10 Trends that Will Impact Employee Performance Management in 2021

As the global workforce settles into the remote work reality, we’ve necessarily had to reorganize how we approach everything to do with managing employees. While work was headed this way even before the pandemic, we’ve now had to accelerate timelines and have conversations about things we didn’t think we’d have to deal with for many years to come.

One thing is for sure from an HR standpoint, there’s no going back to our pre-COVID ways. Having been forced to adapt, adjust, and innovate through the disruption, we’ve learned much about how our new working conditions affect us. From team collaboration to productivity, mental health, and more, there’s a lot to unpack.

A year in, it’s now easier to see the way forward and to visualize what’s needed to assure quality employee performance management in the months and years ahead. Our core values and the KPIs we measure haven’t changed. It’s more about how we measure and the way we approach our evaluations.

In 2021, the climate is about quality interactions between employees and HR management and how we can tie that to tangible results.

This much is true: employee performance management was due for an overhaul. With younger generations entering the workforce and technology changing the way we approach work and team collaboration; a new way of thinking has evolved. There’s a general realization that employees are happy to have their jobs, and most are stepping up. Trust has grown, micromanagement is less common, and there’s little bandwidth for systems that waste time, money, and energy.

Top Ten Trends in Employee Performance Management

Read on for our take on trends to watch in 2021.

1.Remote Work

Pre-COVID, remote work was an employee perk. With the widespread shift to remote working for everybody, it’s a little different in terms of how managers, employees, and teams interact and share input. Meetings are virtual, day-to-day visual cues are lacking, and managers have to step up how they plan and execute regular performance discussions. Performance metrics have changed, and managers need to rely more on transparent communication to get to the heart of matters.

Success requires consistency, empathy, and accessibility. Companies need to facilitate an open forum for employees to discuss things that we once considered too personal to discuss at work. An entirely remote workforce puts everyone on a level playing field, which is overwhelmingly a good thing, as it removes age-old biases that people who work from home are less dedicated or dependable.

2. Health and Wellness

It cannot be ignored. Companies and managers need to frame performance discussions and plans around employee well-being and be flexible based on how each individual is doing. Empathy is a critical trait for HR managers, as every employee is dealing with vastly different circumstances.

Some may be managing a full workload while taking care of young children, while others are homeschooling their teenage kids or possibly taking care of their elderly parents. Others might be living alone and struggling with feelings of isolation. You can’t look at the metrics you’d usually rely upon without considering the whole picture. Compassion, an open mind, and a little outside-the-box thinking are necessary, as is having the agility to nimbly shift from one employee’s reality to another’s.

When speaking with underperformers, it’s important to set the right tone and tread lightly. Gaining knowledge of their challenges might help you understand why they’re missing their targets, and it also might give you some ideas about what can be done to turn the situation around. On the same tack, you need to acknowledge and recognize your high performers when you can. These days, even your best employees harbor fears that they might be out of a job at any moment, so a little encouragement and praise go a long way. Create certainty to reduce anxiety and re-energize their performance.

3. New Teams and Hires

Onboarding new team members is more challenging in a hybrid or purely remote environment. Traditional recruitment methods might be the same up to a point, but the interview process risks impairment without a face-to-face element. Regardless of its limitations, video meetings are still critical. While they don’t give you every little nuance of body language, it’s still better and more telling than email. You’ll have to be more verbal and direct. Encourage clear communication, ask questions, and spend enough time to ensure nothing is misconstrued.

Teams have also shifted as companies downsized or reorganized to adapt to new priorities. Cohesive onboarding processes are vital to success. Integrating new team members remotely requires care and consistency to ensure a positive outcome. 360 reviews are beneficial for gauging and developing performance, as it brings the entire team into the conversation and illuminates the group dynamic better than any other approach.

4. Corporate Responsibility

To attract and retain the right employees, companies must be clear in their values and consistent in how employees are held accountable to them. Many reviews and performance discussions now include conversations and metrics driven by these values. It’s a valuable exercise to review policies and see that they align with the overarching mission. It’s no longer enough to talk the talk; you need to walk the walk as well. Standing behind your principles makes it easier to attract like-minded others, reducing the time it takes to integrate new employees and mitigating the risk of attrition or bad hires.

5. Employee Engagement

Employee engagement has always been a critical metric. But now, more than ever, employers need to actively engage with their workforce to ensure they have what they need to succeed.

If employees are engaged in meaningful work, given recognition for achievements, and receive consistent feedback from their managers and company leadership, success is all but assured. One on one conversations are essential to maintain alignment to individual goals, team objectives, and the greater mission and vision. Goal setting, frequent feedback, pulse surveys, engagement surveys, and ongoing coaching are all excellent ways to drive engagement, but consistency is key.

As millennials are the overwhelming majority in today’s workforce, we need to consider how to relate to and inspire them. Evidence shows us that the best way to engage with the millennial generation is to help them learn and grow. Learning and development, regardless of generational proclivities, impact employee engagement in a positive way, as it supports the idea that the company is invested in employee success.

6. Shifting Objectives

The economy and world are still in flux. Companies have to be flexible and realistic in the goals they set for employees or risk burning them out or creating an atmosphere of frustration. Goals and objectives should help—not hinder—employees in prioritizing. Employees should be part of the conversation from the start, and every target should be tied to the company’s success. When employees feel like their work has meaning and that they are a critical part of the greater mission, they are far more likely to be engaged.

Leadership should take the lead on this and show how each individual role connects to organizational and company success.  

7. Advancement Opportunities

We must keep in mind that with remote work, employment options are expanding quickly. By investing in our employees, we help them achieve their career objectives, which may help to keep them engaged and happy in their work.

Performance reviews and discussions around them should now focus on an employee’s career and development with advancement options specific to their vocational trajectory. Build a plan that allows them to grow and advance in their role with the ultimate objective of progressing to the next level.

8. Hybrid Office Space

As we begin to open up new possibilities for reopening and shape our plans to return to the office, new policies must be defined and communicated. Open discussions should be had around how employees and managers feel about coming back and expectations tempered around those ideas. Policies should reflect a realistic vision for moving forward, but they should also be flexible and open to revision as needed.

Some employees will be eager to return to the office. Others will prefer to stay at home unless absolutely necessary. To respect everyone’s level of tolerance and concern for safety, offering a variety of working environments should appeal to everybody. These could include a split week between home and office, use of open office spaces, or offering technology upgrades for those who choose to work from home on a more permanent basis.

Ultimately, wherever your employees settle, performance and adherence to policies must be tracked effectively. This means regular check-ins, updates, and discussions that may include more policy points. It’s essential that employees know that policy is fluid and that their input and feedback is welcome.

9. Trust and Accountability

Employees trust their employers to look out for their best interests. Companies trust employees to perform and deliver their work with energy and commitment. For the most part, we’ve seen that with the right supports in place, employees tend to go the extra mile to ensure they’re meeting expectations.

Performance reviews facilitate an ongoing conversation about trust and accountability. When feedback is honest and specific, these attributes grow stronger and illuminate ways in which both parties can improve. A clear directive energizes employees toward a particular goal, giving them a framework for success and accountability, both to their personal objectives as well as tying it into the company’s mission and vision.

We need to be more specific in guiding employees to their goals, but in gauging performance, we also need to be aware that other factors are at play that might be beyond control. When correcting performance issues, think about what needs to change from a human point of view so they can be successful in the coming months. Set clear objectives with built-in checkpoints along the way and tweak as needed. When goals are broken down into digestible components, it might be easier to focus on improving those areas specifically and to be accountable to those changes.

10. Talent Identification and Retention

Just as the work environment has shifted, so have our expectations for new employees. The skill-sets we valued in the past are still relevant—experience, hard skills, soft skills, growth mindset—but with the focus on remote work, we must focus on engagement as a primary metric. Employees with proven success in remote working environments and those with excellent communication skills will be most desirable. Specific hiring criteria and job descriptions should be updated to reflect these requirements and keep all parties aligned.

As for employee retention, the effort must begin during the recruitment process. Transparency is critical, as is responsiveness to a candidate’s concerns for health and safety. Having clearly stated policies is of greatest benefit, as it establishes your position on key matters from the start. The onboarding process should be seamless, intuitive, and automated where possible. Ultimately, you’re setting the tone for the relationship, and it ought to begin on solid ground.

Final Thoughts

Planning a 2021 performance review strategy requires that we shift perspective. Fortunately, we’ve learned much about what to embrace and what to leave behind in the past year. emPerform supports every aspect of the employee journey, from performance reviews to goal management and beyond. Reach out today to learn more about our solution or to book a demo. We’d love to show you how we can help.