Managing people and teams is a tricky skill to master. CEOs and People Operations/HR teams are charged with putting systems, processes, and tools in place to support managers and develop all employees.
Now more than ever, companies are revising their people management processes and their approach to employee development — especially as companies adapt to the new reality of a remote or hybrid workforce.
Good leaders know that, despite growing digitalization, employees are still a company’s most important asset. Those leaders also understand that supporting them requires attention, empathy, and investment.
More and more People Ops/HR teams are asking questions like, “how can we support our employees further?”, “what can we do to help our employees learn in their roles?” and “how do we know if our people are engaged with their work?”
Driving performance, increasing engagement, and retaining the best talent is no easy task. As they search for a solution to these concerns, companies worldwide are rebuilding their People Operations strategies and implementing holistic people management systems.
The best People Operations teams recognize that there is a virtuous cycle to be built when great feedback between managers and employees connects with employee learning that drives development, engagement, and ultimately, the success of their businesses.
Performance appraisals have been a staple of company life for over sixty years, while multinationals like Intel have used goal-setting since the 1970s. But what does a modern approach to growth-oriented performance reviews look like? How are you setting OKRs? What about regular 1:1 meetings? When was the last time you asked your direct report for feedback? And does your company track its eNPS (Employee Net Promoter Score) from quarter to quarter?
This article explains what each part of a comprehensive people management system is and then lays out best practices for using them.
The components of a people management system
Reviews (or performance appraisals, as they’re sometimes called) are used to evaluate an employee or manager’s work in the time elapsed since their last review. Employees can be reviewed by their managers, peers, and direct reports. In some organizations, the performance review process may be used to grant bonuses or promotions. Now, more companies realize that reviews are most effective when they are growth-oriented and used to help employees understand where their strengths lie, and how they can improve and develop themselves. To learn more about how to conduct effective performance reviews, check out our free performance review guide.
Goals & OKRs
If your company talks about financial targets and to-do lists, it doesn’t necessarily mean they’re setting goals. Instead, the kind of goal-setting we’re talking about — or OKRs, naming one popular approach — maps out long-term goals against short-term goals across different company levels. The idea behind goals is to align daily progress with the overarching purpose (something overlooked by many organizations, it seems: in 2015, a London Business School study revealed two-thirds of senior managers couldn’t name their firm’s top priorities!). In this way, all employees get a clear sense of how their work contributes to the company’s mission. Read our free OKR guide to learn more about OKRs and how to set up powerful OKR cycles.
1:1 meetings provide a space for private discussion between two colleagues — typically a manager and their direct report. Although there are fewer people involved, 1:1 meetings can be extremely high-leverage compared to larger group meetings. Participants get the opportunity to speak at length about their work, wellbeing, and any sensitive topics that can’t be communicated in other formats. Giving and receiving full attention also makes 1:1s a great place to ask questions and brainstorm new ideas. Most importantly, they create a space where managers can regularly coach their reports to help them improve their performance.
Instant Feedback & Praise
Don’t be intimidated by the “instant” part—this type of feedback is thus named because it takes place on an ongoing, case-by-case basis, unlike the kind you get with your performance review. And while it’s better to exchange instant feedback as soon after the incident as possible, there’s still a time and a place to give constructive feedback to your colleagues. Instant feedback makes employees and managers aware of their positive and negative behaviours as they go, so that no one has to wait until the end of the year to find out where they went wrong. And, as we like to point out, instant praise is as crucial for your team’s development as constructive feedback—if not more! To learn everything you need to know about feedback, check out our ultimate guide to building feedback into your company.
Employee Engagement Surveys (and Pulse & eNPS Surveys)
For a while, organizations were only interested in surveying their customers. Then, they used these surveys to calculate NPS, or Net Promoter Score: a metric outlining people’s satisfaction buying their product. Now, companies are implementing the same approach internally to measure their eNPS, or Employee Net Promoter Score. This data gives companies an insight into the satisfaction levels of their employees.
Many companies now rightly see surveys and eNPS calculation as mission-critical. After all, if the people making and selling their products are not satisfied with their work, how can they deliver a great experience to customers? By using additional engagement surveys (which ask participants about a sense of autonomy, achievement, and motivation, and more), organizations can stay on the pulse and detect warning signs about the health of their company culture. Our engagement surveys eBook will help you get started.
Learning & Development
Providing employees with personalized learning plans is crucial for their progression. This should start on day 1 as part of their onboarding process and be a consistent theme throughout their tenure. What this means in practice is that each employee should have learning paths mapped out to help take them from where they are today to developing the skill sets and know-how for where they would like to get to.
A blueprint for people management
Now the question remains: when should each of these parts of a people management system be used, and for what purpose?
We’ve laid out a blueprint so that you can get an idea of how each of these processes can work together (and interlink) over time to help you develop your employees.
Note: The system detailed below comes with the caveat that while it will most likely be appropriate for a majority of businesses, it might not apply to your business. That being said, it provides an excellent foundation for you to build from.
Here’s how to set up an all-in-one people management system:
Run performance reviews twice a year
Traditionally, performance reviews only took place once a year. This made it hard for employees to know how they were doing throughout the year, and created administrative issues for managers looking back across 12 months of performance history while trying to provide an accurate evaluation.
Many companies are now choosing to increase the frequency of structured feedback by holding performance reviews twice a year: this can also be helpful if you want to separate salary talks from development talks.
As noted above, it has become common practice to run 360° feedback processes where each employee is reviewed by their manager, their reports, and selected peers for a holistic view of their performance.
There are two approaches to the performance review cycle:
- Centralized cycles: all employees go through the performance review process simultaneously (let’s say every January).
- Decentralized cycles: performance reviews are carried out based on the individual employee’s start date.
There are pros and cons to each approach, which mainly boil down to the administrative workload that a review cycle creates. Some companies like to group all reviews so that everyone in the company has them simultaneously. Others prefer them spaced out throughout the year. The choice is yours.
Suppose you decide to keep your performance reviews running on an annual basis. In that case, it’s highly recommended that you ensure that you’re checking in with employees in other ways frequently, i.e., through development-driven 1:1 meetings and instant feedback (more on this later).
Develop new hires with probation period reviews
Besides the regular cadence of company-wide performance reviews, it’s most important to provide new hires with the feedback they deserve on how they’re doing in their first few months.
The new hire’s manager and some colleagues that the person works closely with should give structured feedback to help their colleague’s progress. This should typically occur a few months into the role and is sometimes tied to the mid-point or the end of their probationary period.
Set quarterly goals (OKRs)
Goal-setting is particularly helpful when thinking about where you want to be within a year. The aim is to outline the most exciting and significant goals for your company, so that come next year you’ll be able to tangibly measure whether you have achieved the level of success you set out to achieve. Of course, make sure you hold retrospectives on how well the company has performed versus the plan, as well!
When using the OKR (Objectives & Key Results) method, it’s helpful to map out goals over quarters. As OKR expert Roger Longden recommends, you can then use one week to plan each OKR cycle, ten weeks for execution (making it easy to measure progress as a percentage), and one week to wrap things up and hold retrospectives. This segments your annual objectives into more manageable cycles of twelve weeks each and falls in step with other rhythms such as the fiscal year.
Send out employee engagement surveys once per quarter
Gathering feedback from your employees is the best way to understand the sentiment in your company and know how to best drive your company culture. While you don’t want to clog your team’s inboxes with lengthy surveys, it’s crucial to gather data continuously to keep a consistent sense of company morale, employee well-being and to proactively measure and improve key areas over time so that you can support your employees in the best way possible.
If your company is currently undergoing significant changes (like many are right now), a higher frequency might help you keep clarity on how your workforce is doing. But, of course, you can always reduce the number of questions to focus on the most critical topics.
Free Resource: Employee survey template for remote teams
Grab your free template of best-practice questions to check in with your employees.
Run pulse and eNPS surveys monthly
Many companies also choose to run pulse surveys at a more regular frequency than full-length engagement surveys. Here, it’s essential to keep things short to avoid draining employee time. But, again, you’re looking for valuable insights from the entire employee base - not to increase their workload unnecessarily.
A handful of short, to-the-point questions suffices to collect meaningful feedback and keep a pulse check on your company (hence the name). You should use open-ended questions like, “on a scale of 1 to 10, how fulfilling did you find your work this week?” that participants will answer from week to week.
Similarly, you should regularly collect responses from employees to measure your Employee Net Promoter Score (eNPS). An eNPS survey simply asks, “On a scale of 1 to 10, how likely are you to recommend [insert your company’s name] as a great place to work?”.
Learn more about why the Employee Net Score is such a powerful metric.
Have 1:1 meetings every week
One reason why 1:1 meetings work so well is that they commit managers and their reports to a meaningful, ongoing dialogue with one another — a powerful way to align employees with their managers and coworkers. However, for this to be effective, 1:1s need to take place regularly: we recommend weekly or biweekly meetings. This keeps communication and rapport in good health while showing time investment in the other person.
To learn more about why 1:1s are such an impactful format and a “must-have” in your people management system, read our guide Meetings with Purpose: The Unique Benefits of 1:1 Meetings.
One of the key benefits of regular 1:1s can be goal-setting and prioritization. While we do not recommend that the 1:1 takes on the format of a status update, it is a great time to check that both the manager and report are aligned on the top priorities to connect their weekly to-do lists with the overarching OKRs.
Provide feedback early and often
Last but not least, instant feedback is the glue that holds it all together. So establish a culture of ongoing feedback, where honesty and radical candor are valued as part of everyday life at work.
That doesn’t mean you have to give feedback around the clock. Instead, strive towards a work environment where people can communicate openly about each other’s performance positively. Once instant feedback is ingrained into your company culture, it will make other processes like performance reviews and 1:1 meetings much smoother.
Here’s a complete guide on how to build feedback into your company culture. And here’s a practical guide on how to give feedback at work with examples for both managers and employees.
Actively invest in employee development
Finally, every employee should be on a learning path that helps them progress as an individual in their career. That might mean learning how to become a skilled manager. For others, it might mean learning cross-functional skill sets to interface with other teams. Or it could mean deepening their expertise to become a subject-matter expert in their field.
Regardless of the topics, employee learning and development are crucial components of the people management system that should be continuously invested in.
One particularly pertinent topic is providing first-time managers with the training and resources to become outstanding leaders. These managers will have an outsized impact on the progress of their teams, so ensuring that they are set up to be successful is an investment that will always bring back the returns.
The whole is greater than the sum of its parts
As you can see, each of the individual components of the people management system is a powerful lever in its own right. But when they fit together into a cohesive strategy, they create an excellent playbook for developing the people in your business.
So now it’s over to you. How have you structured these processes in your business, or how will you adapt them to improve the system considering the changes brought by the Future of Work? We’d love to hear your thoughts.
— Interested in learning more about how Leapsome can help you develop your people management processes? Book a demo and have a chat with one of our experts.