The Story So Far
Our group meets monthly and consists of the senior HR people in Investors in People accredited organizations.
In our previous meeting, we asked ourselves “What is fundamentally wrong with performance management?” The question was inspired by an HBR article by Cappelli and Tavis in October 2016. We all loved the idea of regular check-ins and forward-looking conversations, rather than an annual performance review, which most people hate, and the effectiveness of which many organizations are now questioning. This includes organizations like Deloitte, Adobe, Sears, and Kelly services. In fact, Deloitte had an article challenging traditional performance reviews in 2015, where they said that they spent 2,000,000 hours of management time on performance review but gained nothing from it.
Performance appraisal, we learnt, goes back to WWI, when it was mainly used to determine who should be let go or redeployed. Not the most promising origin, and almost 100 years ago.
The TaskUS Solution
If you are not familiar with TaskUs, that might change before very long. Especially if you are in the Philippines or California, where they have their head office, they are the disruptors providing customer experience for other disruptors’ customers. If you follow TaskUs’ founders Jasper Weir and Bryce Maddock on LinkedIn, you can learn about their business philosophy. Their culture is their values, and one of their values is to be ridiculous. Of course that is about being ridiculously good, but it is also about being innovative and asking ‘why not?’ rather than ‘why?’. If you visit them, you will immediately feel they are different. In case you don’t, all the people who work there will tell you anyway. Isabel Bernal, the VP of Culture, has an idea for performance management that fits that definition of ridiculous. Until now their system was uncharacteristically traditional. Ms. Bernal described it as complex and resulting in managers’ getting more caught up in talking about ratings than people. She said that, in her experience, the performance management systems in most organizations generate compliance and fear, and are not relevant, enlightening, or motivating. On the contrary, people are demotivated, frustrated, and unimpressed with a system that is so central to people management in most organizations. There is a compelling reason to change, but then the challenge is how to replace it with something that has the opposite effect.
Ms. Bernal started by asking people what they think of TaskUs today, how they envision it in the future, and what they need to do to get there. The answers were part of the inspiration for The Human Project. It is surprising how often we don’t account for our humanness in organizations. In contrast, starting with the human being rather than the numbers is typically TaskUs. The Human Project is based on the premise that people want to do good—unless there is something wrong with them, that they long to be valued and appreciated, and that they want to be better. “Being human is our edge over machines.”
At work, people want know how they are doing, what the standards and expectations are of them, and that they will be rewarded for doing a good job. TaskUs has a set of underlying principles that apply to everyone: freedom with responsibility, autonomy with accountability, mastery through self-development, and motivation through shared purpose. Something that is very clear among the leaders of TaskUs is the sense of purpose and the desire to be a force for change in society. With a Philippine workforce of 7,000 people, they see the opportunity to multiply the impact by 7,000. All of these beliefs and principles have been harnessed to create a performance management system that resembles nothing we are familiar with.
Designing Something Completely Different
TaskUs already has a regular check-in system, and their team leaders and managers are trained to be coaches. They have yogis, essentially life coaches, who are professionally trained to help employees grow not just professionally but also nurture their overall wellbeing. Line managers do the regular check-ins and talk to people about their KPIs. There is plenty of one-to-one support and training available to help people if their performance is lagging, and rewards, recognition and incentives to encourage high performers. The re-engineered annual review is intended to mesh with the good practices that are already there.
One of the main changes is to introduce 100% self-evaluation. The basis for evaluation is your Achievement, your Passion, and your Purpose (APP). TaskUs expects everyone to excel in all areas and become the best versions of themselves. Your evaluation of all three combines to give you your ‘human rating.’ Your Achievement is your performance against your KPIs or objectives, while your Passion focuses on your self-development and how wholeheartedly you pursue it. Everyone should find at least one passion project, something they care about. Last but not least, Purpose is something good you can contribute to society. The intent is that all 7,000 people will make doing good a habit. Everyone is considered a work in progress, so there is an expectation for people to continuously learn, develop, and change for the better.
How to get the Human Rating
TaskUs employs many millennials. Their coach or line manager will guide them to prepare for their ‘appraisal,’ but the evaluation is theirs. They will create a 60-second video to introduce their APP. This is then the central part of their presentation to a panel of three leaders, who are at least two levels above the presenter. The leaders in the panel, somewhat like American Idol, will give them feedback. People will give themselves a rating in the form of a color. Blue means they are excellent in all three areas; i.e., achievement, passion and purpose, while red means they are ‘not okay” in at least one area. There are also shades in between, for example, you would be green if you are excellent in 2 out of 3 elements. You can work on improving your color and present again in the following quarter if you want to, especially if you rate yourself as red. The ratings then feed into decisions on salary increase and readiness for promotion.
The Practicalities of Implementation
The culture team at TaskUs are both excited and a bit nervous because they need to schedule this in an organization that works 24/7, has numerous sites, not to mention 7,000 employees. The plan is for everyone to present on their own anniversary of joining the company, or within the quarter. All the leadership team and coaches will need to have training on the new process, and the process will have to be communicated to all 7,000 employees.
Everybody liked it! That is not to say there were no questions or concerns, but our group of senior HR professionals could see the beauty of a more holistic and human approach to rating performance, along with the 100% self-evaluation paired with regular coaching, and ‘holding up a mirror’ to help people modify tendencies to overrate or underrate.
Most of our members are reviewing their own performance management systems, and some of them review continuously. They were very interested to hear about a unique process and were already considering how the TaskUs approach could influence their own. Self-evaluation was a popular idea. Several people could relate to the inclusion of Purpose, and had their own processes for recognizing people for involvement in social responsibility. The group liked the incorporation of Purpose into the system and having a way of rating it. A repeated comment was the benefit of regular check-ins and coaching as a supporting activity.
The Concerns and Suggestions
Mostly the concerns were around having clarity of expectation, such as KPI’s for everyone. That has always been an issue in performance management, but now, most organizations are quite good at having measurable objectives and KPIs. Another question was, “Is there a way to discuss advancement or development in this process?” Indeed, that is a good question. The APP approach includes asking “What will I do to become better?” The Passion element is about how you are developing yourself to achieve mastery of something you are passionate about, so you could say that development is part of the evaluation.
In our previous meeting and article, we commented that traditional performance reviews might be trying to do too much when they include both performance evaluation and development planning. While acknowledging the link, my observation of many performance appraisal systems, which include development conversations, is that they tend to tag the development plan at the end; which sometimes, if not often, is left blank or very sparsely completed.
Another comment was the need to communicate the meaning of Passion and Purpose very clearly to everyone in the organization, especially given the novel approach that TaskUs is taking. Ms. Bernal’s team has actually created a sample video to help communicate the approach. Another comment was to ensure that the panel process is conducted in a supportive environment, and then to consider how the coaches link to their coaches after the panel meeting, as well as in previous engagements.
Several among our group could draw parallelisms between what was driving change in TaskUs and in our own organizations. One is currently redesigning their performance management system to move away from ratings and towards quality conversations.
Another concern was the comfort level and skill in presenting between different personalities, to which a suggestion was made that people be given alternative ways of presenting their self-evaluation, so that more introverted personalities would not be at a disadvantage.
The Final Word
Ms. Bernal’s presentation of this part of The Human Project was a rare opportunity for us to see how a very forward-thinking organization is planning to revolutionize an HR process. A question that was not asked was whether this approach is transferable. Would it be conceivable in a more traditional context, perhaps not exactly in this format in all organizations? Not everyone might be comfortable presenting themselves in a video, but the essence of it, making the system human, having second and third chances, self-evaluation, and tapping into people’s passion and purpose: it’s hard to see why these areas couldn’t be introduced to transform something that nobody likes into something that people enjoy, in any organization. Who does not like talking about themselves? As well as getting ideas for their own systems, our HR experts are all interested to find out how The Human Project and APP work out in practice. What is highly likely is that people will be talking about people more than numbers.