Evolving Their Performance Process

How The Colorado Health Foundation built performance management to respond to the needs of their employees.

About the foundation

The Colorado Health Foundation is dedicated to helping every Coloradan have all they need to live a healthy life. The private foundation uses their philanthropic resources to bring that vision into reality.

Today over 60 employees work from their offices in the Uptown neighborhood of Denver, Colorado. Their teams support the foundations three core functions of grantmaking, policy advocacy, and learning and evaluation.

The HR team has implemented a performance management approach they call Staff Excellence. The program provides the structure for regular conversations between employees and their managers while also giving every department, team and employee the flexibility to make it work for them.

Quarterly Conversations

Employees and their manager get together four times a year for a conversation about goals, goal progress, and other performance topics. Structure is kept to a minimum in order to let the conversations move wherever they need to go. Each of the four conversations have a different prompt that employees use to kickstart and steer their discussion.

“It is really about stepping away from the computer, stepping away from the very large forms that we used to fill out. Now it is just, this is the topic, these are the three questions I liked, let’s have a conversation about it. We can sit and talk to each other face to face.”

The first conversation each year is primarily about setting new goals. This flows naturally from the last conversation of the year which is a review of performance and evaluation of goals. The two conversations in the middle are used to review goal progress, but also to bring up any topics that HR and the leadership team decide are important. This could include a specific discussion on organizational barriers or reviewing roles and job descriptions.

Following each conversation, the manager writes up a summary and submits it in PerformYard. “The idea isn’t to write a novel, just the key takeaways.” The final step is a review and sign off from HR.

Flexible Goal Setting

The Colorado Health Foundation’s approach to performance management includes a heavy emphasis on goals. However, it was important not to limit the form goals might take with templates or unnecessary structure.

“We were previously using software that forced a lot of structure when setting goals. It just didn’t work for us due to the nature of our work. For certain things that we’re doing, like developing a new focus area, you can’t put a unit of measurement on it.”

Today the foundation records goals and goal progress in freeform notes. Employees still follow goal-setting best practices, like being specific and defining what success will look like, but now all roles and all departments can participate in one process even though they’re engaged in dramatically different types of work.

Department  Specific Goals

The quarterly conversations form the core performance management practice across the whole organization, but occasionally teams or departments will make additions that are specific to their work.

For example the philanthropy department once chose to add an additional prompt for one of their quarterly conversations. It addressed transformation work that everyone in the department was doing at that time.

Another department, with very quantifiable goals, chooses to assign structured goals at the start of each year in addition to the freeform goals they choose with their manager.

This flexibility means that everyone in the organization stays on the same program, and individual teams and departments still have their specific needs addressed.

An Evolving Approach

From the beginning, Staff Excellence was about creating a process that was responsive to the needs of the organization. The idea came about when representatives from every department, managers and employees, were brought together to discuss what worked and what didn’t work in the old system.

“We needed the flexibility to make changes on the fly. In year one we did monthly conversations, but we consolidated that to quarterly in year two. We also needed totally customizable forms. Restrictive templates weren’t going to work for us.”

HR’s role was to take everyone’s needs and design one process that could continue to evolve to serve the employees.

The program could take on any form, as long as it was effective for the organization. The HR team asked the foundation’s managers “What do you need to be able to evaluate the performance of your employees at the end of the year?” and they asked employees “What do you want from your managers and how often do you want to connect?”

Even after the initial plan was created the process has continued to evolve. Most dramatically, it started as monthly conversations before the questions were consolidated into quarterly conversations the second year.

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