Manager and employee relationships: Why is technology still just an efficiency tool?

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A few weeks ago, I attended my son’s parent’s evening for the first time and we spent time listening to the teachers’ feedback on his performance (I had my fingers were crossed behind my back hoping he’d been the model child I’d hoped he would be). It was very transactional to the point that we even discussed FaceTiming the teacher to save ourselves time!

It prompted me to think about my own school days and parent’s evenings, often the conversations were very much one-way, teachers voicing their view with maybe a few questions from my parents.

Now to bring you to today’s work world. How are your performance reviews conducted? Most likely in a more efficient way than walking from teacher to teacher, but the transactional element still prevails.

Whilst technology has transformed how feedback is collated together, it is still collected and channelled through a line manager. Over the years, HR software solutions have improved the process no end. Feedback from colleagues and managers on performance is more efficiently collected, the experience is smoother and less admin heavy – but technology should be adding more value than just efficiency gains.

The dynamic between employees and organisations is changing. Career paths are not linear, the fight for talent intensifies and the search for purpose and belonging at work is stronger than ever. All of these trends put individuals in a place of power, and it’s the organisations that don’t embrace these changes that will lose out.

Going back to performance reviews, whilst employees may also be asked to contribute to the discussions around their future, a large part of the discussion is driven by line managers in most cases. This could be for many reasons – the process, though enhanced by technology, is the same, or employees don’t always feel empowered to drive the conversation.

In any case, how should leaders look at technology to add more value and move away from transactional conversation?

●        Stop putting ‘process’ first

Whilst chatbots help employees get answers quicker and online portals mean that employees can feed into the process at anytime, anywhere, these technology enhancements are still just about improving the process. To deliver true value, would it be better to start with the outcome? From there, work backwards and that will influence the process. For example, if your objective is to retain top performers, how do you do this? What do they need from their performance review to compel them to stay at the organisation? Once you’ve worked out what they need and how often, how do they get it? Then design a process around that.

●        Richer conversations

Rather than collect, analyse and replay feedback to the employee, organisations must think about how to use the feedback to spark conversations. Employees may want more time to reflect on the review of their performance to have more meaningful conversations about their future. For example, asking colleagues for ideas on how to develop certain skills or for training resources. More thorough conversations will help improve people’s performance too. Research from the Chartered Management Institute has shown that over half (52%) of managers believe that more support from senior or line management would help them better cope with a crisis.

●        Greater transparency

Through richer conversations, so much of what is discussed can be valuable to others. However, the way performance is currently discussed, only the employee is party to the advice. Whilst some of the discussion around personal performance should be kept private, a more transparent process on general matters could go much further and inspire others.

We’re human. We evolve, we’re fluid. The parents at my school have a WhatsApp group to compare notes and feedback on homework as well as crowdsource advice to help all our children as they learn together. Technology has transformed our lives in so many other ways, it’s time for it to work harder in the world of work.

It could really make parents’ evening a lot more fun too – school reports in VR, anyone?

Harry Dhebar