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Sears Holdings (SHC) has participated, for many years, in an annual and mid-year review process for associates in an effort to manage performance. Managers spent hours writing narratives, meeting with associates, responding to associate comments, and facilitating an otherwise cumbersome process. As a result, even with a strong push from the HR teams we could never reach full compliance on this process. Even when quality conversations between managers and associates occurred, it was often months after the review was submitted.

In 2013, we set out to find a better way to approach performance. We leveraged internal research, data, industry best practices, and neuroscience elements into our approach. To start, we facilitated an overhaul on our performance framework, to replace outdated behaviors with improved predictive measures of performance to include our SHC cultural beliefs, a new robust set of leadership capabilities, and our enterprise key results. In August of 2014, we launched what we now call “Performance Enablement.”

Performance Enablement  is our new approach to performance management and consists of a set of processes and tools that help associates deliver more value every day. It provides easy to use tools for aligning work and development with the strategic priorities and culture of the organization through transparent and public goal setting, and dynamic crowd-sourced feedback.

Associates have the capability to set dynamic longer term priorities  (previously known as annual goals), and we call them “Priorities.” These represent the core units of work or key projects that an associate will work to achieve. Associates then draft their own personal Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) on a  quarterly basis which spell out what they plan to do over the next quarter to advance their longer term priorities. This allows priorities to remain high level so they do not become outdated like traditional goals while still having a way to leverage the SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, time bound) goal concepts in our OKRs.   OKRs are used by other organizations such as Google and IBM. Priorities and OKRs are visible to each associate in the organization to support cross functional projects, transparency, and accountability to achieving results.

SoundBoardSM is a tool developed on an internal platform that supports crowd-sourced feedback. Associates can source feedback from individuals they report to, who report to them, who they partner with work on, and their customers. In addition, associates can offer unsolicited feedback. Feedback can be sourced in each area of our performance framework: how I’m living the culture, how I’m demonstrating the leadership capabilities, and how I’m delivering results. Each feedback exchange includes a star rating designation associated with the value that the associated added. In real time, feedback trends emerge and are displayed on an Insights Dashboard. For the first time, associates are receiving instant feedback, regularly, and are enabled to make adjustments in their performance that immediately impact results.

Just four months after launch, we have exchanged over 30,000 individual pieces of feedback. Approximately 90% of associates report using their SoundBoardSM data to make minor adjustments in how they achieve their results. In addition, recent insights illustrate that feedback ratings are, in fact, early predictors of longer term performance trends and individual potential.

We continue to collect data and develop insights that further drive development of the tools and effectiveness of our approach. Data collected through Performance Enablement allows us to target learning interactions at the individual, team, and business unit level; we drive associate engagement through innovation and technology; and we assess performance and potential with the support of feedback on each of our leadership capabilities.

Editor’s Note: Assessments like Sears’ Performance Enablement program are beneficial to both employees and to managers. If you need a little help setting up assessments in your organization, take a look at Aberdeen’s “Assessments 2014: Consistency is Key.”

Holly EnglerAs a Manager of Organizational Effectiveness at Sears Holdings, Holly Engler has led the transformation of performance management at Sears Holdings and is passionate about innovation in HR. In her previous role, she led organizational culture and enterprise engagement initiatives at Sears. Holly earned her M.A. in IO Psychology from Roosevelt University in Chicago, and a B.A. in Psychology for the University of Akron, Ohio. Find her on LinkedIn.

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