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Performance Enablement: A Solution for the Great Resignation

Companies must respond to the Great Resignation by creating engaging employee experiences. Performance enablement is an emerging model that helps companies foster employee experiences that increase alignment, productivity and retention.

Two business people looking at a tablet computer.

The share of employees voluntarily quitting their jobs had been increasing over the past decade. But the Great Resignation of 2021-22 represents a dramatic decrease in supply in the labor market. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics there were 11 million open jobs at the end of October 2021, while there were only 7.4 million unemployed people. This huge gap provides employees with leverage in demanding great workplace experiences.

Today, every company is asking: What can I do to attract and retain employees? Fortunately, the research on this topic is clear; companies must:

  • Provide them with challenging and fulfilling work where they can make an impact.
  • Help connect them to the purpose and meaning of their work.
  • Enable opportunities to learn, grow and advance in their career.
  • Provide recognition for their contributions, so they feel valued. 

Sure, you still need to allow individuals to work where they are most productive, but performance enablement will help optimize the employee experience, which is key to attracting and retaining the best talent.

Performance Enablement

The foundation of performance enablement is setting the context—providing the guidance and direction on what is most important for the company and why it is important. The why part is especially important as it sets the context for purpose. With this information, individuals and teams can set challenging, yet attainable, goals.

Tracy Layney, CHRO at Levi Straus and Co. in San Francisco, shares, "We know now more than ever employees are looking to align their career and the work they do with companies that have a purpose. This has become even more important to attracting and retaining talent. Showing employees that their work is connected to something bigger. Levi Strauss and Co. is a values-driven company, and our employees tell us this is an important reason they join and why they stay."

To achieve these goals, managers improve performance through coaching, feedback and other types of support including removing obstacles to success. This coaching activity is a critical and often missing piece.

The final element in the framework is development, an ongoing effort to develop the skills, careers and experiences of workers. This is an important part of the framework because organizations improve long-term through developing their people. Through an ongoing process of guidance and goal setting, coaching and development, teams and individuals perform at a much higher level and enjoy greater employee satisfaction.

Terry Hill, Senior Vice President of HR at MidPen Housing in Foster City, California, shared, "We launched a redesigned performance management program that embraced these concepts right as the pandemic took hold, which at first seemed unfortunate timing for a new program rollout but in hindsight, we consider it to have been just in time. By centering our program on coaching, employee development and feedforward, performance management became a tool to help navigate the complex and uneven conditions brought on by the pandemic. This is an effective approach for any time but was fortunately very useful during an unusually challenging time."

Enabling Technologies

Today's technologies help facilitate performance enablement through many of their social and people-led features. We propose the E3 model (execute, enable and engage), which will help companies leverage technology to create an experience that is more likely to attract and retain desired employees. Each of the E3 model components support an improved employee experience and facilitate performance enablement.

The first element in this model is about executing against the company's business strategy by educating employees on the company's key strategic goals and the behavioral expectations. With this "true north" in view, individuals or teams can then set goals that align with company- or department-level objectives designed to execute the business strategy.

Enable is about building a supportive environment focused on feedback, coaching and development. Today's technologies represent a step-change in performance improvement. First, it is now possible to get real-time feedback from anyone, at any time—not just during the end-of-year review process. Research indicates that providing feedback long after the event is ineffective. Additionally, peer feedback is important because we often operate in a collaborative work environment; our peers have a unique view of our contributions and how we engage with others. In today's distributed work environment, it may be that peers have more behavioral evidence of an employee's value than their manager, who may infrequently work directly with their employees. The role of a manager in this environment transforms into a coach who gathers information and provide advice to improve performance.

Given that one of the key drivers of attracting and retaining talent is creating opportunities to learn, grow and advance one's career, development plays a key role not only performance enablement, but also retention. Today's technologies also facilitate getting developmental feedback via a structured 360-feedback process based on specific behaviors that are essential to high performance. Technology can also efficiently and effectively connect employees with mentors that can facilitate learning.

Companies such as Enterprise Holdings in St. Louis, Missouri, utilize mentoring to drive employee growth. "Mentoring is one way we demonstrate our commitment to employee personal and professional development and providing each employee the resources they need to advance their careers," says Chris Tabourne, Vice President of Strategic Diversity Initiatives. "Mentoring programs have been an effective part of our strategy for helping develop and retain employees. We have found that having a good mentor can help an employee learn more about company culture, explore career opportunities, develop confidence and, most importantly, take ownership of their careers."

With feedback and guidance from a manager or mentor, employees can leverage AI-enabled technology to digitally connect to learning resources, whether it's on-the-job, project-based experiences or access to on-demand learning content. Formal training can only go so far in addressing rapidly evolving skills gaps.

The final component in the E3 model is about connecting people, which is critical to employee engagement. Several studies have shown a direct correlation between engagement, productivity and retention. Technology has enabled greater engagement through social collaboration tools, but they also have the capability to provide recognition from peers, managers or direct reports on the impact they are making in achieving shared goals. Providing recognition to employees for the work they have done is a key element for retention.

The Great Resignation and Performance Enablement

The Great Resignation means that the workforce has shrunk and it's unlikely to return to pre-pandemic numbers. Companies must deliver outstanding employee experiences if they want to attract and retain desirable talent. It is incumbent on every company that values skilled employees to find a way to offer the employee experiences that our 21st century workforce demands. Performance enablement is a model that will help you deliver on these expectations.

Edie Goldberg, Ph.D., is the Founder & President of E.L. Goldberg & Associates and Chair-Elect of the SHRM Foundation Board of Directors.
Sri Chellappa is the President and Co-Founder of Engagedly. He also runs Kalinga Productions as a Filmmaker and Recording Music Executive with more than seven films to his credit.


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