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Revamping Performance Reviews: A Chat with Keith Kitani, CEO of GuideSpark

While HR tech innovations can help improve an organization’s overall review process with new digital tools that enable remote efficiency, the key challenge will be in establishing the right policies and processes for a specific company and then communicating those decisions / parameters clearly to every manager and employee. “But in addition to the HR tech innovations around performance management, companies should be looking at some of the new communication technologies that will help support the new processes and policies that are being implemented,’’ says Keith Kitani, CEO of GuideSpark in this chat on revamping performance reviews with TecHRseries. Catch the complete QnA:

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Hi Keith! Tell us about yourself and your journey so far. How has the ongoing pandemic and working through it been for you / the team at GuideSpark?

I’m happy to say that my family and I are healthy and safe, as are our GuideSpark employees, who are managing well during this time. I’m the CEO and co-founder of GuideSpark, and I’ve been in the technology business for 25+ years, having started two companies as well as worked at great companies like Adobe and Macromedia. So, I’ve seen a lot – the dot-com crash, September 11th, SARS, multiple economic recessions, and more – but I’ve never seen anything like 2020. Not only do we have the COVID-19 pandemic, but also social unrest, and then the wildfires and smoke up and down the west coast. So, like everyone, 2020 has been a time of tremendous uncertainty, resiliency, and change for GuideSpark . Luckily, as a software company, we had the technology systems in place to quickly move to a remote work environment, so that transition was fairly smooth. But, we’re dealing with all the same business challenges as most companies, like maintaining culture and connection, adjusting business strategies, adopting new processes and programs, and supporting employees to be productive from home in varying living situations. To get through this, we’ve focused on communication, including informal collaboration, and flexibility. So, overall, we’ve certainly seen challenges in our day-to-day operations, but we’re doing well and looking forward to the day when we can put all of this behind us.

In today’s time, employees and business owners and leaders are facing a new set of challenges while adapting to a Covid-19 new normal. How have you seen some global leaders introduce new initiatives during this time as a response to this?

Certainly, in conversation with CHROs through our recent Leadership Series, we’ve learned that many organizations have had to quickly react and modify policies and processes in order to ensure employees are safe and healthy and working productively in a remote world. We’ve also seen a focus on employee health and wellness; one company recently launched an ‘employee resilience program,’ designed to support employees’ physical, social, and mental well-being – it’s intentionally flexible, so local managers can adjust it depending on the needs of their particular team or location.

But one theme that comes up – no matter the initiative – is the importance of communication. As companies have become more digital and distributed during COVID-19, it has become increasingly difficult to communicate effectively amid such rapid change. For some business leaders, this has led to using new methods of communication to try and keep engagement high, like using text messaging for important messages, which is a great option for reaching field employees.

Other examples include Mike Bokina, VP and Head of HR for Siemens USA, who recently shared that he’s found that the key to managing multiple locations and departments is strong communications and flexibility. To achieve this, they’re providing managers with the tools to modify and adjust all messages for their specific micro-culture. And I’ve also spoken to Larry Brand, CHRO at Elkay Manufacturing, who has noted the night-and-day differences this pandemic has had on the two major divisions of his company; one that has seen a huge rise in demand in recent months, and the other that has been struggling. As a response, he’s needed to come up with two completely different communication plans for each employee group.

Employee performance reviews at a time when adjusting to long-term or extended remote work in the midst of a pandemic can add to stress, if not done correctly or using the right process. What should business leaders keep in mind for 2020 and the near-future when it comes to annual employee reviews and goals? How can teams capitalize on HR Tech innovations to help support a seamless review experience for both sides?

Performance is a sensitive, emotional topic as it is. Even without the upheaval of 2020, performance reviews generate a fair amount of stress for employees. It’s likely that this year, many of the objectives that employees set for themselves in January don’t quite align with the challenges and complexity that we’ve seen. Now, as we look toward annual employee reviews, it’s clear that organizations will have to rethink how they define high performance in this new context. The biggest shifts will be in how companies, one, manage employees’ goals and objectives that may not be current and have likely changed several times, and two, value new skills that have been critical during the past 6 months, like flexibility, teamwork, and resilience – but were not likely part of every employee’s goals.

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What best practices would you share with teams / HR leaders who are looking to revamp their review processes?

If we’ve learned anything this year, it’s that change is inevitable and constant. HR leaders should be looking to make sure their review processes are dynamic and flexible enough to adapt – change isn’t slowing, it’s accelerating. And we’ve all learned that we can change quickly when we need to; we’ve seen digital transformations take weeks, not years, and move to 100% remote work seemingly overnight.

Beyond creating a process that can adapt to change, companies should ensure that their managers are completely aligned with any new process. Managers are the key to any successful performance process, particularly during change and uncertainty. Then, looking at the situation from your employees’ perspective, it will be crticial to explain why any change is made, and build a process that works for all of your different employee groups. And, I’ve mentioned it already, but communication is becoming a critical best practice for any revamped process, especially performance management during a recession.

What bigger HR trends and HR Tech trends do you foresee for the tech marketplace for the near-term?

COVID-19 has driven a huge acceleration of digitalization across the enterprise, including HR, and that will only continue – but one of the biggest changes for the future will be the acceleration of remote and distributed workforces. While we will eventually return to the office, I very much doubt things will ever return to the way they were pre-pandemic. There will be an increased focus on new tools and enhancements in order to support a distributed workforce. Companies will start redefining the physical office, and will rethink the employee experience, finding new ways to build and maintain culture as they go.

A few specific trends will be around AI and communication. With accelerated digitalization, there will be more and more data that can leverage AI-driven tools to drive efficiency and experience across the entire HR landscape. And, you’ll continue to see significant innovations in communication – employees are becoming overwhelmed with information, and companies will need to find better and better strategies to reach and engage employees in a more personalized, targeted way.

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Any other last tips / thoughts for us?

Change will continue to be a constant for all of us. COVID-19 spurred tremendous change, but now that we know how quickly we can adapt as businesses and individuals, reacting to new challenges will become easier over time. So, as you think about the post-pandemic world, think about creating a change-ready organization that can quickly acclimate and evolve to market changes. This will require the right employee mindset, strong leadership at all levels of the organization, development of adaptable systems and processes, and of course, a strong foundation for internal communications.

GuideSpark is the leader in change communications guiding over 1,000 enterprise customers to business success by changing the hearts and minds of employees. GuideSpark Communicate Cloud® drives organizational change with communication journeys, targeted experiences that reach, engage and change employee behavior to achieve your critical business goals for Talent Strategies, M&A, and Digital Transformation. Manage, measure and scale your internal communication effectiveness with GuideSpark.

Keith Kitani is CEO and co-founder of GuideSpark and brings over 20 years of digital communications and eLearning expertise to creating, building and leading GuideSpark as it transforms workplace communications. Keith received his B.A. in Electrical Engineering and his M.B.A. from Stanford University.