Sonica Aron is the Founder and Managing Partner of Marching Sheep, an HR advisory firm specializing in Strategic HR advisory, Diversity and inclusion interventions and capability building. An XLRI post graduate, Sonica has worked with companies like Pepsico, Vodafone, Roche Diagnostics and ICI paints. She started her career with a sound understanding of business where she went route-riding with Pepsico and was part of the team that launched Pepsi 200 ml at Rs 5. She was the first lady HR Manager stationed at a factory in Upcountry UP and there the seeds to her diversity practice were born.

As we approach the end of financial year end, many organizations are going to launch their performance appraisal process.  This is the time of the year when annual performance reviews are conducted across many organizations. However, this year is going to be a very different year as the year gone by was unlike any other which neither leaders nor employees were prepared for and thus shifting major focus was on business continuity and survival and to stay relevant. Reviewing performances for the year 2020 is going to be very different from the previous years.

This would mean that the traditional way of doing performance management and appraisals need to be relooked at, where the focus was predominantly on business results, rankings relative performance, for the purpose of generating a bell curve. 

Measuring and taking into account behaviors is needed considering in the context we all have been functioning in for the past year. In the past, during appraisals, ‘objectivity’ required little cognizance was given to what was happening in a person’s life. But during the pandemic, with sudden lockdown, and remote working, blurring of personal and professional boundaries, during the sudden shifts while balancing both professional and personal front, it is something that will need consideration. Adapting to sudden change in workplace environment with – work from home or hybrid working or remote working models has been huge shift that the entire workforce has grappled with. This led to a deluge of personal and professional challenges for people across organizations, varying in degrees across sectors. 

Recent Trends:

The current notational as well as Global trends in Performance Management are intrinsically linked to the rise of individuals and teams working remotely, required new modes of communication to ensure the workforce remains connected. 

Exponential rise in the rate of technological development, investments and adoption:

This has led to collection, analysis and reporting of data increasingly important in companies throughout 2020. HR departments delt heavily with data, and the use of analytics allowed HR administrators to apply analytics to a wide variety of metrics, covering absenteeism, turnover rates, and revenue per employee. 

But the real question was, while a few organizations did focus on building and leveraging HR analytics integration – through in-house capability, or brought in through external vendors or outsourced them (specific to organization that had the bandwidth for these investments) there were a few organizations that got left behind due to financial crisis. 

Did Integration of these HR analytics with Performance management tools effectively capture data that was relevant for the changing business environment and was it able to offer the real time data that brought necessary insight into the process to track progress and need for development of not just the business but also their workforce. 

Onboarding, offboarding and transitioning remote workers:

The year 2020 also saw cases of new hiring, transitioning, and exiting workers into new roles. With January being the most popular month for job changes. Therefore, the need to prepare for an influx of largely remote workers needed HR leaders to streamline a variety of processes to ensure their efforts to be effective, actionable and relevant. Automation may have seemed like a popular option but not for all organizations considering investments needed. At the same time Automation cannot be a complete replacement for the employee experience and humane touch a new joiner needs.

Understanding the employee experience:

Organizations lacking robust mechanism for tracking employee experience effectively were at a significant disadvantage when the lockdown was imposed with a population working either remotely or in hybrid work environments or on field. This led managers and leaders to adapt and respond to an avalanche of challenges and opportunities that needed immediate attention. Another challenge was gathering regular employee feedback. Managers and Leaders were uniquely challenged, with being accountable for business results on one side , and for team members well-being, experience and performance on the other.

Adapting performance management for the gender diverse workforce:

While organizations had to suddenly shut down and quickly shift from traditional ways of working employees across generations, genders and different life stages faced challenges that were unique to personal situations. There were employees who were living away from home, in PG accommodation and suffered from complete isolation. There were employees who were struggling to manage household chores, manage family commitments while be productive at work. There were employees who had to take care of elderly at home and so on.   

Embracing employee well-being:

Case of employees feeling isolated, burnt out and increased screen time disrupted work life balance. 2020 also lead to sudden spike in domestic violence cases, cases of depression and feeling a lack of connectivity with the work teams and colleagues. This contributed to a number of employees deciding to exit the workforce due to adverse impact on their well-being and it was specially seen to be high amongst women. 

Way forward:

Therefore, organizations, leaders and managers need to embark on the performance management and appraisal practice keeping the following in focus:

  1. Focus on measuring and assessing behaviors and not just results.
  2. The need to focus on how employees have worked towards upholding the culture of the organization during the pandemic.
  3. Managers and employees’ role in holding the teams together, their well-being, team spirit, can do attitude.
  4. Need for mangers to be empathetic during feedback process is going to be crucial. Building the capability of managers to preserve the psychological safety of the appraisee during appraisal 2021will go a long way in how they perform and deliver in 2021.
  5. Taking learnings from 2020 and planning for 2021- focus should be on what can we do to make 2021 a winning year. If 2020 was about survival, 2021 is about fighting back!

The big question for all getting into appraisal now is that will we focus on flogging the dead horse of 2020 or planning for the year 2021?