HR In A Distributed World

Just over a year ago we released the first version of PerformanceHub into the world. Our plan was to first introduce it to UK based SMEs and worry about internationalisation once we had a good few customers. Well, that was the plan…..

Less than a year after it was first launched, PerformanceHub is being used in 17 countries on 4 continents!

So, what went wrong with the plan? Well nothing really, you’d be surprised by the number of UK companies that have operations dotted around the world. Working with these companies, we have seen how this distributed workplace challenges both Operations and HR.

Getting an effective performance management system in place in this distributed world is highly challenging and we’d say near impossible using anything other than a real-time online system.  The feedback we have received from our customers has been tremendous. PerformanceHub is really helping their performance management process run smoothly even though employees are in many different timezones. Customers have also told us how PerformanceHub is helping them set and meet objectives even though the bulk of the team is on another continent.

That’s it. No special message here, we just wanted to tell you about how we’re spreading around the world and acknowledge the fact it’s challenging.

If you are faced with the challenge of performance management and operations in remote locations, we’d be happy to help.

Rob.

Re-Plan for Success

You plan it, you execute to the plan and you’re done. Simple. Only it’s not. You should never really finish a plan, but keep it open and constantly review it. Never lose sight of your high level goals. Keep your hand on the tiller and make constant small course corrections rather than getting stuck or lurching sideways. 

When you finally start a project and get going with your plan, things inevitably come up. More work items are required and some planned ones aren’t required anymore. The temptation is to slip changes into the original plan as you go, but too much of this and you’ll find yourself constantly churning in the weeds, hitting delays, butting up against avoidable obstacles and missing opportunities. Staying in the weeds is a really easy way to lose direction and add delays.

We find it a good practice to take time and take a step back and review plans at a high level. Check direction, re-prioritise, review the goals and ensure our course is correct. In fact, we do this every Monday morning to keep us straight for the week. Our experience is that low level management of work items as they come up starts you on a path of exponential growth of problems. Avoid it by taking a step back.

Keeping plans fresh like this will help you achieve your goals faster. This doesn’t have to be confined to project delivery as the same is true for personal development or any kind of objectives setting. Do you work in an organisation that sets annual employee objectives? If so, I’m sure that when you come to do your annual performance review many of the objectives are stale. Keep them fresh by increasing the review frequency, if you don’t, both you and your company are missing opportunities.

Rob Wheatley
Cogendo

Partnership Not Parenting

In the early days of Cogendo we created a list of principles to help guide us as an organisation and also to form part our product’s DNA. We’ll work through all of our principles in coming blogs, but today I’m going to focus on “Partnership Not Parenting” (PNP).

A recent HBR blog post by Amy Gallo, “Making Sure Your Employees Succeed”, lists her guiding principles (for helping ensure that employees are successful), and we noticed one which is similar to one of ours, but with some (subtle?) differences.

In summary, Amy’s article flushed out 6 principles:

Do:

  • Connect individuals’ goals to broader organisation objectives
  • Show employees that you are a partner in achieving their goals
  • Learn about and incorporate employees’ personal interests into their professional goals

Don’t:

  • Allow employees to set goals alone
  • Take a hands-off approach to high performers — they need input and feedback to meet their goals as well
  • Ignore failures — be sure people have the opportunity to learn when they don’t achieve goals

It was the Partnership line that caught my eye. We think that it’s more than just showing an employee that you are a partner in them achieving their goals, it’s actually being a partner. Our PNP principle also factors in the “Don’t allow employees to set goals alone” principle of Amy’s.

So what does ‘Partnership Not Parenting’ mean to us? Traditionally objectives have been a very top-down affair: the manager tells their direct report (DR) what to do, and the DR gets on with it. This approach works fine for the armed forces, but employees are less likely to mentally sign up for an objective that they’ve had no part in. They may even believe it’s not a very good objective, but figure it’s their manager who’ll take any flack, so they’ll just keep their head down.

PNP starts with definition of objectives. This should be triggered by the CEO publishing the organisation’s top-level objectives. In our experience this will trigger a combination of top-down, bottom-up, and middle-out creation of objectives that relate to the overarching objectives. The manager may have some ideas for the DR’s objectives, and the DR may also have some ideas. At this point they should work on the definition of objectives together, refining, expanding, as they go. The bouncing back-and-forth often results in a better objective than either could do alone: the manager providing a broader corporate view, and the DR often having more in-depth knowledge or expertise. As a result both will feel ownership, and the DR will feel like (s)he had an equal voice in the process, increasing engagement and likelihood not only of success, but also of quality and productivity.

Wherever possible, the DR’s objective should be related to one of the manager’s (or their group’s) objectives, and the manager should be able to make clear how his objective relates to one or more organisational objectives. Thus the DR gets to feel that (s)he owns a part of a larger objective, and the manager sees that success on his objective requires success on the DR’s.

The manager and DR should sit down regularly (e.g. a weekly one-to-one), and review progress, with the manager passing on any updates relating to the broader objective, and the DR updating on progress on their part. Both should be thinking in terms of whether the two sides are still aligned, and whether they need something from the other to stay on track.

When the objective has been completed, they should sit down together to review it: and record data from both parties.

Goal setting and defining the stepping stones to achieve them should be a collaborative effort between a manager and their direct report. The same with reviewing performance – although I hate to use the word review as it suggests I mean a sit-down ‘so how did we do?’ meeting that inevitably gives rise to little surprises. In a true partnership there would be no surprises, the review would be to simply document the important stuff you both already know. Only then will you achieve the levels of employee engagement that lead to peak performance. Collaboration is the essence of the partnership, contrary to the ‘old school’ parental mandate.

You still need a framework to build this partnership on and an understanding of how to apply it. The framework could be your employee appraisal process (assuming you tie in all the way down to 121s) or of course PerformanceHub. The understanding for me came from experience, but could so easily be taught. However, in all the hours I’ve spent on management courses (sent on by my past corporate employers) I don’t think I’ve ever been explicitly taught this. A shame really, as it would have been a great accelerator in my early management days.

Rob Wheatley

Cogendo

 

 

Organisational Efficiency vs Company Size

Operational BenefitsLarger companies are more efficient.  More talent to pool from, better buying power, efficiencies of scale…… Right?

Many of us have heard this said, particularly if you worked in an organisation going through rapid growth (via acquisition for example) but I’m sure that for anyone who has been there, you’ll feel quite differently. I do, particularly with my past role as “innovation ambassador” in a multi-national. Size there was stifling – well, more precisely, poor communication was, but I’ll leave “innovation in a large company” for another day.

This post was to share with you a study by Allan Engelhardt. It hit a chord with us at Cogendo as it highlighted one of our motivations to create PerformanceHub. In a nutshell, he showes through crunching the numbers of more than 4000 companies, that there is often a relationship between organisational size and productivity (as measured by profitability). As a rule of thumb, for every 10% increase in organisation size expect a 1% drop off in productivity.

For companies undergoing rapid growth (which has problems in itself) these numbers don’t stack up well. Let’s say you have 50 employees at 100% productivity (nice to have) and grow to 100 employees over a year.  Your average productivity per employee drops by around 8%. At an average employee cost of £40k a year, that’s over £3000 per year per employee wasted. Or in our little example, a total of more than £300,000 a year lost!!

This does beg the question – where’s the productivity going? Well, my opinion is that it’s lost in a myriad of small things. Degraded communication, devolved decision making, additional levels of bureaucracy, unclear disconnected goals, reduced employee focus and arthritic organisational agility to name a few.

If you’re reading this and nodding your head, you’re staring our motivation to create PerformanceHub in the face. With it, we try and address some of these problems head-on and from what we hear, we’re winning…….

Rob Wheatley

CEO

Cogendo