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Continuous performance management was Workday ethos before tech

In a Q&A, Workday's vice president of leadership reveals how continuous feedback, employee engagement and analytics have improved the company culture and workforce management.

Workday Inc., a maker of enterprise human resources and finance tools based in Pleasanton, Calif., is among the many vendors of tools for continuous performance management, an increasingly popular approach that replaces or supplements numerical rating systems with frequent feedback and coaching -- all facilitated by software.

Greg Pryor, Workday's vice president of leadership and organization effectiveness, is intimately familiar with both the process and technology. Pryor explained Workday's continuous performance management process, why it changed how employees are supervised and how applying analytics to performance and engagement data yields fresh insights. Before joining Workday in 2014, he held similar positions at Juniper Networks and Merrill Lynch.

When did Workday start continuous performance management?

Greg Pryor: We've always had this sort of ethos. We've never actually had a rating system in the company, so it wasn't something that we had to unwind or think about in a different way.

Greg Pryor, vice president of leadership and organization effectiveness at Workday Inc.Greg Pryor

A couple of years ago, we moved to this idea of these five factors [that enable employee success] and then continued to pilot the next stage of that. We're now seeing some of the work that we've done roll out in Workday 28 -- what's called our talent and performance dashboard -- reflect many of the ideas that you saw in the blog and things that we've been piloting internally.

It's been a journey that we've been on quite a while.

Were some of these continuous performance management tools in Workday 27 or 26?

Pryor: We saw them in earlier versions. Things like the career opportunity graph [and] anytime feedback goes back many releases. What we've at least done internally is to say: 'Here is the broad tool set that is available for you to achieve these outcomes to enable your people to be successful and for our people to think about success.'

Things like mentoring; connections; the talent and performance dashboard, which represents the five factors [enable contribution, grow capabilities, empower career, deepen connections, align compensation and recognition] -- I think you're seeing it starting to ramp up. It's definitely been tools and resource and functionality over the last number of releases. We're constantly putting new features into release, but 28 happens to have a really cool set of features, including notification of job interests. ... When a job opens that you've identified from a job-interest perspective, you get a notification.

Workday is not like companies that had annual, probably paper-based performance reviews. From a cultural-change point of view, you haven't had that issue. But as more of these continuous performance management tools become available, what kinds of change-management techniques have you had to use?

Pryor: We probably had to do less unwinding, if you will, of heritage practices relative to where other companies may be. But from a transition management [perspective] and how we think about this, there are two things.

One is helping people be really clear on the outcomes. So, how do you notionally think about enablement vs. management? As we have some of these new managers come into our company given our rapid growth, we need to help them reorient from a performance management strategy, which is where I manage people's performance, where I enable people's performance, which is ... the ethos of Workday.

Second is moving from this idea of HR-driven process to manager-driven practices. People, especially given a heritage perspective, expect that HR will [run a process that ends]. For us, it's more [that] there's a series of practices that ... you should be using to enable your people's performance. [It requires] a mindset shift from management to enablement and then a shift from process to practices that I have accountability for rather than HR is imposing on me.

Every time we have a new manager join the company, we have to help them "detox" from their heritage view of that and shift to those two ideas.

Can you share some anecdotes from Workday where you've seen this play out?

Pryor: What we ask managers to do is begin using those five factors and begin discussions with someone's career, which is a pretty dramatic shift. I think most [other companies] start with just your contribution.

Then think about ... the capabilities you need to build and develop your career today and in the future [and] talk about the idea of connections: Who in the organization would be critical to help you achieve those aspirations? And then, what would be your contribution today that would put you on the path? What would be the experiences or the work that you would begin doing that would nurture those connections, deepen those capabilities and ultimately help you pursue your career interests?

One of our HR business partners in Dublin -- and head of Europe HR -- was meeting with April, [my colleague], and started the conversation with the career aspirations. What she shared was that she had a longtime career aspiration to work in leadership development and [organizational] effectiveness, and that she had been starting to pursue her master's [degree] work in this space.

Mandy, our HR director, had never heard that from April [and] didn't know that that was her interest and aspiration. So Mandy encouraged her to apply for a role that had just opened up on our team. And April said, 'I just don't yet have the experience. I was going to wait to complete my university work.' Through Mandy's encouragement, April raised her hand and put herself into the process and was placed in the role.

We've heard many other examples of really engaging [and asking]: 'How do I enable your success? What is it that motivates you? Where are you trying to go? What are the capabilities you want to build?' It unlocks a very different kind of conversation.

It ended up putting April on her trajectory, and she is very engaged, very enthused, very appreciative. We specifically shaped the role to align and meet her where she is. … She's had the most incredible impact.

What kinds of metrics are you tracking, perhaps within the Workday software itself, that are part of this continuous performance management process or helping to demonstrate its success?

Pryor: We've been doing some work with Sheila Heen. Sheila's a professor at Harvard Law School and wrote the books, Thanks for the Feedback and Difficult Conversations. The 'stupiphany' I had when we originally started to work with Sheila was that an effective way to create a culture of feedback is by having managers role model it.

We've thought for years and years of trying to focus on giving feedback. What we hope that managers think about is that the way to create a feedback-rich environment is to role model receiving feedback and encouraging and asking for feedback.

On the analytics, over this last year, we've been doing what we call our 'best Workday survey.' We look to hold our managers accountable for the conditions where people feel enabled. We worked with the Great Place to Work Institute, taking a subset of their questions, because of the richness of the data.

What we are able to do now is to take sentiment data into how people feel about those five factors that we've talked about, ... and we are able to compare sentiment data to Workday data. ... We sliced by every six months -- because we can, because we have [data stored in the Workday platform]. We sliced in six-month increments and were able to then compare that to all the results about when we start to see some waning in people's sense of trust and engagement. 'Time in role' is one example of the many that we slice against.

What we're able to now do ... is to give managers feedback that when someone is in role for about 24 months, you want to make sure that you're talking to them about their growth. Being able to take the sentiment data from our best Workday survey [and compare it] to Workday demographic data has given us one of many insights that now change the way we ask our managers to enable performance.

[Also], we use our career opportunity graph, [which] gives us the opportunity to begin campaigning or communicating to people that ... they haven't yet identified a job interest, ... and that's connected to a recruiting tool. When that role opens up, you 'automagically' receive a notification. Mining that data, we can [see] that someone is more at risk for leaving when they had a change in manager. Mining the underlying data and those insights in those analytics, and then suggesting proscriptive coaching, is where we're really tying the analytic piece back into the action piece.

From my best [personal] Workday survey, my greatest area for opportunity is work-life balance. So I've been doing quite a bit of work around helping people balance their work life.

Have you been able to correlate continuous performance management to performance on the bottom line?

Pryor: From a workforce management perspective, when we look at things like retention; ... promotion percentage; [and], as a proxy, for example, the number of employees who are referring friends to Workday -- all of those measures continue to be strong and growing. 

Next Steps

Listen to a podcast on employee engagement

Learn about SAP's continuous performance pilot

Read the continuous performance management guide

This was last published in July 2017

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