In the last few years, we’ve worked with several middle market companies to design or formalize their talent processes. Some of the companies have been global. There is a clear theme which emerges from this work: find out what’s being done well before beginning the work.
A great example of this is performance management. Recently, we were asked to help a mid-size company design and implement performance management. When we asked about the current state, we were told that they used paper forms, did not set formal goals and that often employees did not bother to complete the annual forms at all. At first blush, our impression was that the client was doing a poor job in this area. But, experience told us not to jump to conclusions. To get a better sense of what was going on, we conducted some employee and manager focus groups. What we found was that managers were doing a great job helping employees set goals throughout the year and giving regular feedback. Turnover of employees in critical roles was extremely low and customer satisfaction was very high. A deeper look at the incomplete data which the company tracked confirmed these assertions. While the client had not formalized its approach to performance management, it had done an extraordinary job of training its managers in engaging behaviors and, unknowingly, had built a great internal brand and delivered a first-rate employee experience from recruiting through career.
Based on what we had learned, we concluded that “fixing” performance management could wait. There were much higher immediate priorities: succession planning and leadership development. In fact, when the time comes, performance management will have to be addressed very carefully, making sure that a great ongoing, highly engaging performance process is not replaced with a formal annual process which looks elegant but delivers little value.
This situation is not unusual. Many smaller companies do a great job at some aspects of talent management without using formal processes. Our job is to build on these successes while addressing weaknesses and helping formalize processes, so they are scalable, without weakening them.