Article: Organizations need to continue to evolve performance assessment: GitLab’s Jessica Mitchell

Performance Management

Organizations need to continue to evolve performance assessment: GitLab’s Jessica Mitchell

Organizations will need to continue to evolve on how they assess performance and productivity especially if they have transitioned from a more conventional workforce to a fully remote workforce during the pandemic, says Jessica Mitchell, Director, HR Business Partner at GitLab, in an interaction with People Matters.
Organizations need to continue to evolve performance assessment: GitLab’s Jessica Mitchell

Jessica Mitchell is a Director, People Business Partner at GitLab with over 20 years of Human Resources experience. At GitLab, Jessica has supported the Development, Product, and Marketing teams in the People Business Partner function. Prior to GitLab, Jessica has held various HR roles within companies like Marconi, Cisco, and SailPoint Technologies. Jessica is passionate about helping drive solutions that focus on team member engagement, development, and business solutions. 

Here are the excerpts of the interview.

With COVID-19 triggering an enormous shift in how and where work gets done, what according to you are the top two trends that will have significant impacts on businesses globally?

  • REMOTE WORK: Companies will have to embrace and support team members who want to work remotely full-time post-COVID-19. Many team members have learned that they are more productive working remotely while having a positive impact on their personal lives due to less time commuting and the flexible work schedules that improve better quality of life.
  • GLOBAL COMPENSATION: With the move to having more team members working remotely with many doing a similar role, we will see a shift in paying employees based on location, not role. 

GitLab was fully remote even before the pandemic. Is remote work here to stay? Can it help in creating a more sustainable future of work? What have you learned from this pandemic? 

Being able to recruit and hire from most countries in the world is a distinct competitive advantage for GitLab. We will judge our impact and legacy on the world by how we influence the proliferation of all-remote companies.

We are hopeful that our hiring advantage will diminish over time. This will signal that all-remote is shifting toward being commonplace, with prospective employees having a broader selection of companies who offer such a structure. We believe that a world with more all-remote companies will be a more prosperous one, with opportunities more equally distributed.

We're nearing a tipping point with all-remote. Instead of remote teams having to justify why they do it, it's going to be co-located companies having to justify why they don't.

All-remote work wouldn't be possible without the constant evolution of technology, and the tools that enable this type of work are continuously being developed and improved. We aren't just seeing these impacts for all-remote companies. In fact, in some organizations with large campuses, employees will routinely do video calls instead of spending 10 minutes to go to a different building.

Are organizations shifting the needle on performance assessment and productivity management amid this pandemic? How do you see the current performance management and assessment scenario?

Organizations will need to continue to evolve on how they assess performance and productivity especially if they have transitioned from a more conventional workforce (team members in a corporate office) to a fully remote workforce during the pandemic. Those organizations that do not have a good performance or productivity management system currently in place will struggle to understand and determine how to gauge productivity compared to just the number of hours a team member works. There will also need to be a shift in how managers manage remote teams.

A few of the best practices that GitLab has regarding managing remote teams focus on the following:

  • Embracing Total transparency
  • Handbook goals and documentation
  • Asynchronous work
  • Applying iteration to everything
  • A company-wide organizational chart
  • Focusing on results

To answer the second part of this question, I would point you to the Results section of our handbook and how we discuss GitLab’s value of “measure results not hours.” During these times organizations will need to shift to make sure they are accurately measuring the performance and productivity rather than just the hours worked. This will take managers being engaged and truly understanding the team members’ roles and responsibilities and setting clear documented goals and milestones. Companies are going to have to review their performance review process that is currently in place and make sure that managers are equipped to be able to assess performance and productivity and not just hours clocked. 

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Has COVID-19 crisis transformed the role of HR? How should HR leaders reimagine their roles for the future of work?

Great question! HR is usually seen as the champion for both the company and the team members. I think HR leaders need to be examples of how remote work and remote leadership actually happen. They can be role models to the company on best practices and also help train and develop the leadership on remote work best practices. 

This also allows HR leadership to re-evaluate processes currently in place to determine and identify areas for improved efficiencies and results.  

Working remotely for HR can be complicated due to the nature of the role requiring more in-person human interaction. This starts at the beginning with recruiting, interviews, team member compliance, engagement, performance management, etc. This is a great opportunity for HR leaders to lead the entire company with new and exciting ways to work and model that remote work can be possible in all aspects of the company.  

How can companies commit to a continuous feedback culture and have clarity between assessment and development?

I believe that our value of Transparency at GitLab drives the cycle for continuous feedback, performance assessments, and development.  

We strive at GitLab to be as open and transparent as possible. This means open and transparent guidance for giving feedback, delivering performance assessments, and talking development with team members.  

For leaders, we are asking that they utilize various mechanisms to deliver and give continuous feedback. This could mean providing feedback in scheduled 1x1 meetings, in coaching sessions and when possible recognizing positive feedback in a public audience if appropriate. The key for managers is to continue to give feedback to team members in real time if possible. Do not wait six months to inform a team member of an issue that occurred in the past. 

Make sure you are taking the time as close to the event to provide both positive or constructive feedback.   

In 2020 GitLab implemented a Performance/Potential Matrix.  In the true GitLab spirit, we are iterating on this process as we move into 2021. The goal is for all of our team members to understand how they are performing in their role and their potential to assume increasingly broad or more complex responsibilities. Potential could include an opportunity to move up to the next level in their job family and or a potential lateral move to a new role. We look forward to continuing to iterate on this process with our team members and providing them with performance and development feedback.  

Development can mean many things to people and the goal is to understand how we support team members in their own personal career development. That can mean helping and guiding the team members in what skills or gaps they need to acquire before a promotion, it could mean networking opportunities outside of their group, it could mean stretch goals to learn a different part of the business or skill. The goal is for team members and managers to work together to create a plan to achieve those desired development outcomes together.   

Technology has emerged as a business enabler with collaboration being just as productive as physical meetings. However, it lacks human touch. How can leaders enhance employees ‘work from home' experience and manage virtual meetings effectively so employees stay engaged?

GitLab being an all-remote company from day one has had a lot of experience iterating how to run virtual meetings effectively. We have a great section in our handbook about “How do you do all-remote meetings right?”. This includes making meetings optional. When possible, we record all meetings so those team members who are unable to attend can always go back and listen. We also document everything in our meetings. This eliminates those times when there is confusion or misunderstanding of what was said or agreed upon. Other things that we encourage is always start on time and end on time, cancel unnecessary recurring meetings and say thanks, and look for ways to be creative. I personally have been included in “virtual happy hours” or “virtual lunches” meetings.  

Do you think employee wellness is core to productivity and performance? How do you ensure that?

Yes, employee wellness is absolutely core to both productivity and performance. A team member that is stressed due to managing perhaps a full-time role as well as being a full-time teacher to young children or a full-time caretaker to an elderly family member or friend can cause enormous strain and impact to team members. That impact would naturally spill over to both the team members' personal and professional life.  

We have created a mental health checklist for our team members to review to continually take a pulse of how they are doing and some tips and resources to manage stress or burnout.   

How are solution providers gearing up to come up with solutions for organizations to effectively manage and measure performance? 

From what I am seeing is that solution providers are incorporating more ways to provide team members with a more holistic approach to performance reviews and development planning. In the past, most reviews were primarily done by the manager. 

In future tools, I see that there will be new options to gather feedback to help the manager do a more thorough or holistic assessment. This could include a team member's self-review, a section for peer to peer, stakeholder, or key collaborator feedback, and perhaps even a section that highlights recognition throughout the year. A tool that can help tie the team members' performance and career development goals in one place would be beneficial to help build those links and provide a great roadmap for both the team member and manager.  

How is performance management expected to evolve in the next 3 to 5 years?  

In years past, companies have had very strict performance management practices. These consisted of assigning a “ranking or label” to a team member and then enforcing that managers always identify a certain percentage in the top and bottom ratings. Labeling team members can have an unintended negative effect by demoralizing a team member and forced distribution for managers was an unpleasant and unnatural process. Then, we saw a large shift to getting rid of all performance ratings at all. The idea was that with no rating you are not unintentionally causing a team member to become unengaged due to a performance rating label. The downside to this is that managers really struggled to give proper feedback to a team member. Also, it made pay for performance conversation and planning more challenging for the manager. It felt very subjective to the team member and could create a situation where a manager and team member were not on the same page in terms of realistic expectations when it came to annual merit review.   

I think where we will land is somewhere in the middle with performance and development having an equal amount of importance and focus. This could mean that the conversations managers have with team members focus on how they are performing in their role compared to their peers with a defined performance rating. In the same conversation, the manager will incorporate a focus on development and career planning for the team member going forward. 

As more teams are remote and working asynchronously, peer feedback may also play a larger factor in the managers' overall performance assessment of their team members.

Read more such stories from the February 2021 issue of our e-magazine on 'Shifting Paradigms in Performance Management'

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Topics: Performance Management, #RethinkPerformance, #HybridWorkplace

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