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Redefining high performance for the new world of work

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We continue to ignore the qualitative aspects of employee performance in favour of the quantitative checklist but a new power shift between management and staff means it's time to change things up.

2nd Dec 2021
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As we are all still reeling from the impact of the global pandemic, as organisations and leaders, we are also grappling with a new world of work that – although it’s been years in the making – has been accelerated. There has been a definite seismic shift in the balance of power and it’s finally becoming apparent that employees hold a lot more than we once fooled ourselves into believing.

The root cause of our problems at work, is the fact that we have contrasting priorities and we treat these as mutually exclusive – when they don’t need to be

If you want to attract and retain the best talent and ensure the long term survival of your business, there’s nowhere left to hide from the truth that workplace culture and your general employer brand, are central to success. People are leaving jobs they hate and they’re walking away from toxic workplace environments that are bad for their overall well-being, leaving business and HR leaders asking what they can do to turn the tide. 

Contrasting priorities 

The root cause of our problems at work, is really the fact that we have contrasting priorities and we treat these as mutually exclusive – when they don’t need to be. 

From a commercial perspective, shareholders and managers care mostly about the quantitative elements like efficiency and the P&L. On the opposite end of the spectrum, employees who are actually doing the work and generating the profits, care about the qualitative aspects to their day to day work environment – the people they work with, collaboration, teamwork, communication, how people treat each other, recognition and feedback. 

The biggest mistake that we’ve historically made in defining high performance and managing performance at work, has been to ignore the qualitative aspects entirely, in favour of the quantitative checklist items that keep the shareholders happy. 

The new world of work demands that we correct this as a matter of urgency and that we find a way to integrate these priorities and redefine the concept of high performance to include not only what an individual employee delivers and achieves in terms of the “technical” aspect of their job, but also how they interact with others at work and the behaviours they display in delivering the quantitative results. 

Expanding what we measure 

Instead of merely measuring “output” and “technical proficiency”, it’s time we started measuring broader categories that will contribute to innovation, efficiency and organisation growth and improvement, as well as measuring the qualitative aspects that build culture and drive employee engagement

Managing performance in the new world of work therefore requires that we measure four distinct aspects (think of these as ‘key performance areas’): 

Delivery 

The most 'traditional' performance measure relating to technical proficiency in a role and the quality and quantity of work. 'What' an employee does. 

Innovation & Growth

To ensure that organisations are future proof, innovation and continuous improvement, along with a commitment to lifelong learning, are required.

Encourage employees at all levels to constantly be looking for ways to help the business improve efficiency and reward them for their efforts in helping the business grow and showing commitment to their personal and professional growth and development. Encourage transparency, feedback and speaking up to learn from mistakes and constantly improve and innovate. 

Bin the ridiculous annual performance review in favour of ongoing, real-time recognition and feedback on work performance and living the core company values in daily interactions

Relationships

Just as important as what we do at work, is how we behave and how we treat each other. Use this category to build and promote psychological safety in teams and improve teamwork, collaboration and belonging throughout the entire organisation. 

Corporate citizenship (core values) 

For most companies, their core values are emblazoned on a poster in their reception area, instead of being lived in every interaction. Clearly define your core values and the behaviours and competencies that underpin these, then make it an integral part of your performance management process.

Various HR Tech platforms and apps are great for these purposes and can help link recognition and rewards programmes to your core values, thereby actively driving your desired workplace culture through positive reinforcement. 

Expanding the aspects that we measure and include in our definition of high performance, is but one piece of the puzzle. To make it all work together, we need to make a few more changes to how we manage performance. 

Regular feedback and recognition 

Bin the ridiculous annual performance review in favour of ongoing, real-time recognition and feedback on work performance and living the core company values in daily interactions. There are numerous HR tech options available to help you do this from an app on your phone or using a plug-in for Slack or MS Teams (or wherever your teams are meeting and collaborating). 

Regular, ongoing recognition and feedback improve engagement and motivation and also address performance or behavioral challenges in a timely, progressive manner. 

Making tough calls

Arguably the most challenging part of this new approach to managing performance in the new, is having to make some really tough calls and complete a mindset shift at all levels throughout the organisation. Keeping the 'top sales person' employed because of the money they bring in, whilst ignoring the fact that they’re a toxic or polarising presence in the workplace, is a recipe for disaster. 

Expanding the aspects that we measure and include in our definition of high performance, is but one piece of the puzzle

If you’re truly committed to creating organisations where people want to work, where people do great work and are celebrated for their authentic humanity and encouraged to become the best version of themselves, there’s simply no space for toxic managers and people who are creating hierarchies, silos and competition that kills innovation, collaboration and culture. 

It’s time to bin our outdated approach for good and prioritise the qualitative needs of our employees as well as the quantitative requirements of our directors and shareholders by measuring and rewarding not only 'what' employees deliver at work, but also 'how' they go about achieving these results. 

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