Why We Need Agile Performance Management More than Ever
While presenting on a panel about Agile Performance Management at yesterday’s NAPA Fall Meeting (National Academy of Public Administration), a member of the audience asked a question that I think gets at the core of why we chose the topic for the panel. Paraphrasing, the audience member said, “When you talk about Agile Performance Management, it sounds like old ideas with new lipstick. What’s so new about it when it comes to managing your workforce?”
First of all, as the panel member who proposed the panel topic to NAPA, I readily admit the audience member’s instincts are correct. A buzzword like agile makes its way into the marketplace all too often as a way for consultants to repackage old ideas and sell them as new. And to be perfectly honest, he was right that several of the examples of agile performance management that we gave are far from innovative. Having regular check-ins with employees and giving regular feedback, collaboratively setting goals and building professional development plans—these are things that we intuitively know are good to do when it comes to managing people.
So, what is new about agile performance management, and why did we decide to talk about it on a panel? I think there are two significant changes in the workforce that make agile performance management a much more important model for managing the workforce of today compared to that of 30 years ago.
- Career Paths. The first major change is the fundamental shift in the way workers thinks about their career paths. We are way past the time when people committed to their first jobs for the duration of their careers. Over the last 30-40 years, we’ve seen a workforce made up of people who change companies every few years and/or move not only up the ladder, but laterally to new paths in different functions of the business.The impact of this new norm on organizations is significant—it’s no secret that employee turnover represents a huge cost to an organization. There are many things organizations can do to better retain employees, but in absence of successful solutions to the retention problem, another way to reduce the costs associated with turnover is to mitigate the productivity lulls that inevitably occur with new employees. And a good way to do this is by increasing the frequency of feedback so they can quickly make corrections and ramp up to fully operational. This is an agile concept.
- Information Processing. The second major change has to do with how employees process information. Several studies have shown that in the age of smartphones and social media, people consume information more frequently and in smaller chunks, and this behavior is in turn impacting the conditions in which people most effectively process information. So, if the workforce is used to consuming information more frequently and in smaller bursts, doesn’t it make sense to have a more agile approach to performance management with more frequent, smaller-scope performance check-ins and a scaled-down annual review?
By definition, Agile Performance Management offers employers and managers the ability to pivot and adapt to environments that are in a constant state of change, and to a workforce that no longer advances linearly. And agile is gaining importance in performance management beyond managing people. It’s increasingly important across many functions of the organization from financial management to acquisition. We want to hear your ideas in the comments… what benefit does applying agile concepts offer in your function of the business?