Stuart Hearn: Why all the HRTech in the world will be wasted if your employee engagement is stuck in the dark ages

Stuart Hearn, CEO and Founder of Clear Review, considers the importance of engaging employees over investing in tech solutions

As technologists, we like to think that there is a killer piece of software, a perfect implementation, that can solve a business’ problems with a flick of a switch. In this era of rapid digitalisation and huge organisational transformations, we want to believe that one more tool is all that is needed.

The problem is, deep down we know that’s not true. That really, no matter how bleeding edge the technology, no matter how on trend it is, any digital tool is only as good as the people using it. In business, people mean employees, and use means the processes and cultures surrounding them.

Let’s consider employee engagement. We all know the equation; more engaged employees deliver better results for the employer. Gallup did a report on it – it found that “highly engaged teams show 21% greater profitability”.

How, then, do you unlock this goldmine, particularly at a time when your workforce could well be dispersed, working out of bedrooms and kitchen tables, only occasionally venturing to your now predominantly empty office?

Firstly, you need to realise that whatever worked in the past will not keep your workforces engaged any more. Surely this is where technology teams shine? We have a role, and it is to connect decentralised teams and keep them engaged.

Certainly, that is part of it. If your collaboration software, your basic IT infrastructure and your communication tools are not user friendly, you will have multiplied the stress your colleagues are already under. But beyond that, there are much more fundamental issues that needed to be addressed.

Performance management is one those points. It wasn’t perfect before a large portion of the workforce ended up working remotely; now, many organisations are faced with having to fix an imperfect system in an already disrupted environment.

What was wrong with performance management? Frankly, it was no longer fit for purpose. Even before the pandemic accelerated pretty much everything, businesses were focused on monthly and quarterly goals. While the wisdom of that is up for debate, the reality is that when everything is geared up from one month to the next, why then are we tracking the performance of our people on an annual basis at best?

On top of that, that yearly appraisal cycle clashes with the basic principles of coaching people to achieve their best. Many organisations have woken up to the benefits of continuous agile coaching, rather than simply supervising teams, yet how can leaders be expected to coach effectively and on an ongoing basis when they have to align to a rigid, calendar performance review process.

So, what does this mean for performance management? It’s about moving away from one or two meetings a year to a much shorter cycle, and moving from annual objectives to monthly ones, in line with changing business needs. Those goals need to change too – as well as focusing on individual performance, they need to take into account interaction and collaboration with team members and the wider business, and be focused on things that can actually be improved by the individual in question. If too many objectives are tied to business-wide numbers, employees can feel disengaged by both the scale and the sense that whatever they do, targets will only be reached due to other factors.

Where does technology come in? Aside from having more agile performance management and coaching systems, which do not take whole days to update, HRTech needs to integrate with the day-to-day processes and software managers and their teams already use. If review meetings and coaching sessions are to move to monthly cycles, then the prep work for those occasions needs to be much shorter. Therefore whatever system is being used to manage and capture evidence needs to be able to quickly gather that information, whether it’s pulling data from a CRM database when discussing an inside sales client manager’s performance, opening metrics for an email marketing specialist’s coaching, or NPS and feedback scores for a customer service agent.

On top of that, it needs to be flexible, easy to use and scalable. These are critical functionalities, yet it all points back to the unassailable fact that if the people processes are not in place, then the technology can only do so much. Ultimately businesses need to get their approach to employee engagement right, and then use technology to augment and enable a culture of continuous coaching and agile performance management.

We all want to be engaged in what we do, and businesses want us to be engaged too. All the evidence points to it being the best way to drive better overall performance. As the world of work shifts, so the way in which we measure individual efforts needs to keep up; if it does not, then employers run the real risk of completely alienating and disengaging their workforces. And no amount of technology, of bleeding edge HRTech, can prevent that.

 

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