Performance management: how to balance soft skills with software

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min read
April 13, 2023
March 28, 2024
Performance Management: Software or skills
In this article

In our recent webinar, our Founder and CEO Roly Walter and I discussed software vs soft skills in performance management with Hedda Bird, a performance, motivation and engagement specialist and Founder of 3C Performance Management.

There has been an explosion in the number of HR tech providers over the last decade. The global market was valued at almost $23 billion in 2021 and projected to be worth almost $40 billion dollars by 2029. Tech has been seen as the magic bullet to solve the productivity puzzle that has plagued the UK for years. While software can undoubtedly help improve areas like employee engagement or performance management, it cannot do it alone. To be at its most effective, easy to use software must be partnered with people managers who know how to get the best out of their employees.

In our recent webinar, our Founder and CEO Roly Walter and I discussed this subject with Hedda Bird, a performance, motivation and engagement specialist and Founder of 3C Performance Management. We talked about how to get the balance right between developing people management capabilities and introducing software that supports and enhances effective people management.

Our conversations covered the following questions:

  • What leads a company to consider new performance management software?
  • What are the drivers for choosing the right software?
  • How do you get the balance right between investing in soft skills and software?
  • How do you reassure people about putting confidential information online?
  • How do you get buy-in from senior leaders?
  • Can software make your process more personal?
  • Can introducing performance management software ever be a complete disaster?

What leads a company to consider they need software?

We’ve come across a few different scenarios:

  1. We have a process that kind of works, but the admin is really clunky. Everything is held on spreadsheets, which takes hours of manual labour to trawl through before and after every review cycle. The HR team is drowning and employees and managers dread review time.
  2. We conducted an employee engagement survey and found that employees want more regular feedback or more direction from their managers or more emphasis on their development or better career conversations.
  3. We have a process but we lack consistency across the business. Some managers are great and complete reviews on time, while others struggle to fit them in. We want a framework to help standardise our process.
  4. Our performance management process is not working, employees and managers aren’t engaged with the process and we are not getting the data we need. We hope a shiny, new platform will be the answer to our prayers.

The right software can absolutely help with scenarios 1, 2 and 3. It is perfect for taking away the stress of administration, providing consistency and making a process run much more smoothly. In these scenarios there is a process that functions  but it just  needs a bit of TLC. But scenario 4 rings alarm bells. The performance management process itself has to be engaging and fit for purpose first - it is a mistake to think a platform will mask fundamental and underlying problems with the process itself. If the process is wrong, a system might ease the pain but it won’t solve the underlying issues.  

What are the drivers for choosing the right software?

When looking for software, of course things like user experience, functionality and flexibility will be on most organisation’s lists, but we all feel it’s important to go deeper than that. Look at the company behind the software, and importantly the people within it. What are they like to deal with? Are they friendly and helpful? Do they take the time to understand my business? What kind of ongoing customer success support can we expect beyond onboarding?

It's important that before you begin your search for new software you decide what you want to achieve with a new system. How would you like your performance management process to work and what does a new platform need to have to deliver this? Don’t be seduced by fancy add-ons that look great but aren’t related to your core needs. Remain focused and be clear about your end goals.

Want to know more about Appraisd Performance Management, and how it can fit your needs?


How do you get the balance right between investing in soft skills and software?

We all agree investing in soft skills and software should go hand in hand and it shouldn’t be a choice of one or the other. They should work in tandem, supporting each other. Very few people are natural managers and instinctively know what to do. They need help, support and training to develop these skills. Investing in the right software can reinforce the good habits they learn in training, nudging them to give regular feedback and check-in with employees.

How do you reassure people about putting confidential information online?

When employees are motivated and focused, performance management is a fairly simple process. When employees go off track and become disengaged and unmotivated it becomes much harder. Many people find dealing with issues around underperformance hard. Having those tough conversations is difficult. They don’t want to be challenged or proved wrong and put themselves in the firing line. Committing these negative comments to an online system feels very permanent and public.

Hedda suggests putting the focus on the future – talking about what the employee will do differently going forward. This helps to take away some of the blame and gives the employee something positive to aim for.

In addition, Roly recommends regular check-ins. Having short, frequent conversations focused on objectives means that any issues are picked up early and avoids employees being left to flounder and go off track.

Performance management should be about helping employees to achieve their full potential. The vast majority of people want to do a good job so any approach should be about supporting them to do this.

How do you get buy-in from senior leaders?

For any workplace process to be successful, be that performance management or anything else, senior leaders must support it from the outset. In Hedda’s experience, this is the only way to achieve positive results. To make this happen, they need to be clear what they will get out of the process. What information will it give them to help them run the business more effectively?

The same is true of middle managers and employees.  Everyone needs to know what’s in it for them. How will it benefit their working lives? This is where soft skills and software work should work together. Consultation is needed with stakeholders to collate their requirements.

Can software make your process more personal?

The pandemic taught us many things. One of the most important was just how important being with other people is. There is no substitute for meeting people face to face. We crave it and it makes us happy. There is also a place for meeting virtually; it saves valuable time and can be more convenient. Companies need to figure out how in-person and virtual work together to get the perfect blend.

Managers need to be comfortable and confident in communicating to their employees. Software can help, by providing a framework and prompts for regular conversations. It can make sure they know what they should be talking about and provide a record of past discussions so action points are clear and can be followed up. Rather than being a substitute for personal interaction, the right software can enhance those discussions and make them more productive.

Can introducing performance management software ever be problematic?

In all our experience, when things go wrong it is seldom the fault of the software. What’s wrong is the process behind it. If software has been introduced because something isn’t working, in the hope the software will magically fix it, this is highly unlikely.  

If managers aren’t having performance discussions or reviews with their employees there are often multiple reasons for this beyond just the software they have been asked to use, for example they don’t know how, they don’t see the point or they don’t have time. These problems need to be addressed first before any software can be effective.

Despite coming from different perspectives, Roly, Hedda and I agreed that soft skills and software must operate in harmony to meet the needs of the modern workplace and employees’ expectations. To hear the full lively discussion, watch the webinar now.

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