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George Avery, HR director, IBM's Asia Pacific Systems & Technology Group Sales

IBM’s George Avery on the new performance management system

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In February 2016, IBM showed the door to its 10-year-old performance management system, which asked employees to set their goals for the year in January, and schedule a mid-year check-in. Employees would then receive a single performance score in December.

To revamp its performance review system, IBM turned to its 380,000 employees to crowdsource the process, garnering 75,000 views and 2,000 comments.

The new app-based performance review system called Checkpoint went live on February 8, 2016 helping employees set shorter-term goals, and managers providing feedback at least every quarter.

We spoke to George Avery, director of people operations and culture at IBM Asia Pacific, Global Business Services, to find out more about the rollout.

Q. What does the launch of the new performance management system mean for your colleagues in APAC?

A. The unique thing about this system is that it was crowdsourced, so which was really different from how we have done things in the past. Most other companies would do something at a global level and then go out and say – this is what it is.

Our different approach was a very positive signal. We had a basic construct and ideas in mind, and we put this up online, where globally almost 400,000 people could participate. Everyone shared their views on the elements of the process, the ratings, frequency, etc.

Especially because it is an HR activity, to me that was the most exciting.

What the launch means for us is we are coming out of 2015 under an old system, and everyone knew this new system is coming.

We are doing a lot of manager training, materials are being sent out, and our business leaders are drawing a significant amount of awareness to this because they see the benefits in two ways.

One is we are going to have more frequent discussions. I think one of the main issues in the past was, in our industry, setting goals in the beginning of the year – many of those things may have changed by May-June because the industry and the business change so quickly.

The first thing is we are going to have a shorter window of 90 days or so of having a discussion. That enables us to be very nimble and agile in terms of goal setting.

Another thing, from an employee’s standpoint, is that they can understand shorter, more tangible goals – what steps they need to take in the next 30-90 days to achieve what they have to? The new construct allows that.

The second benefit the leaders see is we are broadening the area in which people will be assessed to five – business results, impact on client success, innovation, personal responsibility to others, and skills.

We’re going to have more frequent discussions across these specific dimensions. So in a year where the business is going through a transition, people are going to continue to be very active and engaged with clients – which enables us to drive the right behaviours.

One of the main issues in the past was, in our industry, setting goals in the beginning of the year – many of those things change by May-June because the industry changes so quickly.

Q. What are you doing to support line managers in training and understanding how to break goals up into shorter term objectives?

With any global rollout, there is a decent amount of communication. In early February, managers started receiving specific notes, highlighting the programme and its launch, and asking them to understand more about it through training sessions.

A section of our intranet can be viewed through one’s personal computer or mobile device, and that hosts a large number of materials.

Secondly, in a lot of our locations, we are getting folks to gather and discuss a broader view about the launch.

Thirdly, within our segment of the business here, our consulting practice, until about March, we set up broader, intensive face-to-face training. Because it is such an important thing, we want to make sure that we reinforce it.

People will be able to read a little bit on their own, they are going to have questions, and they can interact with different professionals to get more inputs. Then will engage their employees for these discussions, which will become more frequent.

In this first cycle, we are all going to learn a lot and be supportive, and collect feedback on what we need to do in the next round.

For the managers, the five categories we are calling out are already covered in most cases, but this system is more about making sure people know exactly what is expected in these areas.

Q. While the quarterly catchups aren’t compulsory, do you expect in time to see people having more informal catchups?

Yes, that’s what we hope, and there are two things to this.

One, we are trying to give a mechanism which allows our folks to get together quarterly.

The other, and very important thing is, that as it evolves to a more informal and frequent process, the key thing is for everyone to speak the same language, the same items.

In early February, managers started receiving notes, highlighting the programme’s launch, and asking them to understand more about it through training sessions.

If you look at a variety of reports, especially as workforce dynamics change, in terms of Millennials becoming a greater part of the workforce, the thing that seemed to stick with us, was that they crave more frequent interaction. They want to know how they are doing.

With the mechanism we have started, we’re bringing down the 12-month cycle to a minimum quarterly cycle – but we expect to see roles that are project-based or involve client meetings, there may be a conversation after every project. Its really up to the role to adapt.

The other thing is that this used to be a manager-driven activity, and what we’re seeing is that it will now be an employee driven activity as well. So that’s a huge culture shift.

Q. What was the one thing that most employees wanted removed?

Well, we were doing some brainstorming some years ago with a group of graduates, and the thing they were most concerned about was the numeric rating system – “we don’t like being a number”.

There were other elements too about how the process was done. Being a fairly large, spread out organisation, some groups run a very global process – in those cases, we found the process was taking managers and employees away from doing the things they needed to do with their time.

Now we are hopefully giving them that time to interact with their clients and employees more.

To be fair, there wasn’t just one thing – depending on their role in the process, everyone had some things they would change, and that’s the beauty of crowdsourcing the new system – it allowed everyone to voice their concerns.

And because it is such a large population, the feedback is credible, it wasn’t just one or two people. It isn’t just about one or two things, we realised it was time for an overhaul.

It represents a significant shift away from the old, and hopefully everyone feels like it is a shift for the better.

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