Should you test your performance management process?

When your top HR VP publicly speaks out against your current performance management process, you know it's time for a change.

In fact, that's exactly what happened with Adobe’s Donna Morris when, jet-lagged and pressured by a relentless interviewer, she accidentally told one of India’s biggest newspapers she wanted to scrap their performance management system. It was a major slip-up, but one that ended in Adobe’s epic performance management transformation.Truth is, most of us can "feel it" when our performance management system isn't up to snuff. But how to you turn a hunch into insights you can act on? One word: Testing.

Testing gives you the real-world data to back-up your performance management decisions and create a system everyone can be proud (and loud) about.

Why test?

To be fair, execs at Adobe knew a change was in order. After all, it was taking more than 80,000 hours to get annual reviews done. And on top of that, the tech giant saw an immediate increase in turnover after wrapping up the review process each year. (Yeah, it was BAD.)

But with so many new tools, philosophies and trends flooding HR, how do you know what really needs fixing? You don't want to overhaul your entire process only to find the real issue is one bad seed in the managerial team. Worse, what if you jump the gun and migrate to an entirely new system that everyone hates more than the last one?

Experimentation is awesome because it lets you look before you leap and know exactly where to tweak your process.

What to do before you start testing

If you're a regular here on the PerformYard blog, you know we love a good goal. (How else are you going to know when you've won?!)

First, take the temperature of your current performance management process to figure out exactly what it is that's not working and set a clear goal so that you'll know when it's fixed. Your metrics will vary depending on your business and industry but you might want to look at sales, employee turnover, customer satisfaction, etc. (For more on that, check out this post.) And remember, numbers are great, but don't forget your biggest assets are your people. Survey your employees to find out what they really think about the performance management process and what they want from it.

HR expert Ruth Mayhew recommends going a step further to review your exit interviews for complaints. Whether it’s a lack of coaching, meaningful rewards, or upward mobility, the exit interview is where you're most likely to find those juicy gems of truth.

The core principles of effective testing

Once your vision for change is crystallized, the real work begins. Testing and experimentation is a BIG area. There's a lot of different methods out there.

Whatever approach you choose, there are some solid fundamentals worth keeping in mind. We like HR consultant Arne Van Damme's three great tips for testing:

1. Hypothesize Well - Come into an experiment with an idea of what you’d like to prove and how you’d like to do it. Don't just throw the latest software at the wall to see what sticks.

2. Test Entire Groups - Take an entire team, say the whole finance team, at one branch and give ALL of them the new system. Testing a smattering of individuals makes for a much worse sample because you're not controlling for variables. The team culture in finance is NOT the same as in your marketing team. On the other hand, when you see a variable across an entire sample, you can better understand its effect on the system at large.

3. Experiment Deeply - For those in the experiment, fully bring on every aspect of the new process or system. Pretend like this is the big launch. Go for optimal buy in. Get them excited. Then, set a solid time period to run the change and let your teams adjust to it. Good experiments take time, honesty, and effort.

Testing a new performance management process can deliver insights to help you drive success throughout your company and make you a true HR hero. It can also turn up information that shows you crucial mistakes in your business. You need to be prepared for both.

Change is almost always hard, and almost always worth it.

If you'r ready to get started read our guide to designing modern performance management systems.