the case may be, pull myself out of that shift over log into a separate portal, where I go and do my HR stuff, right. So that’s the old way. And now it’s you know, now that’s there’s an, you know, now that that that is now in the flow of work, meaning I can do all of the work that I need to in terms of, you know, feedback recognition, looking at my goals, etc. Where I am Outlook, Gmail, Gmail, whatever, so that from a tech perspective, that’s a good thing. But I think also, it’s the, so removing the friction in that process is good. But I think the other element to it is kind of what we were talking about before, which is there’s also friction in the process, if I’m only meeting with you once or twice a year for this performance discussion, right? Because I’m not going to be, it’s not like I’m going to be clicking my heels with excitement that I know that that conversation is coming up, if you Brent are my manager, right, like I’m gonna have some trepidation, which creates friction. And there might be some awkwardness because we’re not doing it frequently enough for it to be a natural, a natural trust based conversation. Yeah, yeah. So the flow of work is two things for me. Being a friction, apologies,
Brent Skinner 14:08
you know, that makes a lot of sense. You’re absolutely correct. And the thing from the technological side, the real innovation, at least from the outside looking in, to me, seems to be that ability of the of the software to capture what’s happening, no matter where it’s occurring elsewhere in that, that, that employers take a look at software ecosystem, you know, whether it’s, you know, office 365, or maybe in I don’t know, Slack, or I’m just throwing some stuff out there.
Jamie Aitken 14:39
Salesforce Dev, try asking a salesperson who is really you know, very singularly focused on you know, doing their job in sales, ask them to double update their goals in a separate portal, when in fact, you know, you’re updating in Salesforce, which is where you live as a salesperson and it’s going to automatically be captured. And then the other piece to it too, which I think is a big shift is that the idea of feedback and recognition is now expanding rapidly to not just, I want to hear what you’ve read, my boss has to say, but I also want to get feedback from people on collaborating on projects with, or perhaps, you know, another manager that was running a project that I was on, I want to get that feedback too, I want to be able to get that so that I can grow in my career. And I want the ability to do shout outs, I want to be able to give recognition and get recognition and not just from one other person in my organization. No offense grant, but you know, I’m here with your just my manager, I want to hear from a bunch of people, because I’m keenly interested in that. And we know, in particular, for the younger generations, feedback is a very important aspect.
Brent Skinner 16:00
Well, it’s a dopamine hit to, you know, a positive one, you know, and so, to be able to make that as possible, as possible as possible as possible. is a good thing. You know, thinking about hrs role, right. And, you know, being able to kind of transform HR, in a sense, we hear a lot about moving from operational to strategic HCM. And in the parlance of 360 insights here at our firm, we talk about concrete and abstract HCM, sort of the transactional, highly measurable, quantifiable stuff that can be automated versus that more aspirational, inspirational stuff, such as employee sentiment employee, having an impact on that optimizing the play experience, building an employer culture, and ultimately a powerful employer brand. How does modern performance management support this progression from operational to strategic HCM or however someone wants to characterize those two things?
Jamie Aitken 17:13
Well, if you think about, if you think about HR and use the example that I mentioned before, about people that you know, in HR, physically running around different office spaces, looking for paper forms, and collecting them and sticking them in, you know, cabinet someplace where they’ll never be seen again, right, you know, if that’s, you’re not going to have the opportunity to be strategic, if you are doing that kind of work. Like there’s just only so many hours in the day. And so that transactional stuff, as you start moving with technology away from that transactional stuff, you have that you have the room, you have the breathing room to actually start making correlations on by the way more data than you had before. Because before I was just looking at PMP completion. Well, what does that tell you? Does it tell you anything at all about? You know, did it affect performance? How’s employee engagement? You know, like any of that stuff? No, it doesn’t. How good are managers at coaching our team doesn’t give us any of that insight. But by doing it more frequently, by doing it more frequently, you’re gonna have more data, you’re gonna have more ability to support the organization from an HR partner perspective strategically, by saying, oops, you know, what, there’s, there’s parts of our organization that are really, you know, doing a great job at enabling performance, but there’s others that are falling short, how do we then strategically support that part of the organization so that we can actually help performance in those areas? This to me is an ultimately a found is that performance start correlating with business’s performance, right, that is the realm of strategic HR.
Brent Skinner 19:07
Yeah, yeah, absolutely spot on, on that, to me, strategic HR is about having, having access to combinable data that’s in that’s, that’s current and easily, you know, easily accessible. Being able to make sense of that, translate it into, you know, information or interpret it for us for organizational leadership. So that HR is seen as strategic right. HR just doesn’t think of itself as strategic but that it is strategic. And then also being able to having the, the wherewithal because of that information at your disposal to be a coach to be a an a mentor and a partner to any line manager anywhere. Yeah, yeah, exactly.
Jamie Aitken 19:59
I think That’s a really critical part as well, because what I’m seeing more and more and more is the whole notion of, and we’ve been talking about employee experience for a while now. And I think we’re doing a good job of focusing on that. And what’s now coming up is the manager experience. And specifically, when you think about how critical a role managers have to play, as it relates to this topic and process, the idea that they are magically going to become better managers of their talent, right talent managers, that they’re immediately going to become better coaches is a fallacy, you need to be able to build it over time. And I like to say, frequency, creates competency with the idea that if you’re doing it often enough, you’re going to get better at it. But you also have to have a strategic HR person who’s going to coach you as a as a coach, right, that builds up that manager experience so that they feel comfortable and confident going into these conversations and feedback discussions with their employees and giving really valuable feedback, right, not just a check in the box, it’s a completely different mindset.
Brent Skinner 21:20
Yeah, it is. And you know, you’re absolutely right, just kind of throwing this in front of a manager and expecting them to become, you know, a leader, right, or to become a better manager. As you know, that’s, that’s leaving a lot to chance. But you are giving them a much greater chance of becoming a better manager, if they have these tools before them. That’s, that’s what’s really, that that that’s, to me is sort of the duality of that, or that might not be the right word, but we’ll go with it anyway. Is, yeah. Yeah, we have this, this, this, this ability to, there was no way with the old with the old process, the old conventional or traditional approach to performance review, there was no way that that was in any way going to facilitate or cultivate better leaders. Right.
Jamie Aitken 22:16
Right. And this way, you’re actually the mind, one of the mindset changes is as a manager, it is my job to coach support and enable my team members, as opposed to HR made me do it to be blunt, right. And so what you’re doing is you’re optimizing that capability within your organization. And by optimizing it, you’re optimizing the performance of those teams, period.
Brent Skinner 22:46
Jamie Aitken 22:47
Why we haven’t been doing this, I don’t know that we’re doing it now. And I think a lot of HR people are excited about it as well. It’s just, you know, it’s, it’s, it takes a minute, it takes a minute. And we, we spend a lot of time around the change management aspects. Because transformation requires a lot of change, and sustainability and sustainment in there in the adoption. So this isn’t, like I said, this isn’t, you know, you flip the switch and everything magically happens. You need to be committed to this, but I think I’m not talking that it takes a decade or does it’s not like it’s a long, long journey. But don’t mistake that your Go Live is actually going to magically make everything change. You need to be very thoughtful about how you introduce that change over time so that people feel comfortable and you know, and not overwhelmed.
Brent Skinner 23:48
To me, it’s a way you’re absolutely right. And to me the word the word is intentionality. You know, if HR approaches it with intentionality, then there’s, there’s a, there’s a snowball’s chance in, you know, where for two more than that, for it to work out, in this actually goes to a broader concept of HR having, you know, retaining and strengthening its influence. I’d say forging, retaining and strengthening its influence over the employee experience, right? Because it’s not, it’s certainly not written in stone, you know, it’s not carved in granite that HR necessarily must, you know, by design innately have a role in the employee experience, I think HR needs to kind of stretch a little bit and make sure that it does, it can have absolutely a very intuitive, helpful facilitative role in it. And to me, modern performance, enablement is one of those, one of those conduits for that
Jamie Aitken 25:00
Well, I mean, yeah, I completely agree with you. Because at the end of the day me walking into the board with, and I’ll use the same example, if I, if I walk into a board with a presentation that says, By the way, we had 98% completion on our performance management process this year on all documentation is done. It’s a pretty short conversation, right? Yeah. And they probably won’t give me a slot on the next agenda. If I can go into that same board and say, here’s what we’re seeing, we’re seeing that because of our work and performance enablement, our engagement levels have gone up, our employees are actually saying that they’re willing to go above and beyond in some cases, and that they understand the connection and the contribution that they’re having to the business objectives. And they understand that alignment, and by the way, productivity is going up. And here are the areas where we’ve discovered that maybe we need to spend a little bit more time, because it’s having we see opportunities where we could help increase performance and productivity in a particular division. If we spent a little bit more time there. I’m pretty sure we’d be invited to another meeting.
Brent Skinner 26:18
Yeah. Another example, you know, there might be a way for us to avert a potential, you know, exodus of staff in this particular division over here, you know, if we do X, Y, and Z right now, this is what we I prophesize. That sort of stuff in this actually is a great segue into this idea that, you know, there are strategic benefits to the organization of having a modern approach to performance, goal management or enablement, whatever you want to call it in you describes a number of them, you know, increased productivity, greater employee engagement, greater employee satisfaction, all awesome. All a lot of these things are, you know, they don’t necessarily, you can’t draw like, you can’t trace a line from them to a greater bottom line to an increase in the bottom line. But I hope
Jamie Aitken 27:13
we get there, I hope. Yeah. I really do. Try to
Brent Skinner 27:17
argue against that, though. I mean, you know, you have to be crazy. What are some of this? What are some of the strategic costs or losses for an organization that fails to that just doesn’t take it seriously to modernize its approach to performance?
Jamie Aitken 27:34
Well, you know, I mean, I think we’ve been talking in the news, everybody’s talking about, you know, this notion, while quiet quitting is kind of calmed down a bit. But you know, all this notion that you’re not, you’re not really there’s, there’s retention issues, with the way that we’re doing things now. Right, that there’s retention issue. So attrition is a cost, it’s a big cost. I think we’re actually gonna get to the point where employees during their interviews are going to be asking the question, how do you manage my performance, and they’re going to be voting with their feet? If they hear an answer, like, uh, we don’t we don’t do the traditional approach. Here’s what you can expect, you can expect quarterly or monthly conversations with your manager and others around, you know, your career path, and you’re going to be able to see your alignment with what they were going to you get the drift here. Yeah, I think I think we’re going to get to the point where employees are going to be expecting that and not are choosing not to work in places that don’t support them that way.
Brent Skinner 28:45
I think you’re absolutely correct about that. And it’s really interesting, you think about the way to me, this is this is intriguing how modern performance management, for instance, it’s really a factor in sort of swiping away this or knocking me knocking down the silos of, you know, sort of the conventional, traditional, you know, domains of talent management, you have performance management, you have learning, and learning and career development. Yeah, maybe compensation, management, succession planning, these sorts of things. You brought, you mentioned career development, you know, it’s really tough to have these frequent conversations around performance without talking about career development without talking about learning without talking about, you know, compensation, maybe even but, but also, you know, promotions, you know, are like, What is my career path, what, what’s internal hiring look like? And, and so, this, this feeds into my you know, and I’m certainly not the only one, but this is my idea that, you know, it occurred to me that it’s all kind of becoming talent management, if you even want to call it that it’s all becoming one thing. It’s no longer the sum of its parts. It’s all one thing. It’s happening very fluidly all at once holistically.
Jamie Aitken 30:08
Totally. I mean, I remember having this discussion, Gosh, 15 years ago, we were talking about the manager experience around performance management and succession. And my argument to the room of HR people is you understand that for the eight for the manager, it’s the same conversation, we’ve just put a silo into it that says, this is where this process starts, when they finish it. But managers actually thinking about how do I think about high performers? And you know, how do I think about intent to, you know, risk, risk of loss, and all of the thinking about that at a different time they the walls are, are blurred around that, you know, and here’s an interesting thing to grant, I’ve been having a bunch of conversations over the last month or so. And I sort of set the environment, you the scenario of think about times where you’ve been in an environment where you thrived, and other environments where you were thwarted. Number one, I just like the word forte, but like, I immediately know what, where I go with it. And you know, where, if I, if I’m in a relationship, in a relationship with my boss and work environment where I don’t know, you know, I’m not getting clear direction on what I need to do a not getting an idea that my manager has my back, and that there is a trust there that they’re going to help me through any challenges. If I’m not getting a lot of those things that are, you know, embedded in performance management from a an approach perspective. Even if I stay, I am going to be second guessing, you know, second guessing myself, I’m going to not feel recognized. So I’ll be demoralized, I’m not going to bring my full sense of self to the job. Because I’m not I’m going to be diminished or thwarted in some way. And it’s really interesting to have those conversations, because everybody can tell a story about each of those experiences within their career. And gosh, which way to sort of sink into that a bit? Why would you ever want to be in a place where you can’t thrive?
Brent Skinner 32:25
Yeah, absolutely. Correct. I mean, that’s, that might be that might be where we should land today. You know, I love that, you know, just being able to thrive, you know, if you want to be able to attract top talent, dynamic leaders and retain dynamic talent and leaders in your organization. You want to give them all the tools, all the modern thinking and tools for it that are that that’s out that are out there. And this is a big piece of the puzzle. Absolutely correct. Yeah. Yeah. Well, this has been a fantastic, fantastic conversation. Fantastic episode of the podcast. Thank you so much, Jamie, for joining us again, and we’ll just, you know, let viewers know that there’s going to be a third one that’s coming up. We won’t tell them what the topic is, but it’s gonna be very interesting. So I’m looking forward to that too.
Jamie Aitken 33:28
Always, always happy to be chatting with you. We always have such great conversations. Thanks, Jamie.