Sustaining business success during COVID-19 is only possible if employers and managers stay on top of employee performance. In times of uncertainty and disruption, performance management must tread the fine line between being centred around employee emotions and needs, and ensuring that organisational goals are still being met.

Coronavirus has impacted people’s lives tremendously and for many, their mental wellbeing has been compromised. When employees have heightened feelings of anxiety, frustration and burn out, their engagement and productivity levels decrease. In turn, mistakes are made, targets are not met, and overall business performance suffers.

Read our advice on how to keep performance levels high during COVID-19 and beyond.

Be attuned to your employees’ needs

This is an unusual and stressful time – a time where we require more support than ever before. Remote working and social distancing have pushed people out of their comfort zones – not only on a professional level, but a personal one, too. At home, people are dealing with their own unique circumstances which may involve health issues or balancing family needs, and employers need to be empathetic to this.

While everyone has been affected by coronavirus, it has affected people in different ways, and that should be reflected in the level of support people are given at work. HR managers should facilitate regular conversations between managers and employees and provide guidance in the form of training, guidelines, email reminders, etc., on how to handle issues impacting employees.

When it comes to performance management, it’s essential that managers adapt accordingly. Some individuals prefer quick daily catch-ups to check how work is tracking. Others prefer weekly or fortnightly work-in-progress (WIP) meetings. No matter the frequency of the discussions, managers should ask their team members how they are doing (especially in relation to COVID-19 and remote working), whether there are any challenges or obstacles they are facing, and what support they require.

Use measurable objectives

Remote working requires a great deal of trust between employee and employer. This can be tricky, especially for businesses and teams that are not used to working remotely. Managers must be careful not to control or micromanage their team during this time. Any objectives that are set should be outcomes-focused and measurable – keeping in mind that it’s not necessarily about the amount of time spent sitting at a desk. After all, high activity does not equal high performance and busyness does not equate to productivity.

The acronym SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound) is helpful when setting objectives or reviewing performance because it provides clarity.

Read our blog outlining how to use key performance indicators (KPIs) and objectives and key results (OKRs) effectively.

Ensure feedback is two-way

Feedback is an essential part of managing a team, but it shouldn’t be one-way. Two-way feedback encourages employees to express any concerns they may be having about their workload, the impact of coronavirus on their mental health, and any suggestions they may have around improving work processes during this time.

Teams are only as good as their managers, so when a manager is open to receiving feedback they can become a more supportive leader and achieve better business outcomes.

Reinforce company values and goals

When things seem uncertain and unsafe, people can enter “panic mode” and behave irrationally or inappropriately. According to Gartner, an unpleasant employee experience can negatively impact psychological safety by up to 35%, and uncertainty can cause employee misconduct to increase by as much as 33%.[1]

While panic and unease is understandable in times of crisis, misconduct and poor behaviour is highly damaging to productivity, the employer brand and business outcomes. Employers must make a point to emphasise their company values and put them into practice in the way they treat their employees.

When values are clear and regularly demonstrated by leaders, staff are more loyal, committed and unified, and will work harder to achieve their goals – both now and through the “recovery” period.

Have a formalised process in place

While values are important, it’s also critical to have a formal performance management process in place, which is clearly understood by all employees. Having a structure around managing underperformance will ensure employees are given every chance to improve, and just as critically, will keep employers compliant with employment laws in the event that disciplinary action is required. And of course, it works the other way too – a performance management process will ensure that you know who your high performers are and reward them in the most appropriate ways.

Key questions to ask

Forrester identified some questions[2] that employers should be asking to help them identify how to best support their employees during the pandemic to achieve the best performance outcomes. See below.

  • How are my employees feeling? What is their emotional journey during the pandemic?

Times of crisis have a polarising effect on emotions, so managers should be prepared for different outcomes within their teams, and individualise responses. Asking “are you ok?” is simple but crucial.

  • What can my employees contribute at this time?

Inviting employees to contribute to the goals of the organisation is inspiring and builds trust and respect. Employers should ask their employees to talk about their experience at work during this time – e.g. how they would like to be managed, and any concerns they may have. Survey tools like ELMO Survey are useful for uncovering the pulse of a workforce.

  • What can I do, as a leader, to guide and motivate my employees?

The biggest workplace shift that has occurred as a result of COVID-19 is remote working, which requires a great deal of trust. Coupled with trust is acknowledgement. Employers must work hard to recognise the efforts of their employees and provide rewards when earned. Rewarding and recognising employees not only motivates the workforce but it instils company values — that hard work is rewarded and the organisation is committed to the long-term success of employees.

In order to ensure business survival through uncertain times, it’s important that business leaders and HR professionals facilitate quality employee performance management within their organisation. It is essential that is it is tailored to the unique circumstances of not only the economy, but of individuals, with a focus on support, empathy and flexibility.

ELMO Performance Management improves employee productivity, boosts profitability and engagement through continuous feedback. It enables organisations to align individual and team goals with organisational strategies. It also streamlines the employee appraisal process by offering a range of pre-built goals and development objectives and provides the opportunity for 360 reviews that assist in the development of a performance culture that reduces employee turnover. ELMO’s Performance Management module fully integrates with the entire ELMO cloud HR & payroll suite. As a cloud-based solution, ELMO helps employers manage their teams from anywhere at any time from a secure, centralised database. For further information, contact us.

[1] Gartner Identifies Six Initiatives HR Can Undertake to Help Managers Maintain Employee Performance and Engagement During the Coronavirus Pandemic, 2020

[2] Webinar: The Employee Experience of a Pandemic, Forrester, 2020

Learn more about how ELMO can help your organisation.
Learn more about how ELMO can help your organisation.