Through automation Porte Brown evolved its process to focus on employee learning, growth and development.
Today people have a lot less anxiety going into a review meeting and are generally happier coming out. We've come a long way with our performance management process.
Adam Hoffman is the Director of Talent Management at Porte Brown. He started his career in Human Resources in 2004, and has been with the Firm for the past seven years. Adam is responsible for the entirety of the Human Resource department, including performance management and the alignment with the overall goals and strategy of the Firm.
Adam has recently completed a Master’s Degree in Industrial and Organizational Psychology, following his passion for developing effective work cultures that emphasize employee training, education, growth, and engagement. “Business and psychology have always been of interest to me and Porte Brown places a very large emphasis on performance management. That's definitely the side of HR that I prefer”, he shared.
Porte Brown is a full service accounting and consulting Firm headquartered in the Chicago suburb of Elk Grove Village. They offer a wide range of services across four offices staffed with 105 employees. Porte Brown has been in business for 75 years and it’s one of the fastest growing accounting Firms in the Midwest. As Adam describes it, “We’re a small large Firm or a big mid-sized Firm”.
Porte Brown is highly committed to all aspects of talent management. The company has a well-defined mentorship program and invests heavily on education, development, and employee training.
Since the majority of its new hires are college graduates, Porte Brown has developed its own training curriculum and allows new employees to work in different sections of the Firm until the employee decides which area they are most interested in. “When people come to work with us, they get to work with everybody. We give our new hires the opportunity to try everything and then let them choose their own direction from there”, Adam shared.
Before automation, Porte Brown managed employee reviews through spreadsheets and a very manual and time-consuming workflow. “It was a mess. It was a controlled mess, but it was still a mess. I was not a fan of it at all.” Adam shared.
The company’s organizational structure was also different. Porte Brown’s employees did not have direct managers. Every account had a partner in charge who managed the work with a diverse team of employees. “If an employee needed help or had questions, they would simply go to the partner in charge of that account”, Adam said.
Adam’s main concern was related to the ratings and rankings in the review forms. Porte Brown’s original forms listed several core competencies that managers would rate and rank to assess an employee’s performance. Employees would be evaluated on client relations, technical skills, business development, leadership, among others. “The ratings and rankings were something that I had to get rid of immediately. They bring focus to all the wrong things. When you have ratings and rankings in place, you find that 80% of your conversation is rehashing the past and trying to understand these numbers. People would get frustrated and nobody was gaining anything from it,” he shared.
The Firm had two review cycles. The primary cycle followed the tax season, and an informal check-in happened at the end of the calendar year. And although their evaluation process was not as defined or systematic, the Firm always ensured every employee received at least two partner reviews in each cycle. Employees would also complete a self-review prior to a final review meeting with two partners. By the end of the cycle, we had hundreds of documents that we were trying to organize and manage. It added up very quickly,” he described.
After completing two cycles through spreadsheets, emails and even flash drives, Adam started his search for a performance management platform. "Our performance management process at the time was taking up way too much time. There was a lot of opportunity for growth”, he stated.
“Finding a platform that worked for us was a struggle. I reviewed about 10 different systems.”
The biggest challenge Porte Brown experienced was a lack of customization with the majority of the systems available in the market. Since employees did not have direct managers, it was difficult to find a platform that would be flexible enough to accommodate Porte Brown’s structure. “One of the biggest problems I ran into was finding a system that would be flexible enough to incorporate all the people involved with each review.”
Adam explained that PerformYard was one of the few systems that could accommodate Porte Brown’s unique organizational structure, and his favorite thing about the platform is how it isn't, as he calls it, over-engineered.
“PerformYard’s workflow is great and there's a lot of features that help me be more efficient at my job,” he said. For Adam, moving Porte Brown’s performance management process to PerformYard was a no-brainer.
He revealed that his search for the right platform also created an opportunity for change at Porte Brown. “We knew that it was unrealistic to ask a partner, responsible for 50 or more accounts with 12 different accountants in each team, to also be a direct manager and help employees outside of just that account”. While setting up on PerformYard, Porte Brown decided to implement direct managers to its organizational structure to care for the learning and development of each employee.
Today, Porte Brown’s performance management process revolves around its primary reviews in May/June, mini reviews in November/December, a well-defined mentorship program, as well as goal setting.
During the primary review, a staff accountant will receive an evaluation from their manager, a modified evaluation from their mentor and two additional reviews from partners they’ve worked with. Meanwhile, managers will receive a review from three partners. In the end, everyone at Porte Brown receives at least four evaluations. “That's our way of ensuring a level of consistency in the process and PerformYard really helped define who should be evaluated by who,” he shared.
All evaluations are then completed in PerformYard, and before each review meeting, the HR team will download the PDF output of all evaluations and send it to the reviewers and employees being evaluated. “A nice feature in PerformYard is the ability to download the PDFs of all evaluations completed. That makes life easier for everybody.”
Porte Brown also replaced ratings and rankings with strengths-based reviews and evaluations. Employee’s self-evaluations and manager’s reviews are focused on three strengths, two opportunities for growth, and a few starts and stops. “What we find is that, when employees are good communicators and have established a good relationship with the people reviewing them, the self-evaluation and the manager’s review align very closely. And the more they align, the better the conversation and understanding of what that person needs to do moving forward.”
Through PerformYard, Porte Brown is also able to better manage and define expectations around its mentorship program. “At Porte Brown we're really big on defining things. I don't think you can truly evaluate how effective a program is unless you know exactly what is going on.” Mentors meet with their mentees four times per year and document their discussion and progress in PerformYard. The platform provides visibility to HR on the meeting cadence and helps guide their conversation towards long-term growth and development. “The main difference between managers and mentors is that managers focus on the technical side, whereas the mentors focus on the softer long-term side,” Adam explained.
Mini reviews are more casual. Porte Brown sees it as an opportunity for managers to do a mental check-in with employees and assess how things are going and how people are feeling. “We really use that time to talk about engagement, making sure that they're doing what they want to do with their career at Porte Brown.” Although there are no forms to be completed during the mini reviews, managers are still expected to log the outcomes of their conversation in PerformYard.
The Firm also uses PerformYard to help employees set personal goals. Managers encourage its employees to set goals to be worked on from June to December in order to avoid the tax season, and ensure employees enter them into PerformYard in order to track the progress.
Adam is now focused on maintaining a culture of employee growth and development while continuing to define people's role. “We have to continue to define roles and responsibilities. That's probably the biggest challenge, but also what makes everything effective.”
Adam shared an interesting baseball analogy to explain how growth and development takes place at Porte Brown. “Managers are the coach that is on first and third base telling you to run or to hold up. The mentor is your long-term agent that's helping you become a better player. Then the partner group, those are the people managing your careers and helping you move forward.”
Today, Porte Brown’s performance management process is focused on employee development. Adam acknowledged that since automating and streamlining their process, the quality of conversations have improved, and even shifted from talking about past performance to talking about future development. “I feel that people have a lot less anxiety going into a review meeting and are generally happier coming out. We've come a long way with our performance management process.”