Habitat for Humanity Moves to a Digital Review Process

Habitat for Humanity Philadelphia's standardized system focused the organization on employee performance and feedback from leadership.

Meet Kathy

Kathy White is the Director of Human Resources at Habitat for Humanity Philadelphia. She’s been with the organization for 15 years in a number of different roles, starting her career with AmeriCorps and moving her way up. In 2010 she took on the role of Director of Operations, when the organization had only 13 full-time employees. 

Kathy’s HR responsibilities led her to pursue her own Human Resources Certificate through SHRM and today she helps lead a team of 52 full-time employees and manages all aspects of Human Resources, including the organization’s performance management process. 

About Habitat for Humanity Philadelphia

Habitat for Humanity Philadelphia is part of its larger parent organization, Habitat for Humanity International, and one of the 1600 affiliates across the United States. 

The organization started in the 1980s when neighborhoods in Philadelphia were in much need for affordable housing. Habitat for Humanity Philadelphia builds, rehabs and sells affordable housing to homeowners that go through their program. As Kathy puts it, “If you give those who traditionally don’t qualify for mortgages and repairs a leg up and don't penalize them for it, you allow them to actually move forward and grow.”

Kathy described her staff as a diverse and passionate group of people. Currently half of her team works remotely and the other half is in the field. The groups are organized between construction, retail, family services and the administrative teams, which includes finance, HR, IT and development. They also engage 1,500 to 2,000 volunteers per year plus a few part-time employees for additional support. 

The Challenge

Before PerformYard, performance reviews at Habitat for Humanity Philadelphia were completed once a year for full-time staff only. Employees would fill out a self-evaluation and managers a downward review, which were completed in paper forms that HR would put away in personnel files. Kathy shared what it was like, “our paper forms for 13 people were manageable, but when we got to like 20 or even 30 people it became less manageable. There was no practical way to hold people accountable for their performance.”

By the end of a review cycle, each employee would have, on average, nine pages of performance review documents. However, the amount of feedback provided to employees would vary from manager to manager, with some providing wordy reviews and others completing just the bare minimum. “Nobody would refer back to them. The forms would sit in a file for a year until the next time we were doing the reviews and managers would ask for it because they couldn't remember what was shared with employees the prior year.” 

Tracking the status of performance reviews was also a manual process. Kathy described having a paper checklist and going from office to office asking managers for a status update on each employee’s performance reviews. “It was not uncommon for me to walk around our space and pop my head in people's offices and say, "Hey, do you have those forms?”

Why PerformYard

Kathy was introduced to the idea of a stand alone performance management platform at a local SHRM conference for HR professionals. She initially contacted one of the sponsors at the event, another performance management company. “They laughed at me because, at the time, we were under 40 employees and they didnt work with organizations smaller than 100 people. However, they recommended PerformYard.”

For Habitat for Humanity Philadelphia, allocating budget towards administrative tools was not common practice. “That just isn't what you did. You figured it out with a spreadsheet and you made your own paper documents.” However, Kathy shared that when she first saw PerformYard, it was exactly what she needed so she made a bold pitch to her boss. “I told her that paper forms were not working. It's clunky, people don't like it, and we file it away and it just sits there,” she recalls.

To Kathy and her team, Performyard’s automated workflows, friendly user interface and feedback features stood out. They knew the system  had to be simple and easy, as their employees' access and use of technology varies. “To this day, hands down, I don't regret it. I think PerformYard is an excellent investment for our organization and our employees,” Kathy shared.

The Process

Today, Habitat for Humanity Philadelphia has a comprehensive performance management process that includes annual reviews, followed by mid-year reviews, performance improvement plans and 60-days evaluations for new hires. 

Once onboarded in PerformYard, Kathy decided it would be best to slowly introduce changes to their process. In the first year, they kept their forms as they were and focused on getting all employees comfortable with the platform. In the second year, they updated their forms and added a mid-year review. 

The review forms were simplified to assess employee performance based on the organization’s core values . “Our previous forms were focused on the minutia and there wasn't any accountability or tracking in place,” Kathy explained. There is also a supervisor specific review form, which includes all the same questions as the employee forms plus questions that assess leadership skills and another area to set smart goals for the next reporting period. 

Kathy encourages her leadership team to use PerformYard to provide feedback and recognition. There is even a review form question that creates accountability for giving feedback the rest of the year. “Do you use PerformYard to manage your team, support and give feedback?” 

Mid-year check-ins are shorter and more casual. The forms include four rating questions, and if an employee does not meet expectations in a particular area, a performance improvement plan is triggered in PerformYard. 

Now in their fourth year, Kathy is introducing 360 upward reviews. A combination of direct reports and peers provided anonymous upward reviews of their managers. “Some people were excited about it, some weren't that into it, and we learned some things with our first attempt. Next time, I plan on inviting all direct reports to give upward anonymous feedback, should they want to,” Kathy stated.

The Results

Kathy has expanded access to PerformYard for her part-time employees. “I made another pitch to my CEO. We needed to invest in licenses for our part-time people as well, otherwise we’re not being equitable nor inclusive--we were using the paper forms again. PerformYard is a tool for all our employees and managers. It was our responsibility to expand that circle.”

Moving forward, Kathy intends to provide her staff with more opportunities to provide feedback, in addition to fine tuning 360 upward reviews and further investing into diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives. “I intend to continue to revise our forms a little bit every year. This past year, for example, we updated the pronouns on our forms to ‘they’ instead of ‘he/she’.”

“We just renewed another contract with PerformYard and that speaks volumes. Typically everyone hates performance reviews and that's terrible. We didn't want our people to hate it. We wanted performance management and accountability to be built into the fabric of our culture. Performance management has become much easier because we have PerformYard in place.”

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