Article: Organizations should focus on performance they expect in the current reality: Mary Chua

Performance Management

Organizations should focus on performance they expect in the current reality: Mary Chua

With changing business priorities and technological disruption, organizations need to re-define what is performance, what does 'good' look like, and how can jobs be re-designed. The question is not how we can better measure performance but what performance do we expect given the new realities, says Mary Chua of Korn Ferry.
Organizations should focus on performance they expect in the current reality: Mary Chua

Mary Chua is the Senior Client Partner, APAC Rewards & Benefits Practice Leader, Korn Ferry. Mary has extensive experience delivering large scale organizational and total reward transformation programs for both GLCs and multinationals in the region.

In Malaysia, Mary has led several due diligence and post-merger integration projects, involving leadership assessments, cultural diagnostics and alignment, total reward program design, workforce transition planning, and employee communications and change management. She also has led multiple total rewards and performance management projects for more than 10 of the nation's largest GLCs and GLICs.

Mary is an international HR practitioner with more than 20 years of consulting and corporate experience in Asia Pacific and Europe. She has experience in multiple industries including Banking, Insurance, Telecommunications, and Diversified Conglomerates. Within Malaysia, Mary has provided advisory to the nation's top Bursa-listed GLCs.

Specializing in M&A and total rewards, she has helped organizations formulate their strategy on: optimizing reward spend to deliver on shareholder value, leveraging different incentive plans to drive sustainable performance, developing segmented reward programs for the multi-generational workforce to mitigate gaps in costs-perceived value, designing sales incentive programs to drive salesforce effectiveness and managing total rewards costs inflation.

Here are the edited excerpts.

COVID-19 has brought in a major shift in how and where work gets done and it seems, the workplace is set to see a massive overhaul. Wha’s your take on this?

While COVID-19 has brought about fundamental changes to the workplace, multiple mega-trends were already in play prior to COVID-19. The global pandemic has only amplified these trends and shown all of us what disruption truly means in every sense of the word – through its impact on economies and societies. 

From a workforce perspective, we could look at these trends from two key areas: talent demand and talent supply. 

  • Talent demand Businesses have been thrust into unprecedented times with great uncertainty – consumption patterns are rapidly evolving, and competition is increasingly coming from non-traditional quarters. Successful start-ups are also redefining the traditional operating model of needing to own assets. All these will impact the type of talent needed and the contracting relationships organizations will have with their workforce as they consider the trade-offs and the right bets to make, with their finite resources. 
  • Talent supply – With so much uncertainty and job losses over the last year, many will want job security, and just as many will consider alternative income options. We will also see a significant swath of the workforce being dislocated as an outcome of technology advancement and changes in investment and consumption patterns. Then there will be some who are seeking purpose and want that alignment in the jobs they do and the organizations they join. 

Needless to say, when you put these two perspectives together, the social contract between businesses and the workforce will evolve and not least because of the increasing rhetoric on corporations’ roles in societies. 

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Can remote work help in creating a more sustainable future of work? What have you learned from this pandemic? 

Prior to COVID-19, many of our clients in this region didn’t practice remote working. The pandemic has necessitated the introduction of a formal policy and organizations who have experienced the tangible benefits of such working arrangements (e.g. access to a greater pool of talent and savings from real estate) will continue. That said, remote working will not replace working in offices entirely. Some of the reasons could be constraints due to infrastructure, for instance, in some developing economies, stable broadband access may not be available across the country. In addition, for some economies where limited residential space is available, this simply does not allow an ideal set up for working from home. 

Do you think, the disparity and inconsistency in measuring performance that existed pre-COVID have only amplified post-COVID?

Most of the jobs we have today came from a time when businesses are steadier, and work was done in the office. There is a lot of emphasis on what you do (activities) versus why you do what you do (purpose and outcome). As such, during the pandemic where most employees have to work from home, a lot of organizations wondered how they can measure productivity now that they cannot physically see their staff being at work. 

With changing business priorities and technological disruption, organizations need to re-define what is performance, what does “good” look like, and how can jobs be re-designed. The question is not how we can better measure performance but what performance do we expect given the new realities. 

Obviously, the role of the people manager will be ever more crucial. Often, organizations have focused a lot more on leaders and managers’ success in financial achievements and technical expertise – this is no longer sustainable in a world where talent is the new currency.

What should be the top imperatives for leaders in the new reality of COVID-19 to address the enormous short and long-term goals?

As organizations try to navigate new realities, I would liken this to a marathon of sprints. The decision-making process needs to be significantly shortened and feedback from customers needs to be proactively and continuously sourced. Elon Musk recently advised CEOs to stop wasting time on meetings and PowerPoints and to spend more time on product innovation. Time is a finite resource and time to market is critical in capturing new markets – leaders need to be ruthlessly efficient and effective in delivering short-term outcomes and long-term priorities. 

With increasing public scrutiny on corporate citizenship, leaders will also need to be effective in managing different stakeholders’ expectations and recognize that financial performance is no longer the be-all-and-end-all. 

Are organizations shifting the needle on performance assessment and productivity management amid this uncertainty? Any study on this?

I believe there is still a long way to go in being more effective at measuring performance and managing productivity. As mentioned earlier, a lot of the jobs today are “designed” to be based in the office, focused on activities and processes, and thus companies struggle to quantify productivity when jobs or work are delivered in a different setting. 

It is imperative to firstly, look at how work and jobs are changing and what is expected – obviously, we recognize this will be a mammoth task as organizations undergo transformations.

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

We have not heard of any company that does not want to have a continuous feedback culture or does not recognize the benefits of it. 

The gap is in the execution. When everything is going well, it is very easy to sweep everything under the carpet – not holding managers accountable for people development, adding more headcount to address any inefficiencies, or re-assigning the non-performer to another part of the business. As resources get more limited and everyone is stretched, teams will be less forgiving of individuals who can’t or don’t carry their loads. People managers have a key part to play in facilitating this feedback process and critically, setting a healthy tone for feedback and continuous development comes hand in glove. 

What are the top challenges of maintaining productivity and measuring performance rationally in an uncertain world with the majority of workers working virtually?

In “normal times”, driving transformation is already a challenge, and the circumstances we are in today will make this goal even more difficult to accomplish. Setting a compelling vision and charting a clear path post-COVID-19 will be important in rallying the “virtual” troops – employees need to know they are in “good hands” and trust the leadership to take them through this trying period. As lockdown measures disrupt daily routines and anxieties over finances are high, people managers need to enable and balance getting work done under significant constraints and being sensitive to their staff’s circumstances and needs. At the same time, non-performance which might have been tolerated in the past must be addressed promptly and tough conversations need to be delivered, not dodged. 

In a recent study by Korn Ferry, organizations are also saying that they will need to do better at prioritizing initiatives and efforts going forward. At the crux of it, it is about picking and focusing on a few key things that will maximize the greatest outcomes. 

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, #HRTech

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