I don’t normally write about issues such as performance reviews, but I have made an exception this year for good reason. This cycle is different…
Search for ‘performance review’ online and the guidance is overwhelming. Everyone has recommendations around refining the process. Some even recommend forgoing the process altogether. It’s complicated. It’s confusing. It’s confounding.
Don’t get stuck down the Google rabbit hole! Being lost in the inertia of process options isn’t the way forward for future-focused organisations. Lift your view to the things that matter and you will realise that this year, there’s an even more fundamental consideration to ponder: there is a silent COVID reconciliation going on right now; one where people weigh up their inputs with your outputs. How you show up in this review and reward cycle matters more than ever before.
Since the outset of 2022, businesses across the globe have faced continuing economic pressures – including rising interest and inflation. At the same time, there has been a sense of moving on from crisis to opportunity; from being disrupted to being the disruptors; and from response to positive action. Individuals are going through their own – coming out the other side – process. As we do in business, they will reconcile the facts around their current reality with the progression of their aspirations for the future. The last few years of progress will have a magnifying glass placed over them and human efforts will be reconciled against the evidence of growth and reward.
At Maximus, we decided a few months back was the perfect time to take stock; to look deeply at each individual, top to bottom. It was a good time to do a ‘double click’; to zoom in on each person’s individual context and try to understand how that stacked up against our plans and ambitions as an organisation. The goal was to ensure each person had the opportunity to maximise their growth and that they had what they needed to personally build a better future and thrive over the coming years. This is especially important in the context of rising inflation, steep property prices and some challenging economic headwinds to come. We wanted our people to feel hopeful about their ability to create a positive life.
We spent the first half of 2022 conducting personal labs; spending time in our people’s context. This unveiled the goals that each individual pursued – career plans, family plans, new homes, holiday plans, global study ambitions and better ways of working. It also sharpened the focus on what needed to evolve in their remits to get the best performance from them. Together, this enabled us to focus energy and rewards towards the right outcomes – for us and for our people.
We’d been through something extraordinary; and we were ready to do something out of the ordinary to honour the journey and commitment.
As we took stock, it became clear that in the face of exponential challenges, everyone had been remarkable; and as with any high performance culture, there were those who had put in a heroic effort and grown disproportionately over this period of time. We weren’t in the same position as a company; and they weren’t in the same position as people when we looked at the facts. They had leapt forward; and we had progressed in areas with them.
Some of the deliberate decisions we’ve enacted as a result, started with bringing forward this year’s review process months before the ‘due date’ as a way of setting the year (and our people) up for success; and stepping outside of self-imposed limits on remuneration increases and typical growth trajectories. This allowed us to be proactive with our people and to align more significant changes with our budget planning for FY23.
We have tripled our investment in development; and built significant increases into our people’s salaries whilst simultaneously sharpening growth deliverables. This year, more than a third of our people have stepped into new roles, opportunities or extended remits.
Knowing that people across the market are tired and weary, we added to people’s leave balance for FY23 as a thank you for their contribution. So many people had hopes for reconnection and holidays and we wanted to make that easier for them.
As we did all of this, here’s what became universally clear…
Genuine investment wins over ticking the box…
Whether you adopt a model of on-going one-on-ones; quarterly reviews or rich conversations, performance review can quickly become a ‘tick box’ exercise. To make review experiences meaningful, you have to look more deeply into the value equation that sits at the core of the relationship. Value sits differently in the eyes of the beholder. It is a subjective view of their commitment and how it has impacted what you have received; and vice versa. The view will almost always need to be brought into alignment using facts. At the heart of getting this alignment right is that the person feels their efforts are appreciated and the extent of the commitment is reciprocal in both intent and action.
Performance begins and ends with mindset…
Performance Breakthrough Coach Jensen Siam said something that resonated quite deeply with me: “To breakthrough your performance; you’ve got to breakthrough your psychology.”
In many ways, leading successfully through 2022 is all about instilling a mindset of progress and growth; of equilibrium. People are hungry for a sense of purpose and to realise their hopes. Because of this, this coming performance cycle is more critical than many of us realise. It’s an opportune time to tether the performance of each individual to a purpose and vision beyond themselves. We must allow the person to see their own progress and growth in the context of something bigger that they belong and contribute to.
If lockdowns saw us hyper-focused on individuals; performance review this year must see us re-connect those same individuals into a thriving organisational culture as we gear up for a different season. This will form the bedrock of an emotional commitment to showing up not only for yourself but for others around you and your company as well. A mindset of collective commitment is the motivator people need to achieve ‘breakthrough’ performance.
When the pressure tells you to let things slide, hold the line…
Across the business world, KPIs offer focus. With so much flux; so much change and uncertainty – there’s a narrative that they’re hard to set; and even harder to deliver.
At Maximus, we’ve taken a view that re-rationalising work might take the short term pressure off; but it destroys expectations around progress and growth. Setting an inspiring vision is only half of the work and a portion of what people need to feel motivated. Laser sharp targets provide clarity, even in chaos, acting as an important beacon for performance.
It’s not the time to shrink back from ambition. Your people are looking to be challenged and stretched again; for an opportunity to commit to rising to the occasion, together.
It’s the human conditions that enable success…
You can have the best system in place, but if the conditions supporting it are weak or misaligned, it will fail. At its core, performance is a human game, delivered by humans, for humans. When we looked at people who had triumphed, they had sponsors in their corner – people behind them, seeing them through the ups and down. The human conditions you place around your system will have a disproportionate impact on the outcome.
Ensuring your leaders know how to drive peak performance back into growth is essential; they can straddle both care and challenge their people with the understanding that without a sponsor, many people will fail or opt out. They can set and enable people to meet those ambitious targets and at the same time offer the support and coaching people need to ensure everyone can achieve their bonuses.
Intent, and then reinvent…
The biggest danger isn’t in following a system, but rather in forgetting why it exists and failing to adapt it accordingly.
Before we held any conversations, we aligned on intent. We didn’t set the normal ‘upper limits’ for increases this year because we knew we were steering through accelerated growth. Instead, we focused on how the roles and remits of our people had grown and compared these new capabilities to market. This saw many sizeable changes for our people and record internal promotion levels. Why? Simply because they deserved it, so we made it happen.
People lose their appetite for and even belief in an organisation where there are restrictive limits on achievement or reward. In trying to define performance; we stifle it, becoming a victim of our own system.
I’ll say it again: this year – make sure you treat your performance cycle differently. Its ramifications are set to echo loudly in the coming years.
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