Melanie Cook is a futurist who considers herself an educator, systems thinker and a tech humanitas. She has deep debates with others about the operational impact of artificial intelligence (AI) in the workplace, and true to her DNA, focuses on the workplace of tomorrow and what we should be doing about it today. Starting in data management in London, the majority of her career has been shaped by the imagination and innovation of digital technologies. Swiftly navigating the rapidly-evolving terrains of data management and digital marketing, she has anchored herself in the technological bay that is digital business transbobulation (the reality of digital transformation) with Hyper Island. In an exclusive interaction with People Matters, she shares incredible insights on re-inventing appraisal systems for empathy and strategies for leadership to empower their workforce to innovate in the hybrid set-up.
Here are some excerpts.
With the hybrid working model being agreed upon as the defining workplace trend this year, what are some of the challenges that are likely to come up in measuring productivity with remote teams?
Two challenges spring to mind when trying to measure productivity with remote teams. Firstly, measuring quality versus quantity for knowledge workers is an age-old problem exacerbated by remote working. Secondly, if an individual's performance means little without the context of a team, how do you define the team a person is in, especially as we no longer share a physical workspace? The answer lies in a combination of qualitative assessment and quantitative measurement.
In my annual reflection with the team, I couldn't be prouder of our collective performance; however, at a team-member level, I had to ask myself how I measure, recognise, and most importantly, appreciate an individual's productivity? We cannot measure productivity in terms of hours spent in the office. As educators, it is difficult to define a value unit, let alone count the number of value units an individual produces. So, with goal setting for 2022 looming, I decided to research how productivity is defined and measured.
Google's Project Oxygen research resonated with me for a team-based organisational structure like ours. Google calculates a team's effectiveness using the executive's team evaluation, the team leader's evaluation, other team members evaluation of the team, and the sales performance against a quarterly quota. With 360 feedback from the individual, their line manager and their team, you can get a rich, qualitative assessment of a person's productivity.
Google's research also led me to question who should decide an individual's team? Is it enough to define their team by department or even reporting line in a world that requires a transdisciplinary approach to work? At Hyper Island, we ask the individual to determine the team or teams they are in as the people they are working on a specific job, project or objective; so, we can use the KPIs of the job, project and objective to measure against. That coupled with the qualitative assessment gives a comprehensive insight into how a person is doing.
There is no doubt that the workplace has become increasingly digital. Given how every aspect of decision making and assessment is driven by data, how can HR leaders sustain the value of empathy in their appraisal systems?
An appraisal system must recognise our new-never-normal reality. It needs to embed empathy for an individual's life demands and commitment to the team and business. This year we are trying something different as the hybrid way of working becomes our modus operandi. In 2022 we will evolve how, where and when we work together. We have added questions around work-life-integration to our appraisal system to invite empathy to the realities of the endemic epoch. I designed a walk-and-talk around 'our Island' to help people reflect on 2021, set their goals, and design their desired behaviours in 2022.
The Reflection Tour's first stop is the Feedback Cave. Here people note 360 feedback from their team in the tried and test format of stop-start-continue. The next stop is Inspiration Hill, where they think about their Ikigai. Here they contemplate what they are good at and paid to do, what they love doing, and what purpose they want Hyper Island to fulfill in the Asia Pacific region. These questions encourage them to identify roles and responsibilities, which leverage their strengths, passions and purpose and embeds empathy into the appraisal process. The next stop is the Stream of Consciousness. We give people the framework to delve into their values, learnt bias and perception filters to design how they will show up for the team in a hybrid world where modes of communication need to evolve.
We do this to build compassion for themselves and their teams. The penultimate stop on the journey borrows the action framework from the Blue Ocean Strategic process. Here, the individual decides what waste there is in their working life and eliminates it and what behaviours or tasks they want to reduce to leave room in the work time for things they want to start doing or do more of.
The final stop on the tour is where we set an individual's Objectives and Key Results for the quarter. An Objective is a qualitative description of what the individual will achieve in the quarter. Key Results are the measurable, time-bound, action-orientated milestones they have to pass to achieve their objective.
To sustain the value of empathy in a data-driven process, HR leaders need to design an appraisal system that embeds the opportunity for individuals to identify what they need from their work and their commitment to their teams and organisation.
Goal alignment is a critical part of driving productivity and ensuring your workforce is on the right track. What can leadership do better in encouraging their employees and ensuring clarity of goals?
To encourage employees to take personal responsibility and leadership for achieving an organisation's goals, leaders need to show what an individual should focus on, inspire the will to take action in these focus areas, and help them build the capability to excel.
To ensure that an individual's goals focus on that of the organisation's, leaders need to establish a shared vision and mission with all its employees and establish how these will be achieved through the organisation's strategy.
In turn, this clarity allows individuals and their managers to set Objectives and Key Results that align with the organisation's direction. However, knowing where one should focus does not guarantee that an individual will act upon that focus.Here a shared culture is crucial, where every employee holds a shared set of beliefs that reflect their values and the organisation's strategy and structure.
Last but not least, leaders must give people the capacity to build the capability required to excel in their objectives. As employees establish their focus, will, and ability, leaders should steal themselves and get out of people's way to achieve a state of aligned autonomy where people take personal responsibility and leadership for implementing an organisation's strategy.
The larger motivating factor behind performance management is pushing forward the growth and development of your workforce. What are those key strategies that can help drive the growth potential of your people?
As mentioned earlier, the hybrid workplace will force us to evolve where we work, how we work together, and what we work to produce. This evolution demands humanity-centred design, agility, innovation, and data-driven decision-making skills. Still, all training will end in nothing if organisations do not encourage and enable people to apply these skills.
The organisation must inculcate a culture of experimentation. Some years ago, the adage 'fail fast, fail forward' became popular. Management gurus told us that to learn; people needed permission to fail. I conducted research with the Economist Intelligence Unit, which proved that very few people are comfortable with failure. When someone has failed, they feel that others label them a failure, and this is not something they want to celebrate in the corridors of power nor on their resume. Instead, to drive people's learning and growth potential, the organisation's leadership should encourage and enable innovation through the organisation's operating model.
Leaders need to ask for experiments that break the boundaries of today's possibility and quell tomorrow's potential problems. They need to speak the language of innovation, asking what success looks like, which riskiest assumptions have been made, and how will we know if the experiment is a no go.
To help people reach their full growth potential, the organisation must allocate time and resources to create an environment for experimentation and the organisational agility to sustain innovation.
As the world of people and work undergoes continuous transformation, what is one advice that you would like to share with talent leaders to enable transparency and fairness in their performance management strategies?
To make performance management fair and transparent, it should set people up for success and show them how to reach their objectives, not just tell them whether or not they have achieved them.
There is the concept of assessment for learning versus the assessment of learning in education. The former uses test results to improve teaching and instructional design and is formative; the latter tests what, if anything, the student has learnt and is summative. In complex business environments where outcomes are uncertain, and the way to overcome problems is unclear, formative data is far more helpful because it informs what people should do next, rather than simply summarising what has been.
Employing performance management systems that measure progress and identify actional behaviours, which increase the possibility of reaching an individual's objective, is a fair and transparent system because it levels up everyone for success.