By Samantha Grunfeld, Director of Communication Strategy and Engagement, GuideSpark
As we move into the last quarter of 2020, we’re feeling the results of the immense change we’ve gone through this year. The upheaval that businesses have faced due to the COVID-19 pandemic continues to reverberate across departments and initiatives, and is now forcing talent management teams to completely rethink their typical approach to the year-end performance process. We may have set goals in Q1, but it’s likely that priorities have changed entirely over the course of this year. On top of this, many teams are now completely remote for the first time, which means check-ins and performance discussions will need to take place in a virtual environment. Performance management will certainly look a lot different than we’re used to, but the strongest constant we can continue to provide is effective communication.
By using transparent, fair, and empathetic messaging throughout this period of change, you can work to directly strengthen the connective tissue between your workforce and your performance initiative. As you strategize your messaging, you’ll want to make sure there’s a special focus on people managers, who are your frontline leaders in the performance process – provide them with the tools they need to hold meaningful performance conversations, explain important changes, communicate the company’s position and goals, and lead with empathy. As companies work to accommodate changes to goals – from company-wide priorities to individual performance objectives – it will be crucial to also consider communication strategies to keep employees informed, so that everyone is on the same page around how performance will be evaluated in 2020.
We have 4 proven communication methods you can use to ensure a smooth transition as you roll out changes to your year-end performance process:
1. Build out your communication approach
The first step to delivering successful communications is to finalize your year-end plan for 2020, and then to clearly identify what the major changes are. If the pandemic has impacted the way you’ll reward high performers – whether with changes to year-end bonuses or compensation adjustments – plan to include this information in your messaging as sensitively as you can, so that employees don’t feel blindsided down the road.
Then, pinpoint your messaging strategy – particularly around tone. Your employees have been through a lot, and uncertainty is at an all-time high for many. Performance, even outside of the pandemic context, can be a very personal process for employees, so your organization will need a clear, consistent message around your program. Consider including content and communications that can:
- Inspire trust in the company and the reasoning behind the process,
- Inform and educate about important elements of the process and relevant action items, and
- Reinforce important concepts, including the “why” behind the process; make clear the company’s commitment to its employees during this difficult time.
Then, map out your timeline; particularly if there are many changes, you’ll want to plan for plenty of advance notice. Strategize the cadence of your messaging as well – keep communications frequent enough to stay relevant and timely, but still make sure to avoid overload or fatigue.
2. Segment your audience to prioritize people managers
As a natural effect of this pandemic era, employees have all been impacted in different, unique ways. Some business units, departments, or roles will need completely different information and resources – organizations will need to work to make sure the right communications are reaching the employees who need them most. Looking at the performance process in particular, it’s clear that your people managers are a critical audience group you’ll need to reach in your organization.
Work to ensure that your people leaders have the tools and resources they need to answer questions from the team and provide aligned messaging around any changes you’ve implemented. This is likely the first year your people leaders are undertaking performance management as a completely remote process – provide them with best practices, sensitivity guidance or training, and coaching guides to help prepare them as much as possible. The better equipped your managers are for an empathetic, well-executed performance process, the better the experience will be for your entire workforce.
3. Reach employees where they are
As you plan your timeline and strategy for messaging, a key factor will be the delivery channels you use, which can ultimately make or break whether you get through to your employees. Email is a critical tool, but most employees’ inboxes are already overflowing. Think about alternative ways you can connect, such as text messages for quick updates, announcements during company-wide virtual meetings, or communications in your organization’s Slack or MS Teams channels.
Try to account for the channels employees are already using regularly, but keep in mind that this is a process that likely happens just once or twice per year. If there’s a way to set it apart from the everyday communication noise, such as leveraging the voice of an executive sponsor, or a special live announcement, you may want to explore those options to provide a true spotlight on your program.
4. Measure and iterate
Finally, make sure you’re tracking the results of your communication campaign so you know what’s working. Confirm that managers are participating in and truly understanding the changes to the performance process, as well as the evaluation parameters they’ll apply in upcoming discussions with employees. Use engagement data to validate that employees are clicking links, visiting sites, and reading the materials you provide.
And, consider the sentiment around your communications, not just the raw engagement data. Use spot polls or sentiment ratings to understand where your employees are coming from regarding changes to the performance process. The end of the year is a great time to gauge sentiment and gather feedback, as well as to plan for any adjustments you want to make to your communications or to the performance process itself for next year. And, during this pandemic era, soliciting feedback may also be an important way to understand what employees need to continue performing at a high level, and how the company can support them in doing so. The act of gathering and evaluating sentiment is valuable in many ways – both to the company for the data gathered, and to its employees for the opportunity to have their voices heard.
The year-end performance process is stressful and sensitive for many, even without the added complications of a global pandemic. In your organization, it will be crucial that you work with your people managers to create an empathetic, fair, performance plan for this year. Take into account both the highs and lows of the last several months – the challenges and obstacles your team has faced, as well as the major accomplishments they’ve achieved. Then, create a cohesive communication plan that ensures your messaging is clear and consistent across the board. Your aligned message, your tone, and your strategy are the strongest ways to get the buy-in you need from employees before the performance process even begins.