Performance Management In The Pandemic: Becoming Your Best-Self

We’re in a tumultuous business cycle and everyone is concerned about performance: the performance of our company, our teams, and ourselves. 

And in the midst of this pandemic, we are ever more concerned with wellbeing, resilience, and growth. How can we best stay productive at home (or at work) when there are so many uncertainties?

Despite the best efforts of every CEO and HR leader, our COVID Business Resilience study shows that only 24% of companies are teaching managers how to support remote teams, 58% do not feel they have the right tools or culture for remote work, and only 41% feel they have adequately trained employees how to be “well” in this new environment.

The answer may not be more training but something different: Creating a culture where everyone can be their “best self.” And our upcoming research on Business Resilience will help prove this to you.

In 2016, I wrote an article entitled “Learning To Be Yourself,” and the focus was to help people understand that only by clearly understanding who you are can you really become the person you want to be. 

“Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.”
– Oscar Wilde

“Always be a first-rate version of yourself and not a second rate version of someone else.”
Judy Garland

If you think about your career, you bring a set of talents, skills, and personality traits that are uniquely you. Maybe you’re a gregarious, outgoing person who builds deep empathetic relationships with others. Perhaps you are a quiet, introverted person with deep technical or artistic skills who can analyze data or solve problems in a unique way. Or maybe you’re a charismatic and natural team builder or leader.

And even as you grow, these core traits remain. I recently got together with a group of friends I have known from college, and as we were chatting and laughing together, I realized that despite 30 years of life, families, children, careers, and changes, we are all pretty much the same way we were in college. I remember a comment a friend made to me many years ago: “People don’t really change; they become more and more the same.”

Throughout our careers, we go through tremendous personal and professional development. We learn how to work with people, how to solve problems, how to lead — and we develop a wide array of technical skills. But the way we apply them is unique to each of us, and in the end, we each bring our own unique combination.

From the standpoint of you as a manager, leader, or HR professional, this concept is now more important than ever. David Hassell, the founder of 15Five, has built a whole methodology about “best-self” management, and I have to say I agree 100%. When people feel fully capable of leveraging their own god given strengths (and desires and aspirations), they always perform well. Understanding what these are is both the job of managers and each of us as individuals.

In David’s platform, the focus is not on managing performance or setting goals. Rather it is on helping people grow, creating clarity about priorities and objectives, and helping people build relationships with others so everyone can get the help, respect, and freedom to succeed. And 15Five has been a tremendously successful company just leveraging these ideas.

Leveraging Best-Self Management at CreditKarma

Here’s an interesting story. CreditKarma, a credit score and personal finance company, is the largest consumer financial technology platform in the United States (more than 100 million customers and 30 million users per day). The company started with free credit score services and quickly expanded into all sorts of other offerings: low-cost mortgages, financial advice, credit card services, and much more. The company has been spectacularly successful and is now in the process of being acquired by Intuit for more than $7 billion.

Like any fast-growing company, the HR and leadership team had to decide what kind of performance management to use.  The CEO and management team believe strongly in the “best self” philosophy, so they brought in 15Five as a tool to facilitate regular feedback, check-ins, recognition, and goals. 

The results have clearly been fantastic. The company conducts weekly pulse surveys (which are not anonymous and data is fully shared) and an open weekly discussion which lets everyone know what’s on everyone else’s mind. The CEO regularly weighs in, creating a sense of psychological safety because any issue can be brought to the table. Pay is reviewed every six months and the CHRO told me performance reviews are almost automatic because goals are so clear.  People move into roles they feel comfortable with and find ways to perform, even as the company changes.

What their story reminds me is that while goal setting is important, it is far less important than conversations, listening, and feedback. So using the best self ideas inherent in 15Five, the company has grown, thrived, and stays successful regardless of the economic cycle. Other new HR products such as Lattice, BetterWorks, and CultureAmp are all moving in this direction – facilitating growth and collaboration around goals, not just measuring and managing goals like they are boulders to work around.

Leveraging Best-Self Management at TrueCar

TrueCar is a website originally designed to be an online destination for context and transparency on vehicle pricing in order to provide consumers with price confidence and more efficient transactions for retailer partners. As you can imagine, this is now a highly competitive market and one that has been dramatically changed by the pandemic. Since many people cannot buy cars face- to-face today, TrueCar is quickly adapting to provide digital solutions for both consumers and dealers that enable an end-to-end experience that’s flexible and includes all aspects of the car buying experience.

Chief People Officer John Foster has helped facilitate this transformation which included a complete remaking of the executive team, a restructure of the entire organization and the implementation of new talent management practices.

TrueCar selected 15Five as the foundation of its talent management efforts to emphasize the power and importance of regular conversations between managers and their direct reports.  The company has found that creating asynchronous, thoughtful conversations between employees and their leaders (and teams) leads to much better understanding of priorities and expectations — a key factor in managing the turbulence caused by the company transformation and the COVID pandemic.

15Five provides a convenient toolset to prompt employees to share their work priorities and a weekly status on how they are feeling and to answer some weekly poll questions. These features improve the quality of 1:1s by provoking underlying issues and making it easier to have meaningful dialogue about what’s working and what’s not. The platform also provides an easy way for employees to recognize each other through High Fives, a highly popular feature that helps build connectivity across and between departments.  

TrueCar has also launched the Best Self Review features to help every employee manage their career by sharing their contributions and identifying developmental goals. This is the “best self” philosophy – at least once per year everyone gets to decide if they’re doing the job they feel is best for them and if not, to discuss ideas and plans for how to make that happen.

TrueCar was able to launch 15Five with minimal training and essentially no focus on the “how to” aspects of performance management. HR business partners show managers how to use the tool and the platform takes care of itself. TrueCar’s people team can review company-wide leaderboards that show who is doing weekly reviews and where there might be breakdowns, which make it very easy to follow up and get people to engage.

Through his work at a variety of companies, including IDEO and Hulu, John has found that traditional annual reviews don’t hit on all of the aspects of performance, recognition, and career development that managers and employees need to manage. He’s developed the idea of performance dialogue as a complete replacement for what most companies call performance management.

TrueCar uses performance objectives help employees prioritize and assess their efforts, and they are integrated into the ongoing performance dialogue. Performance dialogue is essentially a continuous discussion about two key questions:  A) Is this the right work to be doing?, and B) How is it going? Employees also discuss with their managers their workloads.  If employees are feeling overloaded with objectives, things can be reshuffled to help keep people focused without being overwhelmed.

Rather than a complex system of OKRs that cascade from top to bottom, TrueCar creates a handful (four to six) of annual goals to align the company. These are embedded into people’s work through executive communications, team meetings and then performance discussions. The best self philosophy encourages each employee to provide their manager with ideas about what and how they can support the company goals from their position.

When I asked John how he measures the effectiveness of TrueCar’s management system, he told me, “We focus on how engaged our employees are. When people are engaged, they know what’s expected, they’re recognizing others and getting feedback, and projects are getting done.” And this is part of the best self philosophy – when people are actively shaping the work they do and helping define the goals, they’re naturally engaged.

Best-Self For You

The bigger issue today is how you leverage your best self in your own career and team. And as I look back to my many years of research and discussions on this topic, I think it comes down to three things:

A) Start with a mindset that every individual (including YOU!) has the potential to do amazing things.

We humans are amazingly resilient and adaptive animals, so when we are given the freedom to work at the right job and “craft” our work as we like it best, we can do amazing things. This means you as a manager have to give people lots of help – feedback and support – and enable them to move into a role, job, or environment that lets them succeed. You can call that growth mindset if you like, but it’s more of a philosophy than anything else. You can succeed if you’re in the right situation, and others can too.

B) Build a culture of growth in everything you do. 

As you build HR programs or management practices, stay away from blame or punishment or ratings whenever you can and instead build a set of systems that let people continuously grow and improve. I am just reading the book about the fall of GE (Lights Out) that clearly explains why Jack Welch’s famous forced ranking caused the near death of the company over the ensuing 20 years. That kind of forced performance encourages lying, hiding mistakes, and exaggerating results. We now know that enabling people and teams to grow is the answer.

Yes, there are always people who don’t perform well. But if you consider it’s often because they don’t fit the job, team, or company – you can better deal with any performance issues.

C) Remember that performance drives engagement, not the other way around.

Finally, remember that great performance management is great management. When people know what’s important, they get great feedback on their work, and they feel their management cares – their engagement will skyrocket. The book The Progress Principle proves this well: when reading the job logs of people who loved their work, the #1 thing they mention is their ability to get things done every day.

Productivity and Engagement and Performance

Helping people be their best self is the most powerful engagement tool you have. 

In this pandemic, it’s more important than ever to let everyone tell you what they need to succeed.

(Read The Big Reset: What’s Working Now for more.)