Podcast: Marcus Buckingham’s Amy Leschke-Kahle on Performance and Engagement

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Transcript

Mark:

Welcome to PeopleTech, the podcast of the HCM Technology Report. I’m Mark Feffer. My guest today is Amy Leschke-Kahle, the vice president of performance acceleration at the Marcus Buckingham Company. They’re a unit of ADP. She helps employers empower their organizations to improve engagement in performance. We’re going to talk about the employer’s attitude toward engagement, putting data into a real world perspective, and how performance measurement can be improved all on this edition of People Tech. Hey, Amy, welcome back. It’s good to see you again. Have the developments of the last few years, both at work and in personal lives, have they impacted how employers view and prioritize engagement?

Amy:

Oh, absolutely. It’s always been an important topic and one which we talk about a lot. Historically for decades, we’ve talked about employee engagement as a way to certainly measure how employees are experiencing work. But over the last couple years, it has really shifted from being something that is very infrequent, long, arduous, followed up usually with complex action planning. Has shifted to being more of a real time measurement, more of a real time view into how our employees are experiencing work.

Amy:

I think one of the things that needs to shift more is, what do we do with that data, and who is that data actually for? Historically, it’s been for the organization. We kind of use it as a target, but really, engagement data is most effective and used as a tool for team leaders, for managers to see into, “How is my team experiencing work?” And not to use as a action planning tool or a grading tool, but really that kind of almost crystal ball into how people are feeling.

Mark:

Why wouldn’t you want to use this as a planning tool of some sort?

Amy:

Well, the question is what is measured… What happens with that data, and what do we do with the data? We kind of have bought into the notion that what’s measured gets done. And really what’s measured gets measured. So I think we have to be a little bit careful of the broader assumption that if we go measure engagement, it’s going to change. Also, from an action planning perspective, we know from the data, from our clients, real people doing real work in the real world, that the thing that most moves the needle on engagement is frequent attention from team leaders.

Amy:

So really frequent attention, weekly, “How are you doing, what are you working on? How can I help?” That’s the needle mover. It’s not an action plan, particularly from an org level. Not that we shouldn’t do these things by the way, but we should have a town hall meeting, recognition is low. We should have a big recognition program. Those are fine, but those do not impact or not that we’ve seen anyway, in our work with our clients. They’re not the big things that really impact engagement of the organization. Let alone impact engagement of teams.

Mark:

How do you keep this all personal?

Amy:

Such a great question, Mark. We have, I think, in HR, I’ll speak for myself as a HR practitioner, almost over focused on the quantitative data as a target. And you’re right, it absolutely is personal. Work is personal. It’s an emotional experience. We’re humans. Of course, we’re persons. Yes, it’s absolutely personal. So we keep it personal by over investing in the things, the processes, the programs, the practices, more than anything, in the practices that actually help that person to person interaction be more productive.

Amy:

To help it accelerate the performance of our employees, not dampen it. And that’s a really big shift, even though we may not think about it that way. It’s a big shift to start local. It is, start with a team, start with a team leader, team member relationship. We know that’s the most important, as opposed to starting with big programmatic complicated things that quite frankly for our employees and our team leaders and organizations usually just create a lot more noise and angst in the organization than they do create positive outcomes.

Mark:

Well, let me split into two questions in previously or in, or in what I’ll call traditional performance management, the hiring manager or the line manager had a pretty big role in making sure somebody got their feedback. Has their role changed now?

Amy:

I think it should change. We’ve seen it change in some organizations, but I think it should change. And the change that needs to happen is that differentiation, the distinction between getting more performance, what we just talked about, we call it a check in, but that the frequent interaction, the frequent touch bases, the frequent check-ins between team leaders and team members, that’s the accelerant. That’s how we get more of it. Measuring it, right? The measurement part of it, who are we measuring for? We’re measuring for us as HR practitioners and leaders, to see into kind of that talent landscape of the organization. So I think change, number one, needs to be…

Amy:

We have to pull those two pieces apart. Measurement is one thing how we get more of it is a totally different thing. Different audiences, different practices. And when we do that, then we can start to look at what’s the most effective, efficient, and valid and reliable way to get more performance? We just talked about that. Totally different question is, what’s the most valid, reliable, realtimy way that we can see into performance measure performance at an employee level? Two different things. So yes, it’s changed. Managers, if we’re going to over invest in anything in our organizations, we need to over invest in frequent attention.

Mark:

With that said, with the managers taking part in all this, and learning all this, do you think that most businesses actually do something about engagement or is this just sort of the latest fad in HR tech?

Amy:

It’s not the latest fad. I think it should be the next practice, the next standard, the next norm, and how we help facilitate work. So we need to simplify those processes that we have over complicated performance management or performance measurement. Can we not use the term performance management by the way? Management’s like, ugh, right? I have to give people grades and tell them what they’re doing wrong once a year. And employees really just want to know how much money they’re going to get and are they going to get fired or not? Let’s stop that. And so the trend ought to be, the practice ought to be the revolution now almost if you want at work ought to be, how do we simplify so many of those practices that we as HR practitioners have overcomplicated?

Amy:

Measure the critical few things that we need to know in order to help inform downstream talent decisions perhaps variable compensation decisions, perhaps talent planning decisions. Who’s ready for a move who might need more support. Separate that from the activation, from the acceleration part of performance, that ought to be the next trend. We’ve made work too complicated. It’s hard for people oftentimes to focus on the work they need to get done where their true expertise and mastery is on productivity when we’ve piled a whole bunch of stuff on them that some of it and a lot of it in a lot of organizations really isn’t value added.

Mark:

Well, first let me ask this, could you paint a bit of a picture about what the ideal system looks like?

Amy:

Yeah, it’s simple, it’s frequent and it doesn’t over claim what it’s measuring. So I’ll kind of go through… I can dive deep into those. The simplicity is, we don’t need to measure 100 things. We don’t need to create complex, competency models. We don’t need to have universal, annual goal setting because not all work is conducive to having goals, but yet we want you to go have a smart goal because it works for two people. Everybody should do it, or we bought a piece of software that has smart goals or goal setting or cascading goals, so everybody should go do it. It doesn’t always make sense for the kind of work that some people do.

Amy:

So we need to simplify and focus on the critical few things that we need to know, that the organization needs to know to inform downstream talent decisions. And actually, it’s so simple. It sounds kind of crazy, but those two things are, are people getting high quality work done? Are you productive? Are you getting the work done that you need to get do in the timeframe in which we need it and at a quality level that is expected? We need to know that we also need to know I’m going to call it this softer social kind of thing, reasonableness to work with factor, which we’ve tried to capture with things like competency models, but there is no perfect model. So we’re comparing people to this idealistic model that we’re never going to…

Amy:

No one’s ever going to meet that so that, we call it teamyness, that softer thing. Like, “How is it working with Mark?” The admission then of the fact that we’re capturing subjective data because oftentimes we don’t have countables so we make countables up. But that realization of, “Hey, I’m just asking for my team leader, my manager’s subjective judgment about this particular person’s work, because they should know their work best.” And the ability to do that more frequently because in our world, we recommend organizations ask six questions, two on a five point liquor scale. Four yes, nos. Team leaders, managers, people, leaders can respond to those six items really frequently because it takes about two minutes. We recommend four times a year.

Amy:

So that simplification, the recognition of what kind of data we’re collecting, focusing on the critical few things, and separating it from the activation, getting more of it stuff is so refreshing and transforming, not only for team leaders and team members, but also for HR. We’re removing so much of the emotional burden from the world of work. Nobody looks forward to those conversations. No one looks forward to getting told, “We do the classic feedback sandwich,” right? It’s like, “Oh, Mark, you’re awesome. And then here’s the 27 things where you have gaps and oh yeah, here’s your 2.5% increase.” We’re smooshing stuff. We’re smooshing these processes and these things that are both really important, but we’re putting them in a single process, in a single thing. And they’re not single things they’re different.

Mark:

Last question sort of goes back to touch some of the COVID stuff we talked about earlier and I’m wondering whether the great recession and the dynamics of the labor market right now are impacting the way companies approach this kind of review, this kind of management.

Amy:

I think we are in a really interesting spot, and have been because of the dynamic nature not only of work itself, work is moving much faster. Doesn’t work at annual strategy things anymore, right? It’s happening in changing all the time. And I think what’s happening in the world, in the labor market and with the economy is just a big, giant unknown. It’s nothing like we’ve ever seen before, much to your point, like the pandemic. And how we react to that and the ability to react to that quickly and more agile is going to be really important.

Amy:

Particularly given the unknowingness of all the things that are out there. So I’m going to go back to what we just talked about a little bit earlier. That means that simplification of what we do, removing noise, removing processes that maybe we invested in five years ago and didn’t quite work, but we never took off the table. If we need to get down to the critical few things, it will help us move faster, it will help our employees move faster, and will help them get the intelligence, all of us, that we need to help people do more, better work.

Mark:

Amy, thanks very much for talking with me today. It was great to see you again.

Amy:

Thanks so much for having me, Mark.

Mark:

My guest today has been Amy Leschke-Kahle. The vice president of performance acceleration at the Marcus Buckingham Company. And this has been PeopleTech, the podcast of the HCM Technology Report. We’re a publication of Recruiting Daily. We’re also a part of Evergreen Podcasts. To see all of their programs visit www.evergreenpodcasts.com. And to keep up with HR technology, visit the HCM Technology Report every day. We’re the most trusted source of news in the HR tech industry. Find us at wwwdothcmtechnologyreport.com. I’m Mark Feffer.

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