HR Operations, Technology and Analytics

HR and Big Data Rule 6 – Flexibility is the key to implementation

  • July 28, 2021
Nick Holley

Nick Holley, CRF Director of Learning

It is interesting to note the philosophy of the companies testing new ways of managing performance. Those that I spoke to weren’t trying to justify their decisions, but were at pains to point out that they were unsure whether what they’d designed would work and were willing to adjust their approach to reality. They didn’t talk about the system but the journey they were on.  

As Peter Glendinning said in his 2002 research Performance Management: Pariah or Messiah: “Finally once implemented a performance management system cannot be static.  Rather, it must evolve and must be carefully monitored for continuous improvement.  It must adapt to changing business and organizational climates.”

This also means understanding the complexity of the organisation you are working in and creating flexibility in the system so those closest to the business can adapt a global approach to address local cultural needs. These needs might reflect national cultures, but also might reflect different business models. What works in Europe might not also work in Asia. What works in the sales department might not also work in R&D. 

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Additionally, it means recognising that it’s the outcome that matter. If managers are delivering the desired outcome but in their own way, is that really a problem? In some organisations this flexibility wasn’t necessarily built in, and local HR has taken it on themselves to adapt the global approach to local needs. This would seem to be eminently sensible.

One CHRO told me of their organisation’s approach: “Managers and leaders own it and are able to flex it to fit their business needs and context. We it leave it up to managers when to do it, in sales quarterly makes sense, same with finance, but in engineering often two, four or six week sprints. So if I’m on a six-week project I set expectations at the beginning and feedback after six weeks.”

Another HR leader took a similar stance: “We have local implementation to match the country, so the task is to take a cue from the company as a whole but ensure it’s in a setting that applies to our style of management.”

“We’re in 60 different countries. Just look at the diversity of styles between China, India and US or engineer versus HR and their degree of pragmatism,” explained one Group HRD. “So be light on the process and focus on the desired outcome so you hold people accountable for the outcomes, but if you get outcomes great. Extreme clarity on outcomes and role but give them flexibility on approach.”

Overall, I would suggest adopting a more emergent approach to implementation:

  • Activities have different meanings for different people so there needs to be more dialogue to create a common understanding during design.
  • It is critical to identify and negotiate with participants to get buy-in. This means more listening and identifying needs than telling and selling benefits, and needs to happen as early as possible.
  • Avoiding detailed planning beyond the first point where feedback will emerge.
  • Allow those closest to the change to develop the detail.
  • Milestones aren’t just about time, cost and quality but about tracking real feedback on whether the approach is delivering the desired outcome.
  • By letting go of the urge to control by planning detail in advance you have greater control by responding flexibly to what is actually happening.

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