Mainak Maheshwari, Director of Talent Advisory, PeopleAsset

Mainak brings over two decades of experience, primarily in business and HR roles. He is a certified Executive Coach, a leadership development expert, and a Hogan personality assessor. Mainak holds a patent in the field of capability development, and is an IIM Calcutta alumnus. Prior to PeopleAsset, he had worked with Hewitt Associates, Accenture, AbsolutData, Evalueserve, and Heidrick & Struggles.

 

Last year, one of the biggest challenges facing organizations was how to make seamless remote working a reality. This year, companies around the world have already begun successfully implementing hybrid work models, combining work-from-home with on-premises working. As widely accepted as this new way of working may be, it is not free of challenges. Organizations today need to take into account and address the unique hurdles that hybrid working might create. This includes ensuring a fair performance evaluation or assessment. 

With an increase in hybrid models in their organizations, employees working remotely are naturally filled with doubts about their professional growth. Many worry that remote working might affect the way their managers and teams evaluate their performance. When working from the office, they could always walk up to their managers and business leaders to showcase their work and make their presence felt. But with remote working, face-to-face and in-person interactions have been reduced to nil, how then will their people manager know what they have accomplished or the challenges that they are facing. How will their performance be measured?

These concerns are not without reason. We all have been conditioned to work together in a certain way. Long before the pandemic, one of the key deterrents for remote working was the lack of visibility which automatically resulted in the lack of acknowledgment and appreciation. While this may no longer be the case, organizations need to be proactive on all fronts and leave no room for ambiguity and anxiety within teams. Business and team leaders must remember that not addressing these issues has a direct impact on their team’s productivity. 

Below are 5 steps that leaders can take to ensure that performance evaluations are always fair, regardless of who is working from where.

  • Re-examine targets / KPIs

We know that the world around us has changed dramatically, and so has the way we work. As we all adjust to this new and evolving environment, it is necessary that employee KPIs are re-examined and redesigned to be aligned with the current circumstances. Attempting to assess an employee’s performance by observation or on the basis of recency effect no longer works. Leaders need to focus on creating goals.

KPIs that are outcome-based, focusing on what was delivered instead of when and where. Keeping in mind the employees who may be facing and managing personal challenges while working remotely, performance indicators must also have the capacity to be flexible. 

To make sure that all performance evaluations and assessments are meaningful, there must be a direct link between KPIs, goals, and performance evaluation outcomes. Ensuring employees are able to visualize what evaluation they can expect given their performance outcomes.

  • Communicate clearly

There are always two sides to the employee performance ‘story’. Setting KPIs that only serve organizational goals and do not take the individual into account will predictably lead to dissonance and lead to only one kind of outcome.

Especially in a hybrid/remote working setup, leaders and managers need to set up all KPIs and goals in concurrence with the employees and at the beginning of the year. In this case, there is no scope for any ambiguity in the mind of the employee and therefore resulting in a high-performing environment. Communicating KPIs, discussing challenges, and aligning goals clearly and effectively, is essential to ensure clarity among all employees.

  • Encourage conversations (even going overboard with it!)

This brings us to another critical piece of the puzzle – regular conversations. Effective communication is not just a two-time activity that happens at the beginning and the end of the year. An ongoing dialogue and regular check-ins are critical now and will be more so in the future. In fact, with reduced in-person meetings, these conversations must be more frequent than before. The bare minimum, according to us, is at least once a month.

Leaders must ensure that all people managers actively build conversations around how the employee is coping with their work along with their personal obligations or challenges, how do they view their performance against their KPIs, whether they need any support or guidance from their managers on how to improve or sustain their performance. While these are some guardrails, managers should ideally customize and craft their communication according to each individual they are managing. 

  • Be transparent

Transparency is good for everyone! All goals and KPIs, for the organization, BU, and individuals must be made clear and accessible to all. Ensuring transparency not only removes any uncertainty but also helps individuals feel more connected to their organization and work. It helps employees see the larger picture and therefore removes any misconceptions about their performance indicators being challenging.

Transparency is important at every step, including the performance evaluation/assessment process and its outcomes. Leaders must make sure that the process does not leave the employee feeling like they have been wronged. This is where regular communication plays a key role. It not only makes sure that employees are aware of where their performance is headed at all times but also makes them feel heard. This brings us to the next, and final step. 

  • Create an inclusive and safe environment

In the last 18 months, we have heard a great deal about leading with empathy. Putting it into practice means engaging employees with simple but thoughtful gestures like regular check-ins. By doing this, leaders can make sure that they are aware of their team’s individual and collective circumstances and that no one on the team feels left out. It is important to provide every individual, especially those working remotely, multiple avenues and opportunities to freely express themselves. This includes sharing their concerns and apprehensions as well.

It is up to the HR and business leaders to build an environment that makes every employee feel safe, heard, and included. Patiently hearing individuals out is the first step towards resolving potential problems. Another key step that one can take is to coach people managers. Every employee may not always find an audience with the leadership team, therefore it is important that people managers are equipped with the right skills to address challenges and engage with employees.

A note to leaders

We are all still learning to navigate the post-pandemic world. Business leaders and people managers must keep in mind that every person deals with challenges differently. Individuals may need more support or guidance than before, some may need regular assurance. Regardless of where an employee is working from, it is every leader’s responsibility to make sure that their concerns are heard and resolved. Do not leave any chance for miscommunication and ambiguity.

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