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Performance Management During a Pandemic: Setting Goals Amid Constant Change

Published Thu Jul 30 2020

Performance Management During a Pandemic: Setting Goals Amid Constant Change

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Performance management is the process of setting expectations, giving feedback, and addressing performance outcomes. But how can companies set expectations with employees when business objectives are uncertain and the skills, competencies, and behaviors needed to meet those goals are constantly changing?

This post is the first of two parts that focuses on laying the groundwork for how companies can effectively manage performance in a way that aligns with shifting business objectives and stays current with the changing skills, competencies, and behaviors employees need to meet those objectives.

The Challenges of Uncertainty

It goes without saying that aligning performance management to business objectives during the COVID-19 pandemic is like trying to shoot a moving target. For instance, how many times have you heard these questions?

“How will we handle performance reviews this year?”

“How can we set goals if we can’t pin down future business plans?”

“What will 2021 even look like?”

Right now there are too many unknowns for businesses to be able to map strategic objectives—ones that, under normal circumstances, would be used to guide the performance management process. So, how should organizations proceed?

Some companies have decided to create quarterly and monthly strategic plans because of the uncertainty of the current atmosphere. Regarding performance reviews, some have delayed them until later in the year, prioritizing staff well-being and focusing on performance later. Others are continuing as planned, but virtually, with adjustments like changing from a formal grading system to a simpler conversation format. These solutions work temporarily, but performance management and reviews cannot be put on hold for too long.

Adapting Versus Reacting to Change

There is change, and there is 2020-level change. And then there is 2020-level change in the United States_._ Whether you’re in the retail, hospitality, grocery, restaurant, or any other industry, you are likely experiencing a lot of change, and successfully navigating it depends on how well you can adapt.

Companies that adapt to change anticipate it, prepare for it, and are willing to bend as needed, whereas those that react to it do the opposite. A good analogy is imagining someone surrounded by rough waters. They’re being tossed around by the tide, surprised by each wave, and fighting to stay afloat. Not ideal yet relatable for many companies. The goal is to find a way to adapt no matter the situation. But how?

Focus on What You Can Control

There is a saying: “The same boiling water that softens the potato, hardens the egg. It’s about what you are made of, not the circumstances.” Change is inevitable, and businesses would do well to adapt to it by focusing on internal operations first.

What goes on inside a company—its organizational structure, operations, systems, people, and policies—is what business executives have control over. For example, they can assess various parts of their company, identify the functions or systems within it that would have the greatest impact on their ability to be ready for anything, and once identified, determine the changes that must take place to create a plan of action. This is how companies can focus internally to change what they can control so they can better adapt to the changes outside of their control.

Consider a Strategic Reset

In a recent Gartner article, it was recommended that companies use the lessons they learned from the COVID-19 pandemic as an opportunity to reset their strategies according to how they fit into three phases:

Phase 1: Respond—Focus on immediate needs to keep things afloat (short duration, often chaotic).

Phase 2: Recover—Make an organized effort to stabilize operations (medium duration).

Phase 3: Renew—Execute strategic, durable plans based on learning (long duration).

Finally, as companies assess the disruption caused by the pandemic while mapping their reset strategies, they should also assess which human capital elements they should disrupt so that they align with their continuous change management processes.

Stay tuned for part two of this post, which will focus more specifically on the roles that HR and L&D play in performance management, the importance of technology, and the role it plays in connecting goals, skills, and learning to deliver a better experience and a more effective performance cycle.

Editor’s Note: This is adapted from the Schoox Corporate Learning blog.

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