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Managing people and teams is a tricky skill to master. CEOs and HR (or People Operations teams) are charged with putting the systems, processes and tools in place to support the managers and develop employees. Now more than ever, companies are revising their people management processes and their approach to employee development in a number of ways - particularly as companies are adapting to the new reality of their workforce being remote.

Good leaders know that, despite growing digitalisation, employees are still a company’s most important asset—and that looking after them requires attention, empathy and investment; regardless of where they’re located and whether you’re in the same building day in day out or not.

More and more 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 their best talent is no easy task.

In the search of a solution to these concerns, companies around the world are rebuilding their People Operations strategies and implementing holistic people management systems.

The best People Operations teams recognise 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.

Employee engagement loop of feedback and learning

Performance appraisals have been a staple of company life for over sixty years (albeit not without their critics), while goal-setting has been used at multinationals like Intel since the ‘70s. But what does a modern approach to growth-oriented performance reviews look like? How are you setting OKRs? What about regular 1-on-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

Performance Reviews

Reviews (or appraisals, as they are 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, but also by peers and direct reports; known as manager reviews and 360 reviews respectively. In some organisations, the performance review process may be used to grant bonuses or promotions. Now, more companies are realising 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 their weaker areas in order to develop themselves. To learn more about how to conduct effective performance reviews check out our free performance review guide.

Goal Setting (OKRs)

If your company talks about financial targets and to-do lists, it doesn’t necessarily mean they’re setting goals. The kind of goal-setting we’re talking about—or OKRs, to name one popular approach—maps out long-term goals against short-term goals across different levels of the company. The idea behind goals is to align daily progress with overarching purpose (something overlooked by many organisations, it seems: in 2015 a London Business School study revealed that two thirds of senior managers can'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 on how to setup powerful OKR cycles.

1-on-1 Meetings

As the name suggests, 1-on-1 meetings provide a space for private discussion between two colleagues—typically a manager and her direct report. Although there are fewer people involved, 1-on-1 meetings can be extremely high-leverage compared with 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. The ability to give and receive full attention also makes 1-on-1s a great place to ask questions and brainstorm new ideas. Most importantly, they are a time when managers can regularly coach their reports to help them improve their performance.

Instant Feedback

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, companies were only interested in surveying their customers. They used these surveys to calculate NPS, or ‘Net Promoter Score’: a metric outlining the satisfaction of people 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 this as mission critical, afterall if the people making and selling their products are not satisfied in their work, how can they deliver a great experience to the customers? By using additional engagement surveys—which ask participants about sense of autonomy, achievement, and motivation, and more—organisations can stay on the pulse and detect warning signs about the health of their company culture. Here is our engagement surveys ebook to help you get started.

Employee Learning & Development

Providing employees with personalized learning plans is crucial for their progression. This should start from Day 0 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 their own learning paths mapped out to help take them from where they are today to developing the skillsets 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 whilst it will most likely be appropriate for a majority businesses, it might not necessarily be applicable to your business. That being said, it provides a great foundation for you to build from.

Here’s how you can setup an all-in-one people management system:

Run your performance reviews twice a year

Traditionally, performance reviews only took place once a year, which made it difficult for employees to know how they were doing throughout the year, as well as creating administrative issues for managers looking back across 12 months of performance history and trying to give 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.

Conduct performance reviews twice a year

As noted above, it has become common practice to run 360 degree 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:

  1. Centralized cycles - all employees go through the performance review process at the same time; let’s say every January.
  2. 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. It’s for this reason there tends to be split opinions on which is best. Some companies like to group all reviews together so that everyone in the company has them at the same time. Others prefer to have them spaced out throughout the year. The choice on this one, is yours.

If you decide to keep your performance reviews running on an annual basis, it’s highly recommended that you ensure that you’re checking in with employees in other ways on a frequent basis, i.e. through development driven 1-on-1 meetings and instant feedback (more on this later).

Develop new hires with probation period reviews

In addition to 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.

Conduct probation reviews at the end of the probation period

The new hire’s manager, and a selection of colleagues that the person works closely with should each give structured feedback to help their new team mate progress. This should typically take place 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’s time. 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. Make sure you hold retrospectives on how well the company has performed versus the plan, as well! 

Run quarterly OKR cycles

When using the OKR (Objectives & Key Results) method, it can be useful 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 a quarter

Listening to the feedback from your employees is a great way to understand the sentiment in your company and get to the route of what drives your company culture. While you don’t want to clog your team’s inboxes with lengthy surveys, it’s important to gather data continuously in order 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. 

Run engagement surveys once a quarter

If your company is currently undergoing significant changes (like many are right now), a higher frequency might help you retain clarity on how your workforce is doing. You can always reduce the number of questions to focus on the most important topics at that point in time.

Free Resource: Employee survey template for remote teams
Grab your free template of best-practice questions to check-in with your employees during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Collect Pulse and eNPS Surveys Monthly 

Many companies also choose to conduct pulse surveys at a more regular frequency than the full-length engagement surveys. In this case it’s important to keep things short to avoid draining employee time. You’re looking for valuable insights from the whole employee base - not to increase their workload unnecessarily.

A handful of short, to the point questions is sufficient 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 be able to 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?”.

Conduct pulse surveys and collect eNPS every month

Learn more about why the Employee Net Score is such a powerful metric here.

Conduct 1-on-1 meetings weekly 

One of the reasons 1-on-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. For this to be effective, however, 1-on-1s need to take place regularly: we recommend weekly or biweekly meetings. This keeps communication and rapport in good health, whilst also showing time investment in the other person. 

Conduct 1-on-1 meetings every week

To learn more about why 1-on-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-on-1 Meetings.

One of the key benefits of regular 1-on-1s can be goal-setting and prioritization. While we do not recommend that the 1-on-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 not but least, instant feedback is the glue that holds it all together. 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—rather, strive towards a work environment where people can communicate openly about each other’s performance in a helpful way. Once instant feedback is ingrained into your company culture, it will make other processes like performance reviews and 1-on-1 meetings much smoother.

Give feedback on frequent and ongoing basis

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.

Invest in your employee development programs on an ongoing basis

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 great manager; for others, it might mean learning cross-functional skill sets to be able 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 is a crucial component of the people management system that should be continuously invested in.

Provide personalized learning plans in addition to regular feedback

One particularly pertinent topic is providing first-time managers with the training and resources that they need to learn how to become great 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 are powerful levers in their own right. But when fit together into a cohesive system, they create a great 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 further improve the system in light of the current COVID-19 situation. We’d love to hear your thoughts.

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If you’re looking for a platform to run your people management system, consider taking a look at Leapsome. As an all-in-one people management platform, Leapsome combines all the tools you would expect to find for a well oiled system including Goals & OKRs Management, Performance Reviews and 360s, Employee Learning & Onboarding, Employee Engagement Surveys, Feedback & Praise, and Meetings.

CEOs and HR teams from companies like Spotify, Trivago and Babbel are using Leapsome to create a continuous cycle of performance management and personalized learning that powers employee engagement and the success of their business. Click here to take a closer look at the platform.


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