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Performance Management in Hybrid + Remote Work

In my performance management workshops for supervisors and individual contributors, I poll them on their thoughts on ‘performance management'. Often there is a mixture of positives and negatives. The positives range from being able to set clear goals to opportunities for feedback while the negatives are about unfair performance appraisal and disappointing performance reviews.

"Does performance management = performance appraisal?"

One misconception about performance management is the thinking that performance management equals performance appraisal or review. Too much focus is placed on the appraisal or review process. Performance management encompasses more than appraisal to include planning, monitoring, and developing staff. Appraising or reviewing performance is just one of the stages in performance management.

Another common complaint is that performance management is demeaning and ineffective.

The feeling that performance management is unhelpful, unproductive, and unfair is made worse when working in a hybrid mode where the lack of in-person contact exacerbates the feeling of being isolated, judged unfairly, and unsupported.

Performance appraisal or review is not by design a demeaning process if conducted with proper training and awareness of the roles and responsibilities. All too often, managers and supervisors are not properly trained to carry out performance management holistically in an effective, developmental, and empowering manner.

ABCs of Performance Management in a Hybrid Work Environment

A for Avoid Surprises, B for Balancing task and people related matters and C for adopt a Coaching Habit.

1. Avoid Surprises

Provide just-in-time feedback to let staff know how they are doing to meet the work targets and desired company competencies. Begin with the end in mind.

A successful performance management experience means having regular check-ins on both the ‘what’ (e.g., key performance indicators) and the ‘how’ (demonstration of company’s core competencies or desired behaviours).

I came across a manager once who avoided difficult conversations on lack of progress on the achievement of the work target and the demonstration of certain undesirable work behaviours hoping that given time the underperforming staff will self-reflect and change for the better. Weeks passed and then months later during the final performance review conversation, the manager shared the feedback on the underperformance of work targets and desired core competencies. It was a surprise and shock to the staff and the staff complained that he should be informed earlier and there is nothing he can do now.

2. Balance Task and People Matters

With remote work, individuals hop into back-to-back meetings. The tendency is to dive into work-related matters. The majority of the meeting time is to talk about task-related matters such as work targets and progress. However, in this hybrid work environment, where the mental health of employees is often stretched, it is even more important to check in on how people are coping with work and family.

I remembered checking in with my staff about some work deliverables and after some questions, I discovered that my staff was not her usual chirpy self. I stopped talking about the work and enquired about what is happening in her life. After some probing, she shared that she was tired from back-to-back meetings and the tight work deadlines, she needed a break. When the home is also the workplace, people have forgotten to take a break from work! My staff needed to find some space for herself and to tune out from work. We talked about taking time to reenergize ourselves and rebalance her work commitments.

3. Coaching as a Habit

Finally, coach to guide, support, and develop your staff. Ask questions to find out the work progress and how they have been coping with life and work. You can either coach for performance or coach for development. When coaching for performance, ask questions, draw out answers to help staff fix a problem or issue. When coaching for development, the focus is not on helping the staff fix an issue but helping them be aware and reflect on how they have been managing the issue.

In a hybrid work environment, we might focus on coaching for short-term performance and neglect the overall growth and development of our staff. Both types of coaching are important to develop the capabilities and capacity of the staff.

With reduced contact time in hybrid + remote work, it’s even more important to manage the performance of our employees skilfully to avoid the fear of bias, the perception of unfairness, or the feeling of being misunderstood. When managers manage performance effectively, we harness the strengths of every individual to thrive in today's uncertain times.

Written by Lee Kang Yam Holistic performance management because staff are not the sum of parts but the whole equation.


If this topic is useful to you, let’s schedule a chat. Feel free to share this blog with others in your network. Thank you!

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