Performance Management for Hybrid Work Requires a Greater Focus On Connection and Clarity, According to RedThread Research

As organizations negotiate the transition from remote work to a hybrid model, two areas have emerged as paramount to success: clear goals and expectations and a greater sense of connection, according to a new study from RedThread Research. The study found that employees at organizations focused on a “3C” strategy—culture (including goal clarity), capability of managers, and connection—were four times more likely to give a high Net Promoter Score™ and three times more likely to rate their manager as highly effective. To optimize results in hybrid work, organizations should proactively revisit their performance management strategies to ensure they’re doing all they can to improve clarity and connection.

Just when organizations were beginning to feel comfortable managing a remote workforce, now they have to figure out hybrid work. How can they keep the best elements of both?

“Our research shows that updating performance management strategies is critical to effectively enable employees during hybrid work. In particular, managers need to focus on goal clarity and connection building, in addition to other essential practices such as high-quality feedback, a focus on development, and coaching,” said Stacia Garr, co-founder and principal analyst at RedThread Research.

Performance management is an often-overlooked way to help people and organizations perform effectively in major transitions, according to a new report from RedThread, “Performance Management for Hybrid Work,” by Garr and Priyanka Mehrotra.

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Garr and Mehrotra recommend a “3C” strategy focused on culture, capability of managers, and connection. They found companies emphasizing these elements were more likely to have success in several critical areas. Specifically, their employees were four times more likely to give a high Net Promoter Score™, three times more likely to rate their manager as highly effective, and 1.6 times more likely to have high levels of engagement. The companies were also 1.5 times more likely to have experienced strong business results.

Improving connection emerged as a new and critically important aspect of performance management not seen in the previous version of the study in 2019.

“We know that genuine relationships at work help people feel more satisfied and less stressed,” explained Garr. “Our connections eroded during remote work. Now it’s time to make rebuilding those connections a priority.”

One way to build connection is to increase the frequency of check-ins. Managers started doing this during the first two years of the pandemic, increasing daily check-ins by 8% and monthly structured conversations by 10%. According to the report, they should continue to do so.

“Just because some employees are headed back to the office, don’t be tempted to ease up,” said Garr. “Today’s employees want and need frequent check-ins.”

Employees want more check-ins than they’re getting, according to RedThread. New data revealed 70% of employees would like more daily or weekly check-ins than they currently have with their managers.

“Check-ins have become a vital part of managing employee performance during the past two years,” said Garr. “Organizations can’t rely on individual managers to take their own approach to goals and feedback. They need to make connection-building between managers and employees an integral part of the performance management process.”

Developing stronger connections can also level the playing field in a hybrid environment. Employees in the office may have access to more opportunities, while those working remotely may feel left out.

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“You don’t want proximity bias to be an influence, and it’s also not ideal for people to start coming into the office just to be seen when they might work more efficiently elsewhere,” said Garr. “Improving connections can help.”

New research detailed in the report also points to a greater need for clarity and focus around goals and expectations than prior to the pandemic. In 2021, organizations that emphasized providing employees with goal clarity had a 50% likelihood of high employee engagement, compared to only 28% in 2019. By ramping up communication and checking in more frequently, managers can improve both clarity and a sense of connection.

The shift to hybrid also requires a new attitude toward employee learning and development (L&D), according to the report. In the past, performance management practices focused growth and development on future goals. In a hybrid environment, employees need to develop new skills just to do their current jobs. To support their success, performance management practices should foster continuous growth.

“Growth and development isn’t about preparing for the future anymore,” said Garr. “Now it’s about meeting the many new challenges people are dealing with in remote and hybrid work.”

According to Garr and Mehrotra, as the way people work continues to evolve, companies looking to retain and develop top talent should proactively build and implement a performance management process that is fair, transparent, and effective for all employees, whether they’re in the office or not.

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