Q – My question is- what parameters would you use to justify investment in an HR tool? What parameters do you use to evaluate that are at the top of your mind? It’s typically difficult to quantify the benefits. That’s a challenge most people face.
My standard answer would be that it depends on the ROI (Return on Investment) I see when I adopt something.
Q – Could you clarify how would you define that ROI?
Will it be beneficial to all concerned? Will it improve my productivity, or will it improve the camaraderie in the organization? Will it make employees feel closer to the organization if I do this for them? Will they be more excited about working with us, invite their best friends to join us, because we did this for them?
One more very important question here would be, is it the right thing to do? For example, we have taken out special Coronavirus coverage for all our employees, apart from the regular health coverage we offer. This is not only for our employees, it’s done for our contractors and vendors too. Doing it for everybody involved a substantial cost. But, was it the right thing to do? I don’t think anybody will doubt that!
It is indeed the right thing to do in these times.
Yes absolutely! This brings in a sense of security for all our people and as our philosophy we always want to stand by our people through thick and thin. I am also privileged to have an awesome team. Quite frankly, the way we have built the HR function is that everybody in my team compliments me, I may have some blind spots personally, but we as a team cover all bases and make sure that as a function we run in the most efficient way possible.
Q – That’s a smart strategy. You hire smart people and let them tell you what to do.
Absolutely. You’ll just be that string, which hold all the beads together.
Q – Would you like to spend some time on what you think about the frameworks that are used in performance management? What do you think works in your experience or what are organizations thinking, these days?
In my organization, we have moved away from normalization curve to absolute performance management.
Q – By absolute, do you mean a binary scale?
Not only binary scale. From a comparative or absolute scale. Normally, they use a banding system where you have people falling in some A, B, C or D band. We have moved completely away from that whole concept.
We made sure that it is gone from not only what is seen at the front. Even at the back, these banding and comparisons do not exist and cannot impact anyone’s salary or compensation, unlike in some organizations, where only the visible portions get removed. This is where an employee’s contribution weighs in and gets noticed or mentioned by everybody. If they contribute, they get extra credits. Whether you follow an OKR based system or any other performance methodology, or stay 100 percent subjective, you must ensure that you are being fair to the people who are doing a good job. By rewarding the ones who work well, you are calling out the non-performers too.
What hurts the top performer most is when you allow a low performer to continue dragging his feet. OKRs certainly offer a great way to go about performance management. Google and others have mastered it to a completely different level. It is important to discern the performance of people based on the outcome. We need clarity about our goals and strategy to decide what results they need to be measured on.
Q – We all talk about how a PMS helps to empower organizations by taking the subjectivity out of performance reviews and make it accurate. In what way does it empower the employees and reduce attrition?
As I mentioned, we track performance along with the health of people. Performance is current and health is long term. We encourage them to track their relevance to the organization and professional health, in a way by setting them developmental goals and learning goals. About 30% of the credit is given subjectively, when managers are happy with the developmental goals achieved by an employee.
Q – How can employers effectively convey their specific responsibilities on a job to their employees?
Job responsibilities are dynamic, not static. We involve our employees in setting their own goals. It helps them not only decide what their role needs to be responsible for, they also need to contextualize to their organization’s goals at their level. Once people understand their responsibilities, they can easily spot anyone who is slacking, and can even call them out. We need to accept that this is a persistent problem, which needs ongoing attention.
Q – Do you think OKR as a principle is more suitable for the senior people within the organization, like managers, senior managers and is not necessarily suitable for entry level or junior people?
It is certainly suitable for the senior level organizations. At a junior level, your work is much more structured and what you’re expected to do is standard work. A clear, good work allocation system may be able to measure your rating. Keep the system simple for limited to some roles and avoid getting trapped in unnecessary detail and lose the flexibility to manage the rest of the organization. But, I am not really a big expert on that, though we have been using OKRs to measure a hundred people at the top.
Q – Have you seen the OKRs bringing results?
Yes. I think the OKRs have been pretty effective.
Q – Now that you have adopted a new binary system, and done away with the bands, how do you link your performance system to identifying Hi-Pos and their career progression?
Ultimately you need two things along with it. One is the ‘Contribution’ rating as it is a very important factor. Employees’ additional contribution to the organization makes a major difference. Second thing is that it needs to be supported by good talent review boards and assessment frameworks. These things tell you where your Hi-Pos are going. This cannot be done in isolation.
Q – When you say assessment frameworks, are you talking about the softer aspects of the employee?
I am talking about both the softer, as well as the technical aspect, which is the Subject Matter Expertise (SME) part of an assessment. Assessment of softer aspects like leadership qualities and change management need to be done. There has to be a clarity on how we use these assessments to figure out an individual’s developmental aspects, and how we use that outcome for identifying people who will be taken on an accelerated plan, along with these three things.
Q – If I were to summarize what you are saying, , one aspect is how they’re contributing or performing to achieve the business outcomes. The second part covers their behavioral competencies and functional competencies which are assessed to understood whether they are ready for the next level of the job.
So, it is also quite important to assess competencies on a regular basis.
Q – I am curious to understand how private employers approach employee training and development, knowing that many of their employees may not stay with them for longer than a few years.
Employers today understand that the organization’s journey is not an employee’s journey. They stay together as long as the relationship is mutually enriching, and part ways when it stops being so. Training could be need-based and on demand. It could also be offered as a way of enriching the employee’s journey. Fresh graduates offer a lot of scope and come in as 360-degree employees, unlike seniors who are brought in to execute or resolve a particular task. Employees focus on their career, while employers provide them with the choices needed to ensure that their career is fulfilling. It’s only in a gig/contract economy, where you have a zero-employee company and workers who come in and do an assignment and go away.
Q – You made an important point when you said people do not join organizations planning to leave soon. They leave when they do not align with the organization.
While every individual needs to take responsibility for their own life and career, their employer needs to be keenly focused on helping them to reach their goals and objectives.
Q – Shall we spend some time on how you have dealt with the last six months? The primary focus must have been on how you made sure that the performance is not affected or affected to the least extent. What methods or technology have you adopted to achieve this?
No one can really say if the COVID-19 situation affected people’s performance. I am certainly seeing signs of fatigue in the industry, with everybody working from home. When people first started working from home, we went through three phases. First, it was an enablement phase. People needed help to start working from home. It’s not just about giving them a laptop or internet connectivity. It is about ensuring that projects, project organization and meetings get managed better. And that people are really enabled to work from home. People were initially excited to work from home. They liked things like being able to dress casually, balancing work-life better, and learning new things or painting by saving time. After a while, their productivity started to drop as the excitement came down. Then they started stretching themselves to make up for this loss working for 9-12 hours instead of 8. Organizations were happy with the productivity. But it is not sustainable.
Q – Was it reflected in the mood meter, you mentioned?
Not really, but it was obvious to us that people are stretching. Most people haven’t taken a day off, in a six-month period, not even for some work at home. The stress of continuously working from home is expected to affect people. According to the other HR professionals I have spoken to on this, not having a change in the routine and being stuck in the same rut is bound to take a toll on people.
Q – Would you like to highlight any specific steps you have taken to reduce the impact? Share any tips? I think you mentioned that enablement is one.
We have changed how we run every meeting, by offering time for some breakout sessions of 5-10 minutes. Like watercooler sessions. Encourage people to catch up with each other, talk about things other than work. We organize high-five meetings, where people greet each other and check on them. These are important to us, as people. We are not machines.
We have also started running an ‘At Home’ programs – twice in India time and twice in US time. We get on a call and have coffee together. The conversation may revolve around the different types of coffee mugs. We also organize for everyone to have breakfast together virtually, on Thursdays. We may decide on a theme for the meeting and share old school or family photographs. We may share our best holiday photographs. Once we shared pictures of our slippers or favorite shoes. Someone may find that they own sneakers similar to what the CEO owns or loves to wear. This helps with informal bonding.
Q – So, all of you spend time together informally to know each other better and talk about things other than just business.
Yes. We have also been doing online yoga together in break times. Whatever we do, we don’t do it just to mark the activity.
Q – Engagement and recognition seem to be important aspects of your policy or practices. Do you also have activities for appreciation or recognition on a regular basis?
Yes. We do that regularly, but we don’t use any framework for it, other than our internal frameworks.
Q – Do you think it is valuable and necessary?
Yes, it is valuable. I think organizations should certainly do that.
Sameer – thank you so much for your time and sharing your thoughts with us. It has been wonderful to understand your approach to performance/talent management and the new concepts that you are implementing.