Performance management systems about relationships, convenience, recognition

Employers look to make programs effective by simplifying, revising approach

Tool time: In May, the Strategic Capability Network (SCNetwork) held a panel discussion about new tools used by organizations. The winning team of the Focus 2040 student competition also presented their predictions for the future world at work. For more information, visit

Room for improvement in HR’s use of technology (Organizational Effectiveness)

When executives at Aviva North America decided to revise the company’s performance management system, they focused on creating a system that would lead to more open and honest dialogue between leaders and employees.

Until recently, the company used a very specific matrix to classify employees into clear categories that identified the employee’s achievements. But managers became fixated on categorizing employees, rather than creating plans to move them up the matrix, said Ramona Tobler, vice-president and HR business partner for underwriting and finance at Aviva in Toronto, which has 3,000 Canadian employees.

“How can we use this as a development tool and then how can we use this to move our employees as part of our succession planning and deployment?” said Tobler, speaking at a Strategic Capability Network (SCNetwork) event in Toronto in May.

Tobler and her team heard three key themes when they asked for corporate-wide feedback on how the system could be improved: Simplify, clarify and continue what’s working well.

Aviva decided to keep the matrix as the foundation for the performance management system — called Talking Talent — but eliminate the descriptive labels within the categories so managers could focus more time on working with employees to create a career development plan.

“It was less about where people fit on the matrix and more of the development conversation that was to take place,” said Tobler, adding the conversation can take place at any time during the year upon request by a manager or employee.

After the initial meeting between a manager and employee, the manager takes the assessment to other managers to compare the employee’s progress and discuss opportunities across the organization.

At a followup meeting with the employee, the manager shares the employee’s Talking Talent rating and comes up with strategies to progress the employee’s career.

“We may not see all of the opportunities (available) as employees or know what the potential is (for us) to move into another area or another project,” said Tobler, adding the company also benefits because it has an improved understanding of how employees see themselves fitting into the company down the road.

Having a visual representation of the relationship between individuals is what makes the performance management system at CIBC effective, said Sheila Legon, Toronto-based senior director of personal, team and change proficiency at CIBC, which has 42,000 employees worldwide.

“Relationship awareness is about empowering people to control the outcomes of their relationships with others,” said Legon, also speaking at the SCNetwork event. “It’s really about appreciating the differences from person to person and really beginning to understand why it is people do what they do.”

CIBC uses a program called Strength Deployment Inventory, which plots employees on a map according to their professional motivations. Employees can review one another’s profile to prepare for meetings and projects before working with each other.

“We’ve used it in terms of team development, both with intact work teams and also with project teams, in order to better understand where people are coming from and how they’re likely to interact,” she said. “We’ve also used it in terms of understanding people’s strengths and how they deploy them and what happens when you overdo those strengths.”

CIBC is also using the program to reward and recognize employees. The map positions workers either closer or further away from their motivations, which can help a manager better understand how to reward an individual to achieve improved results.

“If you think about somebody who’s motivated more by altruistic nurturing or relationships, things that are very personal are much more meaningful to them,” said Legon. “But a person who is motivated by tasks and results, they’re really looking for that Rolex watch.”

Convenience is what Carl Haim, director of human resources consulting at Toronto-based life insurance provider Foresters, likes about the program his company uses, Workday. Since Foresters implemented the system, employee files have been centralized — which means Haim can rely less on others when he needs information.

“When you’re onboarding new employees or want to take a look at their hierarchy, you can drill down from the organizational structure and find any type of employee information you need on it,” said Haim, also speaking at the event. “So, it really diminishes the trips to the filing rooms.”

Implementing a centralized program that all levels of employees could use was really transformational for the HR department at Foresters, he said.

Understanding an employee’s strengths and her aspirations within the company makes for a more effective performance management system, said Tobler. Leaders at Aviva no longer waste time trying to fit employees into categories that don’t necessarily reflect the employee’s accomplishments accurately. Instead, managers and employees can focus on what really matters — the future.

“Everyone has talent but it’s really what’s the best way to channel the talent, to make the most of the employee’s time in the organization and for the organization to benefit,” she said. “We’ve had, perhaps, somewhat of a complex approach and we’ve scaled it back to be very simple and very easy for leaders to use and easy for employees. And what we’ve seen is positive results.”

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SCNetwork’s panel of thought leaders brings decades of experience from the senior ranks of Canada’s business community. Their commentary puts HR management issues into context and looks at the practical implications of proposals and policies.

Room for improvement in HR’s use of technology (Organizational Effectiveness)

By Barbara Kofman

Over the years, technology has enabled HR to progress beyond many of the mundane, transactional aspects that made up the “personnel” roles.

Without technology, HR professionals couldn’t have become the strategic business partners they are today, with the ability to focus on the everyday while steering organizations into the future.

This technology-based transition continues to advance, particularly as HR information systems move away from cumbersome, legacy mainframes to more nimble software-as-a-service (SaaS), on-demand delivery models.

Given all this, it was somewhat surprising to learn the HR tools favoured by the panel at the recent Strategic Capability Network event were, for the most part, not leveraging new technology or social media. Instead, there were alternative takes on some of the more conventional HR tools that have been around for years.

This is not to suggest these tools are of no value but conceivably there are other tools we haven’t come across that challenge HR practitioners to think outside the box.

The principal message derived from the panelists was simple: If organizations want to take advantage of the ever-changing world of HR-based technology options, they must have HR leadership that constantly challenges the way things are being done with an eye to maximizing productivity by successfully leveraging old and new technology.

For HR leaders who want to boost their effectiveness by adopting all of the recommendations made by the panelists, here is a how-to guide:

• Adopt hiring tools that fit the needs of the organization, such as the Hiring Smart tool described by Sharon Beasley of Eden Valley Farms in New Minas, N.S. In doing so, the whole recruitment process can be re-engineered to facilitate the hiring of individuals who better fit with the organization.

• Once you get the person in the door, put in place a methodology, such as Aviva’s Talking Talent, that monitors and manages talent over time to keep the momentum going.

• Consider incorporating a tool such as the Strength Deployment Inventory at CIBC that allows each employee to become more self-aware and better understand others with whom they work and, ultimately, to develop more satisfying and productive working relationships and teams.

• Eliminate a cumbersome human resources information system (HRIS) and implement a new system — such as Workday, used at Foresters to manage HR transactions, or Cornerstone on Demand, used by the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan to help it get the best out of its workforce.

If HR truly wants to use technologically advanced tools, it should pay close attention to the prediction of this year’s Focus 2040 competition winners of how the work experience might be transformed by technology. (For more information on the competition, see article #13003.)

Their vision of the future direction of work was both provocative and remarkably believable.

“They envision a world where organizations will not be hiring employees, per se, but the best and brightest candidates will interview organizations to see which ones best fit their needs and desires. They would be free agents, moving to the projects that promise the most stimulating challenges and personal fulfillment,” wrote Ian Hendry, Karen Gorsline and Ray Johnston in an article on Focus 2040 in the May 7 issue of Canadian HR Reporter.

The students presented a picture of what work nirvana would look like for many gen Ys, and challenged all of us to reconsider how we are preparing our organizations to adapt the thinking and tools needed to support this kind of future.

Barbara Kofman is SCNetwork’s lead commentator on organizational effectiveness and founding principal of CareerTrails, a strategic coaching and HR Solutions organization focused on enabling individuals and organizations to resolve their work-related challenges. She has held senior roles in resourcing, strategy and outplacement, and taught at the university and college level. She can be reached at (416) 708-2880

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Efficiency in tools (Strategic Capability)

By Karen Gorsline

Employers are adopting tools to better manage recruitment, assessment, talent identification and development, employee data, transaction support, and learning management and delivery. So why are employers committing so much energy to these workplace tools?

Standardization: Processes and tools are a means to introduce and enforce standard infrastructure across an organization. This infrastructure provides guidance to employees and managers and promotes consistency.

Efficiency: Broader automation for routine transactions and the production of standard reports contribute to greater efficiency and shorter cycle times. Automation of records and transactions can eliminate redundant data entry, permit the introduction of decision rules and parameters to reduce approval or review requirements and reduce errors.

More use of technology: Using technology support for non-transactional areas — such as assessment, development and learning delivery — can open it up to a broader employee base as improved cost-effectiveness means no longer restricting its use to the top levels. Technology also enriches the process. Feedback can be broader and conversations on strengths can be stimulated.

Some would argue HR is merely playing catch-up and what is occurring is an overdue response to pressure to reduce transactional costs and operate more effectively in managing human capital. Others see this as HR finally taking steps in the right direction, using the baseline and framework established by the introduction of these tools to support and sustain future development.

Will the tools developed today adapt to potential changes in the future, or are they fixed in today’s paradigm? Testing tool designs with views of the future is a worthwhile endeavour.

Karen Gorsline is SCNetwork’s lead commentator on strategic capability and leads HR Initiatives focused on facilitation and tailored HR initiatives. Toronto-based, she has taught HR planning, held senior roles in strategy and policy, managed a large decentralized HR function and directed a small business. She can be reached at

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Prepare for plenty of change (Leadership in Action)

By Trish Maguire

We live in a world of contrasts. The question is, can we find the balance between crisis and opportunity?

The recent Strategic Capability Network event featured HR leaders discussing the human resources planning tools they use, followed by a presentation on what the future working world could look like from two of the students who won the Focus 2040 competition.

Around the same time as the event, HP announced it was reducing its workforce by 29,000 employees by 2014, a literary expert declared a robot would win the Pulitzer Prize by 2015 and CIBC raised the bar with a new app that takes another step towards a cashless society, suggesting the electronic purse is ever-closer to reality.

A report from the World Business Council for Sustainable Development validated the world’s population is expected to hit nine billion by 2050. Equally interesting is BrainReserve’s recent research indicating almost one-third of all CEOs in Thailand are women and, in China, women hold 34 per cent of senior management positions.

Any and all of the above suggests that between the environment, technology, population, resources and economy, business leaders are facing countless complex opportunities. Corporate sustainability for 2040 will require fundamental changes in business strategy, frameworks and infrastructure.

A starting point would be the Focus 2040 winners’ catchphrase: “The future begins with the individual.” It offers a thought-provoking concept that reaffirms a downshift of organizational design where there is no boss, no red tape and no command and control leadership.

It’s a self-organizing workplace where people can opt out of a boring job and voluntarily bid to work on special projects that best suit their personality, performance and technical skills. Leveraging a hybrid of present technologies, the world of work will have no boundaries — people set their own schedule and work the hours they want with clients of their choosing on projects of their choice.

Take a moment and think about how prepared your leadership team is for a potential “corporate power reversal culture.”

Is it possible that to be nimble and efficient by 2040, the corporate system will evolve into smaller networks where the self-organizing workplace becomes the new norm for the next generation?

The leading questions for any leader will be:

• How do we define success?

• How do we get there from here?

• What form of technological implementations will make the needed changes happen efficiently, on the scale required and be possibly paperless?”

For any leader interested in turning sustainability into a successful strategy, far-reaching changes will be necessary, feasible and offer tremendous business opportunities. It will require enlightened leadership and imagination since so much of this territory is uncharted and past practices and experience may not be helpful or valid.

Trish Maguire is a commentator for SCNetwork on leadership in action and founding principal of Synergyx Solutions in Nobleton, Ont., focused on high-potential leadership development coaching. She has held senior leadership roles in HR and organizational development in education, manufacturing and entrepreneurial organizations and can be reached at

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