Performance management tool makes company more strategic

System helps firm with succession planning and career management
By Uyen Vu
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 02/28/2006

For many organizations, getting people to rally around a performance management system isn’t easy. At Montreal-headquartered Aeroplan, a loyalty marketing company with about 1,200 employees, the job wasn’t as tough. Most of the 220 managers participating in performance management were already sold on the why. It was the how they had trouble with.

The how was a “very archaic pen-and-paper-based tool,” said Caroline Cyr, manager of organizational performance and development. “Although we had a formal process per se, we did not have any means to track it. All we had were yearly Excel spreadsheets and graphs to present to senior executives, which were based on aggregated performance management ratings across the company.”

These were ratings used to determine the level of incentive pay each year. At Aeroplan, incentive pay comprised of ratings at the corporate level, the team level and the individual level. The mix of each would vary according to an individual’s rank.

“Our people were completely disenchanted with our process. It ticked everybody off. It was not user-friendly. It was a Word document with boxes everywhere and the boxes did not follow the text. They could not track changes they made to their objectives. They could not follow the performance management process adequately. They were completely turned off.”

In fact, when the company did a Six Sigma intervention to identify the failings of the current system, results showed that only 40 per cent submitted complete documents. “Most of the others submitted some form of documents, but they were not complete. Some of them didn’t submit anything at all. It was pretty horrifying.”

The need for a performance management tool was urgent, said Cyr, because “we’re a fast-growing company filled with over-achievers and aggressive targets.” So when Cyr recommended the company set out to purchase a computer-based tool to manage performance, “the executive team was ready for it.”

Having just gone public, the former subsidiary of ACE Aviation Holdings Inc. anticipated considerable growth in the near future. That’s why it didn’t want something requiring significant investment in infrastructure.

Cyr’s team came across the Sigal system, a Web-based system created by Montreal-headquartered Technomedia Training Inc. Sigal supports a number of functions under the umbrella of talent management, including performance management, succession planning, competency assessment, recruitment, career management, learning management for all forms of learning, content creation, as well as knowledge management.

Aeroplan didn’t need all these functions, but what it needed was a performance management system that served broader goals such as succession planning and career planning. A number of systems Cyr reviewed during the selection process were complicated and not quite amenable to customization. With Technomedia, “we were able to take our existing performance management and competency management system and put it on the web,” said Cyr. As for the user-friendly interface, “even our IT guys said this was amazing, and if it passes with the IT guys, it’s pretty good.”

With the succession planning and career management tools, “what we wanted to do was take it to the strategic level. These (processes) are going to help us make strategic decisions (such as) who are going to be the future of Aeroplan, what are we going to do as a company to help those individuals grow and become proficient at their jobs.”

These are urgent concerns at Aeroplan, said Cyr. Given the pace of growth, the company has to keep an eye on key positions and make sure that someone’s ready to step in if someone currently doing the job leaves.

As for career management — one function that Technomedia president Jacques Gaumond admitted he doesn’t get a lot of requests for — Cyr said, “for Generations X and Y, which fill most of our company, development is very important. A job is not just a paycheque. It’s a way for you to develop yourself, in more than just one competency. So it’s up to both the company and the employee to develop that employee’s potential. As a company we have a responsibility toward the employee to help them grow.”

Once linked to the broader goals of helping employees grow and develop, said Cyr, the performance management process “becomes much more concrete and much more valuable for the employees.”

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