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We are kicking the new year off with Maria Rische, responsible for the People & Organization department at Berlin-based SolarisBank. The rising fintech star is growing rapidly, raised about 38.5 million Euros to date and is currently employing about 130 people. Before joining SolarisBank to lead their People Operations Maria was in a leading HR position at Zalando.

How do you ensure that people consistently perform at their best in a fast-growing tech company?

From my perspective, there are four important drivers for strong performance: Effective leadership, Purpose, Ongoing Education and Inclusion.

Effective leadership is by far the most important driver and it is linked with all the following ones. Effective leaders need a crystal-clear awareness on their actions’ and behaviors’ impact on an organization. It is all about consciously being a role model.

Purpose is the second most important driver of performance. It is every manager’s responsibility to ensure everyone in their team understands why their work is meaningful and “has a purpose”. Ideally, the leader helps everyone to take real pride in their contribution to overarching company goals

Ongoing education obviously also drives performance. All employees needs to fully understand what is expected of them. Once that is accomplished, everyone needs to receive the training and ongoing support to develop in their respective roles. This requires patience and persistence by leaders.

Inclusion is the final driver of performance. Inclusion has many components, but the two most important relating to performance and motivation are fairness and participation. Fairness is achieved by respect for diversity in people. It acknowledges that different employees drive performance with diverse approaches. Enabling participation by including diverse employees in overarching processes or important decisions then also drives performance.

How do you make the most out of OKRs, review talks and feedback?

First of all, the performance of a company has to be measured for internal and external purposes e.g., for shareholders. That’s a fact given.The important questions are: What are the consequences of measuring performance? At what level do you measure performance? And, what is the stage of your feedback culture?

OKRs are a powerful tool to drive progress by focussing on the measures that have the most impact on defined objectives. The value of OKRs is generating alignment and inclusion. However, OKRs ideally never have any consequences for bonuses. Linking OKRs to remuneration hijacks the idea and effectiveness of OKRs, because many people won’t set themselves ambitious goals, when it’s achievement is linked to a payment.

Tracking performance is best done based on company and team level OKRs that are regularly discussed and reviewed. Individual OKRs might be valuable for employees higher up in the hierarchy, but often they are not needed, as progress on OKRs is driven by teams rather than individual contributors.

Individual reviews focus on development potential. Clearly defined learning and development objectives is what people demand nowadays. Companies need to enable employees to take ownership for their professional development within a company. Unfortunately, all too often employees only own their professional development when they decide to change jobs, and not within the current company.

The ultimately most important task for leaders is to build and develop an active feedback culture, as a mature feedback culture drives alignment, participation and performance.

Will traditional performance reviews die out?

Yes, but it might take a while until the new setup — OKRs, development-oriented talks and mature feedback cultures — spreads throughout the entire economy. Many times even young leaders adopt bad and outdated habits. Change always requires conscious leaders.

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