Regularly evaluating the performance of your staff can help a business better meet individual and collective targets. We talk to two companies developing new employee evaluation techniques to engage with staff about their tasks and expectations.
In 2013 Bristol-based data analytics company Consumer Intelligence served up a new engagement scheme for its then 75 employees inspired by actress Joan Collins.
“We called it the ‘Martini Culture’,” explained chief executive and co-founder Ian Hughes. “It wasn’t about allowing staff to have a few quick drinks at lunchtime but was more a working culture based on the famous Joan Collins Martini advert of ‘Anytime, Anyplace, Anywhere’.”
Based across five continents, Hughes said a strict policy of employees working between 9am and 5.30pm meant the business was not running as efficiently and effectively as it could.
“A UK employee might be at work in the early afternoon but a colleague they needed to speak to say in our Hong Kong office may not be at their desk at that time,” he explained. “The traditional working culture of thou shalt have one hour for lunch, be at your desk till 5.30pm and wear a suit and tie wasn’t working for us. So, we brought in a new flexi-time approach where employees were free to work from home or the office and choose their own times to be as productive as they could be.
“We decided we wanted to measure not input, so the hours an employee worked, but output in terms of meeting objectives and deadlines and the quality of their work. In essence, I didn’t mind if someone came into the office at midnight and worked to 5am as long as they did the work we had asked them to do.”
Bucking the trend
Hughes said the culture took some time for managers and employees to become accustomed to particularly those in the sales team who subsequently struggled to hit their sales targets.
“Some managers couldn’t cope with their team not being in the office at set times and some employees missed the structure of a 9-5 job,” said Hughes. “So, we have made a few iterations, the main one being the introduction of OKRs about 18 months ago.”
OKRs or “objective and key results” is a management methodology stemming from Intel and Google. It links the work of each employee with a company’s overall strategic plan. The objectives outline what a company and employee wants to accomplish and the key results are how they get there.
“We set an overall company objective for an upcoming quarter and then it cascades down to the employees. Managers and staff together come up with individual objectives and key results,” Hughes explained.
“These are measurable, with a deadline and are discussed at 45 minute-long weekly evaluation check-ins and coaching sessions between management and staff. Progress can be measured, and honest feedback is given. Too often in a 9-5 culture an employee can get away with sitting at their desk and doing very little until an annual performance appraisal. With OKRs that is not possible, you are more accountable for your work and performance. Every employee objective is transparent and can be seen by both them and management.”
Hughes said, since implementation, employees and managers are working more clearly in the same direction and boosting profits. “We are looking at an uplift of eight per cent in gross margins since implementation,” he revealed. “We are seeing better customer service and improved efficiency and effectiveness. The fog within the business and between management and staff is being lifted.”
Online tuition provider MyTutor also runs quarterly OKR sessions with its 25 strong staff but mixes this approach with more traditional appraisals.
“We have standard appraisals for all employees including a three-month review after probations, a six month and a one-year review, followed by annual reviews thereafter,” said Bertie Hubbard, co-founder and chief executive. “We also have weekly one to ones with line managers and cross-department colleagues. Additionally, every medium or large project has a closing meeting in which we discuss team performance.”
Where MyTutor has earned top marks however is in its innovative approach to employee feedback. It describes it as “immediate feedback”.
“The feedback system we endorse was born out of a session at our summer away day last year, with suggestions from friends who’d been through McKinsey’s training programme and reading about best-in-class practice from other startups,” explained Hubbard.
“It works by encouraging employees to feedback constructively as the need arises, as well as meet with colleagues they work closely with for informal one-on-ones. There are no hierarchical barriers to this system since it’s useful for people of all levels within the company. We’re all still learning, regardless of position, and by its very nature it is spontaneous and unstructured, so as to not interrupt the flow and pace of our work. Feedback points range from methods, tools and approaches to resource allocation, management, and communication style.”
Defend your position
Hubbard added that the informal one-on-one sessions that employees conduct with one another puts them in a position to direct their personal development which is helpful for a line manager in formal reviews.
He added: “Immediate feedback is information for employees to act on and do with what they want, rather than be held to account over. It’s there to support the way we work together while allowing everyone to constantly improve their skills. This includes giving and receiving feedback and defending decision rationale.”
Hubbard said the system helps the group to preserve an “open culture” in which employees can share, provide and debate ideas.
“Because the critique is delivered in context, we apply our learnings to real-life situations, rather than hypothetical circumstances, developing better habits as we go,” he explained. “As a system, it takes some getting used to, since both giving and receiving feedback has its own challenges. Learning not to take criticism personally, for example, can be helped by the way it’s given, and it does require practise in order to get better at it. Ultimately, our feedback system acts as a learning vehicle for every individual, doesn’t hinder the speed of our output and provides material for formal appraisals.”
Want to find out whether your approach to employee evaluation and feedback is on track? Make use of our benchmarking tool to find out where on the scale you are.