There’s something about intriguing, slightly abstract-sounding concepts that the managerial ecosystem just can’t get enough of. In the last couple of years, productization and automation were on the tip of everybody’s tongue. Now, ‘agile performance management’ is the hot new thing on the block.
Performance management, by itself, refers to the methods your managers use to evaluate and improve their direct reports’ ability to do their job. This will usually take the form of ‘performance reviews’ that take place a handful of times per year, at most. Agile performance management, on the other hand, involves embracing a collaborative management style that uses personal goals and much more frequent meetings to coach and empower your employees.
Agile was once mainly a product-development philosophy. In recent years, however, it has been picked up in all areas of business activity, including HR departments.
Done the right way, embracing agile can take your workforce to new heights. Good agile management leads to rapid performance improvements and employees who are better able to anticipate the needs of their role. It leads to stronger manager-report relationships and greater wellbeing and commitment from your team.
Agile Performance Management Helps Your Team Improve Faster
Agile performance management involves meeting with each of your reports weekly or biweekly to assess progress towards personal and collective targets. In our newly remote world that demands greater adaptability and flexibility, bi-annual reviews should be a thing of the past.
For managers, more frequent meetings give plenty of opportunity for providing feedback and active coaching to reports. This kind of regular feedback, with more room for dialogue between manager and report, allows your employees to be more responsive to changes and challenges in their roles. It also allows managers to gather more information on report progress and areas of difficulty that can help shape coaching plans.
The agile approach also creates more opportunities for positive relationship-building between managers and their reports. By nature, agile performance management is all about collaboration and conversation between managers and their reports. No employee will be enthusiastic about a flat evaluation of their progress that comes around, at most, a couple of times a year. They will, however, be more excited about agile-style reviews whose stated aim is helping them succeed.
Managers can also use these more frequent meetings to understand their team members’ motivation and values better. Knowledge of both of these things is vital to getting the best out of employees.
Deliver Ongoing Coaching Conversations
Using an agile performance management strategy, managers and team members will meet regularly to discuss what’s working and what’s not working. This provides lots of organic opportunities for coaching, development, and upskilling.
Coaching in a non-agile context can be awkward and inefficient. You might be meeting with your team members to discuss performance quarterly, biannually or even annually. If your employee is struggling with something or feeling frustrated by a lack of direction in their work or career, they have to sit on those concerns until the next evaluation comes around.
Instead, via agile performance management, a concerned team member need only wait a week or two to share their thoughts with you. These ‘coaching conversations’ can be done in a casual manner, allowing for easy exchange of ideas between you and your employee based on new challenges the employee has faced recently.
You can give these coaching conversations purpose and direction by creating a series of performance-based KPIs or OKRs for each individual team member. You can tailor these KPIs to each team member, based on the respective areas that each team member wants to grow in. Perhaps you’ve got a sales rep who wants to become a frontline sales manager. Using an agile approach, it’s simple to set up a few KPIs to help them develop the administrative and motivational skills that will allow them to aim for that promotion.
Put Greater Focus on Wellness
The effects of employee wellbeing on job satisfaction and a company's performance are well-attested-to, and agile performance management puts managers in a great position to prioritize wellness.
Because of the higher meeting volume, team members can be made to feel more secure and supported by their managers. Managers can communicate praise and recognition to their direct reports faster, and if something's not going right, there's always an opportunity near at hand to correct it.
Agile means you'll never again have an employee who's struggling against a performance slump or a personal issue with no one to talk to about it for months at a time until their next review. Just as agile allows your team to course-correct more quickly in business, it will enable your management to get a hold of developing issues/needs in your team's lives and address them more quickly.
Allows You to Build Data Faster
More interaction and more meetings under an agile philosophy equals more data on your employees to help improve their performance.
Your managers won't just spend these new weekly meetings shooting the breeze with their reports. Managers should base an employee's improvement plan around KPIs, preferably relative to their promotional trajectory. During each session, managers can log data relevant to those KPIs and share it with HR.
More data about an employee’s performance allows your HR organization to make better decisions about things like:
- Promotions and recognition, where data is showing that your employee is performing well
- New tools and new hires, where data shows that one or more members of a team need to be given more support to accomplish individual and collective aims
- Coaching initiatives, where data shows that one or more members of a team might benefit from a programmatic approach in learning new skills or sharpening old ones
You can also use the data you pull from your performance reviews to improve the employee experience.
Agile Performance Management Makes Improvement a Constant Activity
A manager reluctant to 'go agile' might be concerned about having so much more input in their reports' working lives. "Surely my reports don't want more meetings? They just want to get on with their duties uninterrupted!"
In these days of Zoom fatigue, it's a legitimate misgiving. But data shows that most employees want more feedback and have a real appetite to improve faster. By making the switch to agile performance management, you can make that happen.