A holistic approach to HR

By MELANIE WALLACH, Palomar Technologies -- Connecting employee performance to corporate goals is an ongoing process that requires participation from all.

Connecting employee performance to corporate goals is an ongoing process that requires participation from all.

Melanie Wallach
Palomar Technologies

As human beings, we have an innate desire to influence our surroundings, to make a difference in our work and in our personal lives. However, few of us have the opportunity to really understand how our day-to-day work affects our company. Recognizing the positive impact on their company, managers are beginning to make the effort to ensure that their employees feel connected to the overall business plan -- the strategic focus and future of the organization.

One of the most powerful ways to make this fundamental culture shift is to provide a clear "line of sight" for every employee. This involves translating the company's objectives into goals or tactics that each employee can turn into a job function. Having specific and measurable goals can significantly change how employees see themselves at work. Once employees understand that they do make a difference, the company has a mobilized, focused workforce. And this workforce is far better able to meet the challenges of rapidly changing economic conditions.

How does a company make this change? As we know, change must be initiated at the senior management level and achieve "grassroots" support. First, the senior management team has to be willing to dedicate the time and effort to support the process. Management buy-in is significant because, like any new process, initially it can be a time-consuming proposition. In addition, there has to be a company "cheerleader," the one person who really feels personal ownership for making this program work. With those two elements in place, a company is well on its way to begin to effect a cultural change.

Once management support is in place, the next step is to methodically cascade the company's goals to personal goals. To achieve this, employees should first participate in a department-level group meeting where, as a team, they can evaluate how and to what extent their department influences achievement of each company goal. For those goals that the department can significantly influence, each employee should then decide how his/her actions contribute to the department's achievement of the goal.

The result of this process is that every employee is given the responsibility to determine how to help the company achieve the overarching financial and strategic objectives. That is, each employee has to "personalize" the company's objectives into goals that become a part of his or her job. Employee input is crucial in this step; without it there is little chance that the workforce will feel any real sense of ownership for performance goals. Objectives that are driven from the top down can be perceived as dictatorial and will not be embraced by the employees.

Of course, there is more to the process than simply writing down goals. For true meaning and personal ownership to thrive, other key elements are needed. First, the goals have to be SMART. That is, they have to be specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound. Goals that are far-fetched will never receive the employee support necessary for successful achievement. Then, the organization must hold team members accountable for their goals.

We all have experienced situations where goals are created in a flurry of excitement in January, only to end up in a binder that gathers dust for the next 11 months. For true cultural change to occur, regular, ongoing communication must take place. The communication should happen in multiple venues, for example, at company meetings, department meetings, newsletters, bulletins, emails, and finally, in one-on-one discussions between employees and their managers. Having a well-publicized corporate scorecard sends a clear, unambiguous message to the employees -- it says that the company culture values results.

Many companies find that adding the employee-level goals to their performance management system is an effective way to create an environment of accountability. But for this process to succeed, meetings between employees and managers cannot happen just once a year. Those organizations that succeed find that quarterly updates are needed to foster the cultural shift. Often, these successful companies also determine that having a focal review date gives the entire organization a line-of-sight to the company's strategic goals.

This "holistic" approach to performance management ensures that the individual goals and objectives of employees are recognized, respected, and aligned with the company's mission. This process also supports dialogue between managers and staff to clearly define performance standards and expectations during the review process. This significantly boosts morale, recognizes personal initiative, and provides a baseline for improvement. In our experience implementing this process at Palomar Technologies, we find that highly motivated employees and a cohesive company culture have contributed greatly to our success.

Melanie Wallach is human resources director for Palomar Technologies (Vista, CA).

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