Performance management is getting a much-needed upgrade to performance enablement. Instead of emphasizing past performance, performance enablement looks toward the future, gives employees the tools and resources they need to excel, and aligns employee potential with business goals.
To tell us why this evolution matters, I’m thrilled to welcome back to the podcast Betterworks CEO Doug Dennerline and Vice President of HR Transformation Jamie Aitken. They’re about to publish a book on this concept called “Make Work Better: Revolutionizing How Great Bosses Lead, Give Feedback, and Empower Employees.”
In this episode, we discuss why they wrote the book, why traditional performance management needs to evolve, and why managers are essential to this transformation.
Punk Rock HR is proudly underwritten by Betterworks. The world’s most dynamic organizations rely on Betterworks to accelerate growth by supporting transparent goal setting, enabling continuous performance and learning from employee insights. Betterworks is on a mission to help HR leaders make work better. Discover how they can help you by visiting www.betterworks.com.
Rethinking Performance Management
Improving performance management is a big task because it requires thinking differently about the role of technology and the role of people in improving performance. Inertia is difficult to overcome, even when companies know better.
“We’ve been looking at the world and really been struggling with why so many companies realize that the HR processes around performance management are broken, they don’t work, don’t change performance, yet they still do them. It’s a 100-year-old process,” Doug says
Traditional performance management is a hierarchical, compliance-based approach that looks backward rather than forward. Performance enablement, by contrast, encourages HR and managers to be more supportive and communicative with employees — giving them feedback they can actually use in real time.
If performance management is about belated feedback, think of performance enablement as “feed forward — the notion that, in a career conversation, I’m asking you, ‘What is it that you want to do next? How can I help you? What obstacles can I help get out of your way?’” Jamie says.
The type of feedback your organization gives also affects your ability to hire, as job candidates want to know how you help people grow.
“One of the questions you should be asking in your interview process is, ‘How are you going to manage my performance? What are the ways that you’re going to support my career growth?’” Jamie says. If these companies say they do traditional annual or semiannual reviews, that’s a red flag.
The CEO-CHRO Role in Performance Enablement
Adopting performance enablement requires organizations to transform, and that starts with the CEO and chief HR officer working well together.
“A really important aspect of success is what I call a CEO who understands that people are the most important asset inside of an organization,” Doug says. “You can’t achieve any goal without your people helping you do that.” In turn, the CHRO must be willing to deliver hard truths to the CEO about the leadership team’s ability to drive this transformation.
Betterworks experienced this when working with the University of Phoenix. The CEO there wanted to see change and called for a more transparent culture. While Betterworks assisted with this transformation, the university had to do the hard work of earning buy-in and enthusiasm.
“When it’s done right, it’s clearly got sponsorship from the top, but the transformation is created in such a way that the organization doesn’t feel like it’s something that’s been done to them but rather done with them and for them,” Jamie says.
Not every company takes the same path to performance enablement and goal transparency. Doug shares how Colgate kept its goals private initially. “Then a few courageous people published them. And people go, that’s kind of cool, look at their goals, look what they’re working on. And so over the course of time, they just got more and more adoption,” Doug says.
Managers Are Essential for Change
Managers are the linchpins of organizations, and they have so much pressure on them in terms of managing people, doing their own work and executing the organization’s strategy. Jamie admits that it’s easy for HR to get excited about big plans and forget to think about how to get people managers comfortable.
While performance enablement emphasizes regular, ongoing conversations between managers and workers, it can actually be less of a burden than a lengthy annual process. And the repetition has other benefits — what Jamie calls “frequency builds competency,.
“At first, maybe you’ll be a little awkward. Over time, it becomes more natural. And suddenly you are becoming, you’re growing into that coach/talent manager that we’re all hoping that they will be,” Jamie continues.
In their upcoming book, Doug and Jamie address the importance of consistently connecting with managers. When they’re engaged throughout the change process, there’s a greater chance for success.
“Setting goals once a year is pretty outdated these days in terms of having to be agile as an organization and change strategy on the fly,” Doug says. “What you find is those people that are the change agents, that are leaders in the organization, that are managers, and you engage them first to help build the process. And then have them be the advocates internally for the change that you have put them through.”
People in This Episode
Punk Rock HR is sponsored by Betterworks. The world’s most dynamic organizations rely on Betterworks to accelerate growth by supporting transparent goal setting, enabling continuous performance and learning from employee insights. Betterworks is on a mission to help HR leaders make work better. Discover how they can help you by visiting Betterworks.com today.
Hey, everybody, I’m Laurie Ruettimann. Welcome back to Punk Rock HR. My guests today are Jamie Aiken and Doug Dennerline of Betterworks. They’re on the show today because they’re about to publish a new book called “Make Work Better. Revolutionizing How Great Bosses Lead, Give Feedback, and Empower Employees.”
In my conversation with Jamie and Doug today, we talked about performance management and how it’s actually transforming into something called performance enablement. And how by rethinking this whole performance enablement process, you can drive business results that you can actually change the lives of your workforce.
You listen to Punk Rock HR because you want big, bold, interesting ideas in the world of work, and today’s show absolutely delivers. So if you want to rethink performance management and actually enable your workforce to change, well, sit back and enjoy this conversation with Doug Dennerline and Jamie Aiken of Betterworks. Hey Jamie, welcome back to the podcast.
Hey, Laurie. Nice to see you again.
Yeah, you, too. And Doug, you’re here, as well.
I am. Thanks so much for having us again.
Yeah. Well, I’m so pleased to have you both join us because you’ve got a new book coming out called “Make Work Better. Revolutionizing How Great Bosses Lead, Give Feedback, and Empower Employees.” So Doug, last time you were on the podcast, you gave us kind of a sneak peek on the fact that you were writing the book. Why don’t you just give us a refresher — why’d you write this book, and why now?
Yeah, it’s interesting, Laurie. I’ve had a kind of an interesting career having been a leader of a sales organization with 6,000 people in my organization at Cisco. And having an HR business partner and doing all those processes you need to do in a big company around performance reviews and ratings and bell curves and all those interesting things, to ending up being a CEO that builds HR software at SuccessFactors and now Betterworks, and being able to see what different companies do or don’t do with these technologies.
And so, Jamie and I know each other from SuccessFactors, and I brought her to work for me there as a person who’s from the HR space. And we’ve been looking at the world and really been struggling with why so many companies realize that the HR processes around performance management are broken, don’t work, don’t change performance yet they still do them. And it’s a 100-year-old process. So we decided to write a book and poke organizations to say, “We get to see these companies that we sell this software to have these amazing results when they go through this change management process,” and poking people to be brave enough to go do that. And that was really the motivation.
I love that. Jamie, when I think about a book around performance management and really performance enablement, that’s a pretty big topic. So who’s the book for?
Well, I would say certainly, it’s a shoutout to all of my HR peeps because I think we’ve sort of been stuck in the, to a certain extent, the “this is the way it’s always been done.” And so I’m calling for courage to challenge that notion, but it’s also for business leaders.
Because I think, more and more, great leaders are being called upon to be much more people-centric and much more empathetic in the way that they lead. I would say it’s those two, in particular. But I would also suggest it would be a great read for somebody who’s just entering the workforce because they also could be catalysts, they could also be champions of change.
And in fact, I think one of the things we mentioned in the book is, as an employee, one of the questions you should be asking in your interview process is, “How are you going to manage my performance? What are the ways that you’re going to support my career growth?” And if the answer is, “Oh, well, we have this process that we’ve been doing for — the classic traditional once or twice a year,” I’d keep walking.
No, I would run.
Well, I love that. So if you can crystallize the main message of the book, and I’ll give you both a chance to do this. Doug, let’s start with you. What’s the main message of the book? What’s the thesis?
The thesis is, it’s time to move to something that is more modern, that meets the needs of today’s workforce, that’s lightweight, it’s check-ins, it’s being invested. We’re really trying to flip the whole idea, Laurie, that it’s not this HR-driven process that everybody is forced to do, but it’s actually seen as a benefit to the individual contributor and the manager. Because they’re now invested in something that’s helping them perform better, achieve more, get to where they want to be in the organization. And then showing a road map for companies on how you get from where you are to where you need to be.
Jamie, what do you think the main message of the book is? I know Doug is your co-author and so eloquent, and I think you joked around in the last episode that you share a brain.
It’s going to get to the point that I’m going to mention, which is this idea of creating a partnership or an alliance between business and HR, CEO and CHRO. And during the writing of the book, I was talking to an awful lot of my HR peers about, “What were situations where you thrived, and when were you thwarted?”
And almost universally the message came back that when we thrived, we were actually step by step walking with the CEO, being called on for counsel, feeling comfortable and courageous enough to challenge business direction, and be involved in achieving the business through the people.
So I think it’s really important that HR leaders have that type of relationship. And almost to our point previously, as somebody who is going into an interview for a leadership role in HR, the questions there would be, “Who do I report into?” And if I’m hearing anything other than the CEO of the organization, run, don’t walk, but move on.
Well, Doug, it’s so important that we talk about the role of the CEO because there is a sense of urgency, I feel, with performance management. And oftentimes that sense of urgency is felt with the average individual contributor because it’s so terrible. But let’s make the case why the time is now for CEOs and CHROs and CTOs and chief legal officers, all of them, to care about performance management. Why now?
I think it’s super important. Laurie, if you look at what’s going on in the world right now, we’ve all seen a number of people being laid off, especially in tech. And if you want to attract and retain the people that you now have, you need to give them processes that help them grow. And so I think that’s one reason it needs to happen now.
But to Jamie’s point, a really important aspect of success is when what I call a CEO who understands that people are the most important asset inside of an organization. You can’t achieve any goal without your people helping you do that. And you pair that person with a CHRO or a chief people officer who I call has a seat at the table, and I know HR uses that term, as well. But what do I mean by that?
It means that they’re curious about the business. They understand the strategy of the company. They can hold a mirror up to the CEO and say, “Your leadership team, these four people on your team don’t have the skills to get you where you need to get what your strategy is, and you need to make some changes. And here’s the skills of the people that you need to bring into the organization.”
And be brave enough to have that conversation. And candidly, earn the right to have that conversation because they understand the strategy. And when those two people pair up, we have seen many times over, Jamie and I and all these people we sell our stuff to, these companies thrive in that environment.
When the CEO stands up and says, “You know what? Here’s the changes we’re going to make. They’re going to be hard. You’re going to do it, and here’s the benefit of it, and here’s what we hope to get the results from that are, and we’ll share the change with you, but we’re going to go there.” And a lot of times it’s the CEO going, “Hey, head of HR, go make that change. Good luck.” Then people come complain later, and it never works out.
Well, Jamie, I see you nodding your head, and one of the things I love about this book are the case studies. This book is packed full of them. And maybe you can share an example of when it’s gone right? Because we all know these HR horror stories, right? These performance management horror stories, but what have things gone right, Jamie? What have you seen that you liked?
Well, I’ll cite a particular example, and I’m sure Doug has many stories as well. University of Phoenix would be one that, I would say, is a bold and courageous story. The new CEO came in and said, we need to change the culture where we need to become much more transparent in order to drive forward with the strategies that we’re trying to achieve. So it showed up in a bunch of different ways.
Of course, they brought Betterworks in to create the environment where conversations, connection and trust were starting to be built up within the culture, in the fiber of the culture. But they did an awful lot of other interesting things, as well. And I think, when it’s done right, it’s clearly got sponsorship from the top, but it’s also built into — the transformation is created in such a way that the organization doesn’t feel like it’s something that’s been done to them but rather done with them and for them. So that’s a story I really like to talk about.
Well, I love that example. And I know Doug, there’s a story in your book about Colgate, if I’m not mistaken. So can you talk a little bit about Colgate and why that was so important to put in the book?
If you think about who Colgate the company is, it’s been around — package goods company — for a hundred years. And they realize that they need to track and find talent just like every other organization. And in order to find those amazing people, they realized they had a bunch of processes that were not well-liked at all, didn’t change performance. And so they went in with a really nice approach.
They basically said, “We’re going to buy these products, we’re going to let you the organization determine at what pace you want to implement these and at what scale.” So we like our goal application to be transparent and public and make them available for everybody to see. Well, their culture wasn’t ready for something, for everybody to publish everybody’s goals for everybody to see.
So they made them private to start with. And then a few courageous people published them. And people go, that’s kind of cool, look at their goals, look what they’re working on. And so over the course of time, they just got more and more adoption and more and more adoption for lightweight check-ins for goal setting with their managers.
And now, it’s adopted throughout the organization. And if they’ve seen the results of it, there’s more confidence in leadership, there’s better understanding of the company strategy. The engagement scores have climbed pretty dramatically. And so it’s had a really positive impact on them.
I think it’s a key element to transformation. Gone are the days where you can bring a tech in to solve a human problem. Right? So yes, it’ll give you the tools, but you have to be very thoughtful about the change that you are bringing and the speed in which you do it. And every organization’s going to have a different level of appetite and consume that innovation over time. And when you think about it, the adoption is almost like turning a volume on a stereo.
Over time, what are we looking to change in the first year, in the second year, in the third year? And by having more frequent conversations, you’re building that competency and that organizational capability over time. So gone are the days where we would think “go live” means everything is miraculously different, that we know how that story ends. So I’m proud to say that we take a lot of care and focus around making sure that adoption happens in a meaningful way for our customers.
These phrases like “adoption” and “go live” are really scary, and they’re especially scary to managers, who are like, “Oh my goodness, I’ve got to manage my own job that I’m doing, help my people achieve what they need to achieve, manage morale, manage expectations. And by the way, you want me to go live and adopt something on Tuesday? This is insane.”
So I was really struck in the book by how we, as human beings, tend to overlook managers, yet they are the linchpin, the cornerstone of success to so much of this. So Jamie, talk to me about the role of managers, and why do we overlook them all the time?
First, I’ll put my hand up and say, I’ve made that mistake earlier in my career, as well. We would sit as earnest HR practitioners in a conference room and design a process and think, this is going to be fantastic. And suddenly everybody is going to be talent managers and do all this.
And then we’d sort of huck the process over the fence to the organization and sit back bewildered that nothing changed. Well, we weren’t doing what we needed to do to help people managers understand and help them build that competency over time on what that really takes. Right? So one of the things that I really like is this notion of frequency builds competency.
And so we’re not actually asking people to do more. The effort of the traditional performance management on average takes five hours on average for a manager to complete the process. So that’s a heavy burden for a manager. What we’re suggesting instead is do those same kinds of conversations and give that feedback, encouragement, career growth, all of those discussions, do them frequently over the course of the year, as opposed to once or twice a year.
And that whole notion of frequency builds competency. At first, maybe you’ll be a little awkward. Over time, it becomes more natural. And suddenly you are becoming, you’re growing into that coach/talent manager that we’re all hoping that they will be. Because frankly, managers are the big ambassador of change when it comes to this type of transformation.
Yeah. Doug, I see you nodding your head. You’ve seen it in your career. Right? So talk to me about your passion for managers, and how do we get it right with them moving forward?
It’s so important. We’re actually having a lot of internal dialogue on this front right now, too, Laurie, to even build more intelligence into our platform, aim specifically at the manager to lead them down a path that helps them understand, “Hey, you haven’t spoken with Susan in two weeks. You should have this conversation with her based upon the data we have in the product.”
But what we tend to find is, and thank goodness for this, is whenever we sell to an organization, there tends to be a few managers who go, “I cannot wait to put a new process in place because I hate the old one.” Setting goals once a year is pretty outdated these days in terms of having to be agile as an organization and change strategy on the fly.
And so what you find is those people that are the change agents, that are leaders in the organization, that are managers, and you engage them first to help build the process and then have them be the advocates internally for the benefit to the change that you have put them through. But the real change is — and we were bold enough in the book to say, you know what, this feels a little bit like to me at a point in time when people like Borders books stuck with brick and mortar when the web came around, and they didn’t pivot their strategy. And so our stuff helps you be agile and helps you do what you need to do with an organization to pivot whoever you need to pivot to whatever they need to do to attack the problems of today, not something you set nine months ago.
Gosh, that’s so interesting. And you do begin the book with the story of Borders, right? And how they just could not compete with Amazon. And it makes me think, Borders got wiped out pretty quickly, but it’s taken a hundred years to wipe out the old way of doing performance management.
So Jamie, I just wonder, are we wiping it out? Are we getting rid of the old way of doing goals and talking to people? Is there a new way on the horizon or are we just getting excited again, and it’s going to go nowhere? I hope you’re going to make me positive and not cynical with this answer.
Oh, no. I don’t think we should be cynical at all. Well, No. 1, transformation is, I have spent my career drawn to transformation because to me that’s where innovation lies. And if you think about what employees are asking for now, as opposed to even 10 years ago or five years ago, they want feedback.
They want to be having conversations about what their career growth is. So we need to provide an avenue, an environment, a safe place where they feel like they can have those conversations. I don’t think you’re going to tamper that down. In fact, it’s getting louder. The calls for that kind of environment are louder.
So I guess, then the question is, are we bold enough in leadership to actually pay attention? And we keep going back to this notion of walk. People are starting to vote with their feet, and so I think, hopefully, there’ll be enough innovators out there that say, “Yes, it’s time. Let’s just blow this up and do it the right way with performance enablement.” But I think that they will have attrition issues at some point that will shock them into making that change, or they’ll be brick and mortar.
If you look at a curve, an adoption curve for a new process, we’ve spent the 10 years that we’ve been a company building an application that lets people do this the way that we think it should be done, which is very different than once a year or twice a year. Lightweight, easy to do, 15 minutes per person, a quarter, maybe 15 minutes’ feedback from manager. So very lightweight compared to what we do today.
And look who we’re selling to, we’re selling to either companies like Colgate who realize that, and they are an early adopter in this case, but high-tech, financial services, these are the people who are adopting these new processes and putting the organizations through these changes because they are always early adopters. The first to take tech, the first to take the web.
And now we’re going to get to Main Street, which is where everybody goes, “Wow, look at all the success they’re having over there.” You get momentum where you make it to Main Street for everybody. And I think we’re right at that technology adoption curve where people are going to have to move because all those millennials in our workforce, 75% of them, are not going to tolerate a once-a-year look-back situation.
Think about it this way, you and I are co-workers, and we’re working on a project together. And I want to give you feedback, but I’m in Slack, because that’s usually where I live. If I’m able to give you feedback or recognition in Slack, and it gets picked up in the background. As opposed to, once a year, you might send out asking for feedback from me and other people on the project team, and I think, “Oh gosh, what was it that we were working on?”
And then I have to get out of where I’m at — Slack, Outlook, whatever — go into a separate system, enter in some data that’s probably — my memory isn’t as great as the next guy’s. But you know what I’m saying? If it’s in the moment, then that becomes a lot more natural and a lot richer and robust in terms of timely feedback.
Yeah. Don’t ask anybody to put feedback into a Microsoft Word document anymore.
That happens, but it’s not helpful, and it’s not even realistic. It’s interesting, even the language you’re using around performance is moving the market forward. It’s challenging people. You don’t say performance management, you say performance enablement, and I love it. And I just wonder, can we define that for the audience? Jamie, Doug, who wants to take a crack at that?
Well, I’ll go first. I mean, if you think about performance management, at the heart of it is this hierarchical managing of the performance, right? So right off the bat, it feels very heavy, it feels very old school, feels like something that, well, there’s a lack of trust in it. So performance isn’t going to happen unless you manage it. And we know that it’s a very compliance-based process.
If you think about performance enablement, what does that open up? That suggests that I’m giving feedback, but I’m also giving what we call “feed forward” — the notion that, in a career conversation, I’m asking you, “What is it that you want to do next? How can I help you? What obstacles can I help get out of your way?” It has a completely different shift or vibe to it as it relates to what we’re doing to provide support and growth for employees.
Makes sense. Doug, what’s your take on that?
Whether we like it or not, command to control as a management style is long gone. The best managers in the world lead with empathy. And the conversation is not about how did you perform, but say, “Let’s have a conversation for the next 90 days. What are those important things you’re working on for the company, and what are the couple things that we want to work on together to get you to where you want to be in the organization and grow yourself? And let’s agree on what those are, and let’s look at attainment of those goals over the course of time. And if you’re not attaining them, let’s have a conversation. Is there some roadblocks that I can help remove for you?”
So it’s more about helping somebody accomplish and giving them a platform to enable than it is around managing their performance. To me, that’s why it’s such a silly system to think I’m smart enough to come once a year, sit down and write on a piece of paper how you performed in a meeting, in a month, in a week, in certain circumstances. It is so biased based, it’s just pathetic.
Yeah, it’s over. I like that. We’re killing it and moving on to the next phase of interaction at work. I mean, I’m so excited about this book. I wonder as we start to wrap up the conversation, when someone closes the book, they’re done with it, what’s one or two things you want them to absolutely remember? And Jamie, we’ll start with you. What do you want them to be thinking about when they’re done with that final chapter?
Well, here’s the persona that I would conjure up. I would conjure an HR leader who, perhaps, has been thwarted in these efforts before and is encouraged and has courage to say, “You know what? We can’t do this anymore. And I know how to do it, and I know how to approach it, and I’m ready to march into the CEO’s office and say, ‘We’re going to blow this up and do this better.’”
And Doug, what about you?
For me, I really hope that a bunch of CEOs read this and realize that they have been tolerating processes inside of their businesses that they don’t need to. And to be brave enough to sit down with somebody, a leader or their HR leader, and say, “Hey, let’s go do what they’re saying to do in this book, and look at the results of all these organizations that have done it. It seems like they’re doing a lot better than we’re doing and the people how they feel about our company. And so let’s go be brave enough to make a change.”
I love it. It’s a call to action for performance enablement. That’s amazing. Well, listen, I’m so pleased that you both were brave and bold enough to write a book. A collaborative book is no joke. It’s a journey. And we will make sure to include a link to the Amazon page in the show notes. And Jamie, Doug. Let’s start with you, Jamie. If people want to get in touch with you, what’s the best way to reach you?
We will make sure to have that.
Doug@betterworks.com. And you can pre-buy the book now on most of those channels, on Amazon or all the other websites where you would buy a book online.
Look at you, you’re doing the marketing, you’re doing the PR, you’re doing it all, Doug. You’re not just a CEO. You’ve got it all down. Well, Jamie, Doug, it was really great to see you again, and thanks again not only for being a guest today, but also sponsoring the Punk Rock HR podcast, and congratulations on writing your book.
Thank you, Laurie.
Good to see you.
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