Matrix Environment Performance Complications
Avid Solutions, an industrial automation consulting firm based in North Carolina, provides project-based services through project managers and engineering consultants. Although the managers and consultants report to department managers, projects and the mix of teams constantly change, leading to a highly matrixed environment. The company faced a significant challenge in collecting constructive, real-time feedback.
“As a company, we believe the value is in the conversations. In fact, to emphasize conversations, we removed ratings from the performance program a few years ago,” said Tracy Cini, director of Human Resources, Avid Solutions. “But we went back when we automated our performance and learning programs so we could track data and more tightly link performance and learning.”
Managers Ask: How Do We Get Back to Conversations?
While the new approach strengthened parts of the program, the HR and management teams also realized another impact—less emphasis on conversation. “After about 2-3 cycles, managers started asking how we could get back to focusing more on conversations instead of ratings,” said Cini.
It also wasn’t clear if the company was getting the results needed. Most employees received good to great ratings, resulting in lightweight development plans. Plus, managers and employees were often talking about 6-month old projects. And for everyone, the process took up extensive time.
“Even with a good performance rating, the process was uncomfortable for an employee. Employees didn’t enjoy. Managers didn’t enjoy,” said Cini. “We needed to do something different.”
Real-Time Feedback and Conversations—SilkRoad Performance Management
Avid discovered the answer in SilkRoad Performance Management. “It enabled us to be transparent, offer employee self-direction and emphasize development,” said Cini.
SilkRoad Performance empowers employees and managers to react in real-time, setting and adjusting employee’s expectations and meeting at frequent intervals. Core components include Feedback, Expectations and the Check-In Meeting.
To implement as quickly as possible, Avid decided to use the system’s questions in their existing annual performance review process and then transition to a more frequent check-in process. “We used the feedback questions for department managers and project managers to provide input on employees,” said Cini.
Once the feedback was entered in the system, Avid then used the Expectations component to set up near-term employee expectations and how they will be accomplished. The Check-In Meeting component tracks quarterly conversations to discuss those expectations, feedback and career development.
“Employees and managers liked it because it was easy-to-use and had a shorter format. It also enabled much more direct feedback between everyone, especially with our project-based structure,” said Cini.
An Agile Process—Measuring the Benefits
In addition to the initial positive feedback from managers and employees, Avid also plans to measure employee participation rates, improved retention, promotion rates and the speed of promotions. “For example, if we can speed up development of a consultant from the first level to our top level, that impacts revenue by creating higher utilization and stronger skills,” said Cini.
Since the system offers self-direction for employees, Avid will be looking closely at employee participation. “Employees can request feedback, check-in meetings and more, whatever they feel that they need for growth and development,” said Cini.
Beyond measurement, Cini also offers planning advice for implementing an agile performance program. It starts with goals, senior management support, training and a big question—are you ready to decouple ratings and compensation? “If your company hasn’t discussed disconnecting compensation and performance ratings, you’re not ready,” said Cini. “We already manage compensation in a different way during our budgeting process, so it was a smooth transition for us with an immediate impact.”
But what really showed the full impact of SilkRoad Performance Management system was feedback from one of the company’s most highly experienced department managers:
“ … the reviews have been the most productive that I have been a part of in my career. The simple and easy-to-use format kept the emphasis on the conversation versus forms and ratings. This encouraged open and honest discussion instead of spending time reviewing checklists, ratings, and forms. This enhanced the openness and productivity of the review cycle.”