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What Is a Case Study?

When you’re performing research as part of your job or for a school assignment, you’ll probably come across case studies that help you to learn more about the topic at hand. But what is a case study and why are they helpful? Read on to learn all about case studies.

Deep Dive into a Topic

At face value, a case study is a deep dive into a topic. Case studies can be found in many fields, particularly across the social sciences and medicine. When you conduct a case study, you create a body of research based on an inquiry and related data from analysis of a group, individual or controlled research environment.

As a researcher, you can benefit from the analysis of case studies similar to inquiries you’re currently studying. Researchers often rely on case studies to answer questions that basic information and standard diagnostics cannot address.

Study a Pattern

One of the main objectives of a case study is to find a pattern that answers whatever the initial inquiry seeks to find. This might be a question about why college students are prone to certain eating habits or what mental health problems afflict house fire survivors. The researcher then collects data, either through observation or data research, and starts connecting the dots to find underlying behaviors or impacts of the sample group’s behavior.

Gather Evidence

During the study period, the researcher gathers evidence to back the observed patterns and future claims that’ll be derived from the data. Since case studies are usually presented in the professional environment, it’s not enough to simply have a theory and observational notes to back up a claim. Instead, the researcher must provide evidence to support the body of study and the resulting conclusions.

Present Findings

As the study progresses, the researcher develops a solid case to present to peers or a governing body. Case study presentation is important because it legitimizes the body of research and opens the findings to a broader analysis that may end up drawing a conclusion that’s more true to the data than what one or two researchers might establish. The presentation might be formal or casual, depending on the case study itself.

Draw Conclusions

Once the body of research is established, it’s time to draw conclusions from the case study. As with all social sciences studies, conclusions from one researcher shouldn’t necessarily be taken as gospel, but they’re helpful for advancing the body of knowledge in a given field. For that purpose, they’re an invaluable way of gathering new material and presenting ideas that others in the field can learn from and expand upon.


agile performance management case study

Performance management in agile organizations

The evidence is clear: a small number of priority practices make the difference between an effective and fair performance-management approach and one that falls short. Organizations that link employee goals to business priorities, invest in managers’ capabilities, and differentiate rewards for the extremes of performance are 84 percent more likely to have performance-management approaches that their employees perceive and recognize as being fair . Furthermore, these practices are mutually reinforcing: implementing one practice well can have a positive effect on the performance of others, which leads to positive impact on employee and organizational performance, which, in turn, drives organizations to outperform peers.

What defines an agile organization

“Traditional” organizations, designed primarily for stability, involve a static, siloed, structural hierarchy. Goals and decision rights flow downward, with the most powerful governance bodies at the top. These organizations operate through linear planning and control to capture value for shareholders. Although such a structure can be strong, it is often rigid and slow moving.

In contrast, agile organizations  are designed for both stability and dynamism. They are made up of a network of teams within a people-centered culture that features rapid learning and fast decision cycles enabled by technology and guided by a powerful common purpose to cocreate value for all stakeholders. Such agile operating models allow for quick and efficient reconfigurations of strategy, structure, processes, people, and technology toward value-creating and -protecting opportunities. Agile organizations thus add velocity and adaptability to stability, creating a critical source of competitive advantage in volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous (VUCA) conditions.

Five trademarks distinguish these organizations:

  • a North Star embodied across the organization
  • a network of empowered teams
  • rapid decision and learning cycles
  • a dynamic people model that ignites passion
  • next-generation-enabling technology

For more, see “ The five trademarks of agile organizations ,” January 2018.

But how do these priority practices work in the context of agile organizations, which feature networks of empowered teams and rely on a dynamic people model? Colleagues rightfully ask a number of related questions:

  • Why do I need individual goals when the locus of organizational performance is my squad, chapter, and tribe?
  • Who will coach and evaluate me when I have no boss? How can my evaluator understand my performance when he or she doesn’t see my work day to day?
  • How can we maintain a team spirit while still fairly differentiating the highest- and lowest-performing colleagues?

The good news is that there are answers to these questions—and, going further, agility can be a springboard to improve performance-management practices that traditional organizations struggle with (Exhibit 1). Nearly all organizations, for example, feel the need for more frequent feedback. Working in agile sprints of a few weeks each creates a cadence into which collective and individual feedback naturally fits. Similarly, a culture of more autonomy and risk taking opens opportunities for employees to stretch, take on more responsibility, and find out quickly how they can improve.

Agile organizations will, however, need to adapt each of three core performance-management practices to make the recommendations actionable in the agile operating model (Exhibit 2).

Linking goals to business priorities

Transparently linking employees’ goals to business priorities and maintaining a strong element of flexibility are core practices of agile ways of working. They are also significant practices if employees are to have a sense of meaning and purpose in their work. But agile organizations may worry about how the emphasis on individual goals marries with the autonomous teams that characterize agility. There are three approaches that can help agile organizations to adapt and ensure that goals remain meaningful and linked to business priorities.

Introduce team objectives in addition to (or instead of) individual targets

Empowered and autonomous teams are central to agility.

Empowered and autonomous teams are central to agility. It therefore makes little sense to manage performance solely—or even primarily—on an individual level. Successful agile organizations focus on team performance when setting goals and evaluating performance, often allowing teams to define their own goals to drive ownership. At one bank, for example, performance objectives are a combination of team goals, individual contributions to the team, mastery of competencies required at the level of individual jobs, and alignment of professional behavior to the bank’s values. The weighting of these components varies by role, with specialists, in particular, more inclined toward team performance to encourage collaboration. Another financial institution experimented with replacing individual objectives in contact centers with team objectives. Within a few months, it saw productivity gains of more than 10 percent, compared with control-group centers, in addition to a noticeable increase in teamwork and cohesion.

Set objectives as a team, discuss results frequently, and pivot as required

Teams in agile organizations work autonomously and at pace, with a clear focus on output. They follow broadly set directions and strategic priorities rather than detailed, top-down instructions (Exhibit 3). Agile organizations typically rely on a tightly run process—often a quarterly business review (QBR)—to ensure alignment among the autonomous teams. This is where objectives and key results (OKRs), popularized at Intel in the 1970s and now used in many organizations, from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to Google, come in. Every quarter, a clear cascade from strategic priorities to objectives at the team level is created, while performance versus key results is made transparent and discussed. To allow for changing priorities coming out of the QBR, team and individual objectives need to be dynamic, rather than fixed in a once-a-year exercise. Setting objectives collectively can have other benefits, too, particularly with regard to engagement and ambition. Unsurprisingly, commitment to goals that you have set for yourself is typically stronger than to those set for you by others. At a B2B sales organization, shifting to bottom-up goal setting (versus top-down setting by executives) resulted in 20 percent higher overall targets.

Create transparency of targets and performance

The decentralized nature of agile organizations creates a risk that devolution and empowerment might drift into chaos. One way to avoid this is to introduce extreme transparency of objectives and performance. At Google, all OKRs, starting with the CEO’s, are visible to all other employees. At LinkedIn, the CEO’s executive team reviews OKRs weekly. This kind of transparency also has several benefits: surfacing interdependencies among teams and units, creating urgency and “mindshare,” and reinforcing the nonhierarchical culture and mind-set that characterize truly agile organizations.

Investing in the coaching skills of managers

Our prior research shows that managers—typically, line managers—are important stewards of effective performance management. Investing in their coaching skills to help them become better arbiters of day-to-day fairness is often the most powerful intervention in performance-management transformations. The agile organization, however, challenges the traditional model of the line manager. Who, then, acts as the day-to-day arbiter of fairness? And whose capability needs to be built? Agile organizations can address these questions through three approaches.

Clarify the roles that leaders play in development and evaluation

In successful agile organizations, feedback is the heartbeat in a culture of taking risks, failing fast, and pursuing continuous personal development at all levels.

In a prior publication, we described three different types of managers in agile organizations . In the context of performance management, each performs different roles. Chapter leaders evaluate, promote, coach, and develop their people. Tribe leaders set directions linked to business priorities, match the right people to opportunities or squads, coach their teams on how to enable collaboration across organizational boundaries, and empower people. Squad leaders strive to maintain a cohesive team by inspiring, coaching, and providing feedback to everyone. The common theme across these leaders is active coaching for ongoing development and arbitration of day-to-day fairness.

Focus on continuous feedback and ongoing development conversations

As in any organization, individuals in agile organizations develop through receiving feedback and being exposed to development opportunities. In successful agile organizations, feedback is the heartbeat in a culture of taking risks, failing fast, and pursuing continuous personal development at all levels. These organizations encourage employees to ask for and give feedback constantly. Making this happen is often hard. Managers and nonmanagers alike may need to overcome mind-set and capability barriers to giving and receiving feedback more frequently—not just up and down the hierarchy, but also to peers. A European financial institution, for example, invested in dedicated capability building for teams on how to have courageous conversations in a peer-like way.


Frequently collect input from multiple sources when evaluating performance

Agile organizations need disciplined rituals for continuously gathering feedback and evaluating performance (Exhibit 4). The line manager has traditionally been the conduit for all information about the employee. But without the line manager, who acts for the employee? This requires a single person to gather feedback on an individual from several sources, synthesizing it, and working with other peers to make sure that evidence and decisions are calibrated. At a telco, for example, a chapter lead 1 Chapters are groups of employees with similar functional competencies who share knowledge and further develop expertise. The chapter lead typically coordinates performance evaluations of the chapter’s members. evaluates the development of an individual within the chapter, gathering and synthesizing input from the product owners, team members, and agile coaches that the individual has worked with. The chapter lead then presents the individual’s case to a people-review board made up of chapter leads. The board makes a collective performance decision and provides advice to the individual on how to develop further, which is then relayed by the chapter lead. Technology can help here. A leading e-commerce player developed an app for its employees that facilitates feedback and allows employees to share feedback with others after every interaction, the aim being for each employee to collect more than 200 feedback points during the year.

Differentiating consequences

Employees are more likely to view their performance-management approach as fair if outcomes are differentiated, particularly at the two extremes of performance. In some ways, this can be harder in agile organizations, at which collaborative and highly interdependent teams mean that it is difficult to trace results to individual efforts. Two practices can help maintain differentiation and the accompanying sense of fairness, without detracting from the team spirit.

Differentiate individual contribution to team performance based on desired values, mind-sets, and behaviors

Successful agile organizations embody agile methodologies and ways of working that are tangible and visible in day-to-day work. Less tangible, but a critical stable practice of agile organizations , is culture—the strong, shared values, mind-sets, and behaviors that underpin and enable those methodologies and ways of working. Successful agile organizations evaluate and manage performance of individuals not just against hard targets but also by the extent to which the individual has shown and “lived” the desired values, mind-sets, and behaviors. Potential rewards or consequences should be well aligned with these goals. In the case of a telco, for example, rewards for sales teams are based on achievement against individual and team targets in addition to how well and how often employees offer coaching and mentoring to their team members. These contributions should be well codified and recognized because they both motivate individuals and create “pull” for the next opportunity. Conversely, organizations should make clear choices with employees who don’t actively live and show the desired values, mind-sets, and behaviors, as in the case of a fintech company at which individuals not aligned with its core cultural values and defined associated behaviors are simply let go.

In the case of a telco, for example, rewards for sales teams are based on achievement against individual and team targets in addition to how well and how often employees offer coaching and mentoring to their team members.

Increase the emphasis on intrinsic motivation and nonmonetary rewards

Work at most successful agile organizations is characterized by a sense of fulfillment and fun: it is common to hear employees describe how their daily activity “does not feel like work.” Netflix offers flexible benefits, such as unlimited vacation days. Employees stay because they are passionate about their work and the unique culture. While individuals expect to be paid fairly for their contributions, offering flexible benefits gives agile organizations an opportunity to place greater emphasis on intrinsic motivation and frequent nonmonetary rewards—including special assignments, opportunities to present externally or attend special events, high recognition in the workplace (awards and celebrations), and time for pro bono work. For example, a North America–based fintech company offers unique leadership-exposure opportunities and mentorship programs to reward performance and increase retention.

Organizations embarking on agile transformations cannot afford to ignore performance management. Even teams undergoing pilots need to be ring-fenced from traditional approaches to ensure that agile practices and mind-sets have the freedom to take hold and are appropriately recognized and rewarded. Done well, performance management that is customized to the agile goals and context of an organization will enable full capture and sustainability of the benefits promised by agility.

Stay current on your favorite topics

Lucia Darino is a senior expert in McKinsey’s New York office, Marcus Sieberer is a senior partner in the Zurich office, Arthur Vos is an associate partner in the Amsterdam office, and Owain Williams is an associate partner in the London office.

The authors wish to thank Bryan Hancock, Kyla Kelly, and Andrew St. George for their contributions to this article.

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Case studies: FedEx and HSBC's revamped performance management approaches

Case studies: FedEx and HSBC's revamped performance management approaches

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Eric Tan, Managing Director, FedEx Singapore, and Vishesh Dimri, Lead - HR Consulting, HSBC, both place importance on trust, honesty, transparency, and ownership in their approaches, as we find out in these interviews.

Fedex singapore’s new management system drives trust & transparency.

photo eric tan fedex singapore

Eric Tan, Managing Director, FedEx Singapore, shares insights into this performance review approach — from its inception, to what it entails, along with what employers could consider in the intended shift to such a model.

Delivery service provider FedEx Singapore (FedEx) is a keen advocate of a culture of continued engagement and transparency at its workplace, one where open communication and trust thrive amongst its over 1,000 employees.

This is done through a series of engagement initiatives such as its ‘Open Door Policy’ and ‘Survey Feedback Action’ (SFA), says Eric Tan, Managing Director, FedEx Singapore (pictured above, left) . “This allows our employees to understand the big picture and the part they play in the success of the organisation. FedEx lives up to our corporate philosophy of ‘people-service-profit’: By taking care of our people, they will provide outstanding service for our customers, which enables business growth, and we reinvest this revenue back into our people. All programmes and policies, at every organisational level, synchronise with this philosophy,” he affirms.

One way the company has been driving this is through a change in its performance management system — from a conventional performance appraisal system that utilised a comparative 10-point rating scale leveraging the bell curve methodology, to an enhanced performance review structure, which focuses on the work that employees accomplish (goals), and how it is accomplished (competencies).

Tan explains: “As a ‘people’ company, FedEx strives to continuously improve its performance management processes to drive individual, team, and organisational performance. To achieve this, we assume a holistic approach towards performance management and the employee experience. With a continuous improvement mindset, FedEx across Asia Pacific proactively anticipates process and technological enhancements so as to enable us to successfully transition into a new performance management process.

"These are all part of our concerted efforts to sustain a workplace culture where our people stand at the centre of our corporate philosophy."

What this enhanced performance review structure entails

According to Tan, this enhanced structure is designed to provide an in-depth understanding of what success looks like for the employee. It adopts an absolute rating scale to evaluate employee performance, based on the ratings of “Exceeded Expectations”, “Met Expectations”, and “Did Not Meet Expectations”.

Competencies refer to observable behaviours that an employee exhibits in their role when applying their knowledge, skills and abilities. To ensure these competencies are applicable to employees’ job roles, varying competency models for frontline employees, professionals and managers have been built for their individual application. To illustrate:

  • Frontline employees are customer-centric and team-focused. Hence, the focus for them is to adapt to changes and communicate well to both internal and external customers.
  • For professionals, having a business thinking mindset is imperative, so they need to build on their analytical skills and make timely decisions and recommendations.
  • As for managers, it is critical for them to be equipped with the ability to lead, influence, inspire, and serve, as well as to cultivate exceptional team performance while ensuring their team members are valued and empowered in their day-to-day responsibilities.

No doubt, this change involved several key considerations, with the most impactful one being to instil a growth mindset that encourages employees to focus on future performance as opposed to reflecting on past performance.

It also came with its own set of challenges, with the main one being to manage this change as well as facilitate it. To address this, the HR team developed a collective approach to help prepare and support all employees through the transformation, ensuring a seamless process from start to end.

The employees responded “very well”, as a result. Tan notes: "We focused on employee engagement and concentrated our efforts on fostering genuine commitment between the manager and employee as we recognise the value in supporting our employees in their learning journeys as they develop and grow professionally. We believe this will, in turn, result in higher levels of productivity by our team members."

Overall, this new system goes hand-in-hand both with FedEx’s rewards framework, and career development framework. Tan highlights: “Building a performance-based work culture not only serves to boost employee morale, productivity, and performance, but also prepares the company for strategic workforce planning. It is especially pivotal for us as industry leaders to look at a blend of individual and organisational components to instil a growth culture for our people to be successful.

"Every employee is given the chance to pursue their dream in FedEx, and support is always readily available to help maximise their potential, through training and development platforms accessible to all."

Words of advice

Like Tan and his team, more leaders are shifting away from “quantitative” rating scales, to a more “qualitative” approach to appraisals. Yet, there are still leaders who prefer the former approach. And as Tan points out, there is no perfect structure to follow, as every approach comes with its unique pros and cons.

Thus, he says, it is more important to look at the direction the organisation is headed and adapt a model that works best for both the employees and the organisation at each stage. "The goal is to move all stakeholders, including employees, in a concerted manner toward our collective goal that serves people growth and business profitability."

At FedEx, this also means that apart from working closely with key stakeholders including but not limited to HR and senior management teams, the management is well supported in performance, development, and management skillsets through avid training programmes.

This encompasses effecting a mindset change by shifting from system-related work to providing resources and tools, to empower managers to conduct effective and meaningful performance & development conversations, build manager-employee relationships, and consistently engage their team members by leveraging coaching and feedback skillsets.

Reflecting on the company’s experience, Tan shares his words of encouragement for employers intending to improve their own performance management processes. "Performance is an ongoing journey, and we need to recognise the importance of continuously looking at improving the overarching employee experience by encouraging ongoing learning and communication rigorously and regularly. In any scenario – whether personal or professional – one should not stop learning, developing and upskilling to make the most of their talents and grow on the right trajectory, thereby bringing value to their teams and peers.

"Human performance is the function of many influences: accountability, feedback, motivation, skills and knowledge, rewards and recognition. These influences are interdependent and ultimately result in the desired performance."

HSBC drives manager-employee ownership of performance & development

photo vishesh hsbc

Vishesh Dimri, Lead - HR Consulting, HSBC, shares how a focus on digital enablement, process effectiveness, and people manager capabilities helps drive open and honest conversations during feedback, foster stronger relationships, and more.

Banking and financial services firm HSBC focuses on three key pillars in driving the new way of work — digital enablement, process effectiveness, and people manager capabilities. 

These pillars are what help ensure a holistic approach towards performance management and enablement for both its employees and managers,  Vishesh Dimri, Lead - HR Consulting, HSBC (pictured above, right)  shares.

First, as part of digital enablement, HSBC has in place an HR mobile application that allows an "easy and simple" adoption of everyday performance on a real-time basis, where employees and managers are able to capture achievements and share regular, two-way feedback via the use of technology. More than an app, it is "a demonstration of flexible and remote working, without compromising on outcomes or comfort", Dimri highlights. 

With this app, employees are able to access an HR to-do list, their everyday performance & development plans, online learning resources (Learning On-the-Go), manage personal and employment information, as well as view real-time people manager dashboards, HSBC connections, and the organisation chart. 

Additionally, managers are empowered to handle key approvals on-the-go, as well as manage the personal and job details for direct functional reports.

Next, process effectiveness involves the use of everyday performance principles including goal setting and regular check-ins to facilitate the achievement of career aspirations as well as maintain productivity. 

"It fosters stronger relationships between managers and colleagues. Managers can support their team members in the right ways and, at the right times, towards a meaningful year-end assessment," Dimri explains. 

Finally, the third pillar of people manager capability is enhanced through constant engagement, coaching, and providing content support such as training and briefings, support resources, and guides.

One of the key elements of HSBC's year-end assessment is the 'Fairness Review', which has in place the following governance processes to ensure it remains unbiased: 

  • seeking risk stewards’ inputs relating to non-financial performance,
  • senior management reporting,
  • audit checks, and
  • evidence of all Fairness Review meeting discussions.

Dimri and his team also make it a point to support people managers in carrying out these reviews, through scenarios-based, bite-sized videos available via e-learning; briefing sessions; by refining the HSBC values to align with its behaviour rating scale to reflect the focus on Fairness Review, as well as via a continuous feedback tool.

Elaborating on this tool, Dimri shares that the feedback functionality enables employees to give, request and receive feedback. This can be done on a continuous basis — for example, when an employee has completed a key meeting or project milestone — or he/she can request feedback on a specific activity.

"We believe that by receiving feedback from their people manager, team members or colleagues can help each employee to better understand how he/she is progressing against his/her goals and what he/she may need to do differently to be successful in the future."

The process also helps to present evidence of employees' performance & development outcomes for their year-end assessment, wherein f eedback employees receive can flow into their year-end review forms.

"With this tool, feedback can be requested and sent to multiple colleagues at the same time across a wider network. This supports teamwork, collaboration, and agile ways of working," Dimri notes.

Top tips for employers

Having benefitted from this revised performance management process, the leader shares his learnings and words of advice to employers looking to improve their own processes in this area.

First, he shares, managers must focus on everyday performance & development by having simple conversations throughout the year supporting performance, development, and wellbeing.

"A two-way open and honest conversation is the key to successful performance management, developing trusting relationships, and supporting career aspirations."

Next, he notes the importance of recognition in driving successful performance management. "Recognising our people not only for a job well done, but also for effort and even for taking up a challenging or difficult task. In HSBC Singapore, we have 'At Our Best Recognition', an online tool for employees to celebrate colleagues who bring HSBC values to life. The programme helps to promote a better understanding of values in everyday practice and enables a consistent and equal way of recognising people globally."

Last, he also adds that having enabling tools to help support the performance & development conversation is critical. At HSBC Singapore, this involves a continuous performance tool that helps employees to stay connected with their manager and colleagues, anytime, and anywhere, playing an even more critical role with the "majority of the workforce working from home.

This tool lets employees take ownership by:

  • Creating and tracking key activities, including regular conversations with managers, at their convenience; and sharing daily key activities with managers and documenting progress.
  • Facilitating regular feedback such as conversations that can be initiated by the employee, manager, or colleague to request, give, or receive feedback to recognise positive performance and behaviour or support future improvements.
  • Raising a topic for discussion — for example: discuss the strengths & development plan and focus on wellbeing development.
  • Capturing achievements — celebrate success and share experiences.

4 key steps to implement a performance management strategy that supports your business objectives

From the Human Capital Implementation Toolkit , we share a snapshot on how employers can work towards a performance management strategy that cultivates the right environment that connects employees with the organisation and motivates them to excel.

Step 1: Set a strategic performance management philosophy

HR plays a strategic role in ensuring that company goals can be met through Human Capital programmes.

  • Establish strategic organisational goals with senior leadership, detailing the key thrusts, KPIs and targets needed in the short, medium and long term to support their vision.

Step 2: Cascade and communicate goals

Provide a clear line of sight to create a more engaged and motivated workforce.

  • Cascade corporate goals through business units down to individual employees, enabling them to understand how their actions influence the success of the organisation.
  • Communicate strategic objectives and how each performance measure supports those objectives.
  • Develop training/development plans for employees to achieve the capabilities to reach these goals.

Step 3: Manage performance

Supporting managers as the main link between employee performance and business outcomes.

Differentiate rewards  

  • Cultivate a strong pay-for-performance culture.
  • Communicate the wage structure so employees understand how it impacts them and how to change their behaviours.
  • Design discretionary monetary or non-monetary recognition schemes.

Empower managers

  • Empower managers to recognise and reward beyond targets and goals.

Reinforce desired behaviours

  • Address the past year’s performance gaps and set new goals for the next year.
  • Reinforce desired behaviours by recognising, rewarding and cultivating them. Identify role models within the organisation to be champions of certain desired behaviours.

Step 4: Evaluate and reward performance

Managers’ ability to evaluate and reward performance, and optimise touchpoints for growth and learning will be key to the success of this step.

Track performance

  • Track performance against targets and schedule periodic performance reviews.
  • Seek timely and multiple sources of performance feedback, e.g., managers, peers, customers, etc. to provide a fair and holistic assessment.

Equip and train managers to

  • Drive and evaluate performance.
  • Coach poor performers.
  • Conduct performance conversations.

Conduct performance conversations regularly at meaningful points

  • These allow managers to manage employee expectations, identify performance gaps, address performance concerns, discuss future growth plans, and enable employees to voice their opinions.

While systems and practices are essential, a key differentiator for an effective performance management practice is the alignment between culture, values and systems. This involves establishing an organisational culture that provides steadfast support to employees in their personal learning and development that views every touchpoint as a growth opportunity.

The performance management process should not be solely centred on employees’ past contributions but perform as future-focused stay conversations that support and engage employees in ways to grow, learn and improve.

FedEx Singapore and HSBC are Human Capital Partners in the Human Capital Partnership Programme .

The Human Capital Partnership (HCP) Programme is a tripartite initiative that brings together a community of exemplary employers in Singapore who have progressive employment practices in their organisations and are committed to developing their human capital.

Photos: Provided (L-R Eric Tan, MD, FedEx Singapore, and Vishesh Dimri, Lead - HR Consulting, HSBC)

Follow us on  Telegram  and on  Instagram  @humanresourcesonline for all the latest HR and manpower news from around the region!

Follow us on Telegram and on Instagram @humanresourcesonline for all the latest HR and manpower news from around the region!

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agile performance management case study

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Agile performance management

agile performance management case study


By Reynaldo C. Lugtu, Jr.

agile performance management case study

ANYONE can plan, but not all can deliver. In fact, the average failure rate of strategy execution based on empirical studies is 50%, and the highest observed is 90% according to a 2015 study by Candido and Santos in the Journal of Management & Organization .

In another study by David Norton and Robert Kaplan as published in their book The Balanced Scorecard , the authors note that 90% of organizations fail to execute their strategies successfully.

So why is the failure rate of strategy execution incredibly high? We can blame several factors, such as unclear communication, poor leadership, and inadequate resources, but it all boils down to a singular culprit — ineffective performance management.

Michael Armstrong in his Handbook of Performance Management carefully and plainly defines the performance management (PM) cycle as “the continuous process of improving performance by setting individual and team goals which are aligned to the strategic goals of the organisation, planning performance to achieve the goals, reviewing and assessing progress, and developing the knowledge, skills, and abilities of people.” PM involves setting key performance indicators (KPI) and targets which are regularly measured and monitored to ensure that the organization’s strategies are implemented. After all, what gets measured, gets managed, and what gets managed gets done.

Performance management has evolved since its origin in the 1960’s — from the simple performance appraisal to the development, planning and performance improvement. Over these past years it has been one of the most debated human resources (HR) practices across many organizations. Organizations increasingly modify and overhauled their PM practices due to rising discontent with traditional PM practices being demotivating, overly administrative, time-consuming, inflexible, and misaligned with the changes in the workplace and business environment.

In our enterprise transformation consulting work with several organizations, CEOs as well as Chief Human Resource Officers (CHROs) lament at the fact that PM practices are seen by business managers as a tick-on-the-box activity that needs to get done and over with, rather than a strategic activity. They expressed that this is their biggest challenge in realizing their digital transformation strategies. It stems from the lack of training among HR practitioners and managers as well as the lack of modern tools that automate certain PM components such as scheduling and feedback recording.

These are the reasons why Mercer’s 2019 Global Performance Management Survey revealed that only 2% of HR executives believe that their PM approach delivers exceptional value — unchanged from five years ago. A more recent report from Gartner showed that 58% of organizations believe their performance management systems are insufficient for monitoring the performance of strategy.

That is why there is an urgent need to step back, reflect, and transform the organizations’ performance management systems and practices to one that is modern, agile, and reflective of the significant changes in the business environment. Several organizations all over the globe have done exactly these.

In the 2020 book of Pulakos and Battista, Performance Management Transformation: Lessons Learned and Next Steps , the authors documented organizations that transformed their PM. One case is Medtronic, an American medical device company.

“The Medtronic case describes the start, stall, and restart of PM transformation. Urgent business needs in 2014 accelerated the PM transformation. A changing business operating model that would centralize most processes and the acquisition of Covideon, which doubled Medtronic’s size and revenue, forced the prioritization of HR and talent system change. Medtronic understood that in order to meet future business needs they would need to harmonize, standardize, and scale each talent process in an integral manner. Performance management was identified as a top priority, with the business driving the need for the PM restart, not HR.”

The latter argument is the most significant transformation in this case -— the business driving the need for the PM restart, not HR. Performance management should be driven and owned by the business leaders because they are the ones that recognize the need for transformation and alignment to the changing business environment. One common transformation theme among business leaders and the case studies presented by Pulakos and Battista is the need to be agile.

Therefore, PM transformation requires it to be agile as well. Enter agile performance management.

Agile performance management is a response to the modern ever-changing business environment that demands adaptability, flexibility, and alignment. It uses frequent appraisals, check-ins and 360 feedback, and promotes effectiveness and efficiency by enabling flexibility, autonomy and ownership among managers and employees.

In a study of McKinsey, nearly all organizations feel the need for more frequent feedback. “Working in agile sprints of a few weeks each creates a cadence into which collective and individual feedback naturally fits. Similarly, a culture of more autonomy and risk-taking opens opportunities for employees to stretch, take on more responsibility, and find out quickly how they can improve.”

Key to agile PM is the use of online platforms that migrate paper-based processes to an automated one. It also utilizes the principle of “nudge” to remind managers and employees on the activities and tasks they need to do in order to act on the performance gaps.

With the need for organizations to pursue digital transformation, business leaders need to employ agile PM to ensure the success of their strategies.

Reynaldo C. Lugtu, Jr. is the founder and CEO of Hungry Workhorse, a digital and culture transformation consulting firm. He is the chairman of the Information and Communications Technology Committee of the Financial Executives Institute of the Philippines. He teaches strategic management and digital transformation in the MBA Program of De La Salle University. The author may be e-mailed at [email protected]



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Faster, Better, Stronger - The Case for Agile Performance Management

As companies shift to working in a more agile fashion, shouldn’t their performance management take a similar approach find out how to begin implementing a more agile performance management model to suit your modern workforce. discover digital tools like employee productivity tracking software that can help support your business and its agile transformation..

Kendra Gaffin

Performance reviews have often been the source of much employee dread, but employees aren’t alone in this sentiment. According to management research firm CEB, 9 out of 10 managers are unhappy with the way their company conducts performance reviews . Similarly, 9 out of 10 HR leaders believe that the performance review process doesn’t provide accurate information.

So why carry on with these dreaded performance reviews? The purpose of these reviews should be to reflect on performance and plan for future development, and ideally promote communication and feedback while strengthening working relationships. 

That doesn’t sound bad right? It may even sound necessary. So perhaps the problem doesn’t lie with performance reviews themselves, but with how they are conducted.

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For example, yearly appraisals no longer cut it in the age of digital transformation and the near constant upheaval the last few years has awarded us. The pace of change has picked up thanks to external influences and rapidly developing technology, requiring businesses to adapt to constant change and fluctuations in demand with organizational agility. 

As companies and their employees adapt to work in a more agile fashion, shouldn’t the way we manage performance take a similar approach?

Focus on the Future with Agile Performance Management

The traditional approach to performance management is based on a yearly evaluation of  individual employee performance. This bureaucratic process is done to evaluate overall employee performance as it relates to the company’s overall goals. From the employee perspective, the main benefit of these evaluations is to (hopefully) receive salary increases and/or bonuses. 

However, the traditional performance management process is still very much focused on past actions. Agile performance management, on the other hand, places an additional emphasis on the future development of employees and the organization as a whole. This shifts the focus of the performance management process towards unleashing the maximum potential of individual employees through coaching and career planning. 

Based on the same principle that drives continuous improvement in the workplace, and continuous engagement among the workforce, agile performance management has a more collaborative approach based on a continuous feedback model. 

Agile performance assessments are not only focused on performance but on growth and future development. Agile performance management is based on these four pillars: continuous learning, frequent check-ins, building trust, and a sense of connection to the work community. 

The quickening pace of change that affects the modern workplace requires agility in everything we do. For this reason agile performance assessments are generally more frequent, more accurate, and more success-oriented than the traditional approach. Despite the increase in frequency of assessments, agile performance management is often supported by digital tools and is quicker and more efficient.

How Does Agile Performance Management Benefit Your Business?

Agile performance management can improve the effectiveness of your business and bring new value. Read on to find out the key benefits of switching to agile performance management.

Greater Communication and Collaboration 

Traditional performance management is based on hierarchy, whereas agile performance management is more collaborative and supports the regular flow of ideas, creativity, and individual and team development. 

In conventional performance assessments, communication was only one-way, from the top down. Agile performance management creates more room for discourse and mutual discussion of ideas for the way forward. Supportive tech tools provide multiple feedback channels that are used to solicit feedback from multiple sources, not just managers. 

Increased Employee Engagement and Recognition

Perhaps the number one advantage of an agile performance management model is that it dramatically boosts the level of employee engagement. This is due largely to the momentum that is sustained from more frequent feedback in the agile model, whereas traditional, once a year performance reviews tend to lose the initial excitement surrounding past accomplishments and hard work. Traditional performance management often left employees feeling undervalued and not properly recognized for hard work as a result.

In addition, agile performance management communicates what is expected of employees on a regular basis, rather than once a year. This helps employees better prepare for reviews and make changes as needed. The increased communication and collaborative approach improves employees’ sense of belonging in the company, which ushers in all the benefits of better employee engagement . 

Increased Employee Productivity 

Agile performance management addresses employee challenges in a more constructive way. Coaching from managers combined with clearly defined employee career paths allows employees to properly address their weaknesses and look at them as opportunities to grow. 

When performance management is combined with solid learning and development programs, employee productivity increases. Performance monitoring in a business can offer quick and easy insight into employee performance, which can help managers schedule check-ins accordingly. Productivity monitoring software and other work monitoring tools can allow managers to give employees more flexibility and autonomy without sacrificing productivity. 

How to Adapt a More Agile Performance Management Model

Ready to pivot to a more agile and strategic performance management model but not sure where to start? You can begin transforming your business's performance management approach to a more agile one by taking the following steps:

Increase the Frequency of Check-ins

Above all, the single once a year review has to go. For a more agile performance management model it is essential to at least accompany yearly reviews with more frequent check-ins. Six out of ten employees report wanting more feedback on their performance . 

To be more future-focused, discussing performance once a year is simply not going to cut it. A mix of weekly, bi-weekly, and monthly check-ins between employees and managers ensures that managers are able to stay on top of employee performance. If any issues arise, they are discussed quickly and able to be mitigated before having a negative impact on performance. 

In times of constant change it's incredibly important to keep the channels of communication open and use them to ensure your workforce can adapt fast to flux, and quickly accommodate changing priorities. If you wait to address change only once a year, it may prove to be too late to make necessary changes and the competitiveness of your business will suffer.

More frequent check-ins also promote more 2-way discourse between employees and managers. This allows your workforce to build better relationships between colleagues and for employees to feel more valued within the company. 

Focus on the Present and Future

Traditional performance reviews spend 80% of time talking about the past . As mentioned above, only focusing on the past is not conducive to modern agile working environments. If the last few years have taught us anything, it's that a lot can change in a year. This is why companies can no longer afford to focus on performance management only once a year. 

With frequent check-ins managers are able to keep their finger on the pulse of the workforce. This enables them to focus on the present moment and to quickly detect any problems which can be addressed and corrected immediately. 

In addition to the present, agile performance management also allows managers to focus on the future and anticipate future trends and needs. As management increasingly pivots towards more of a “coach” role, they are able to really understand their employees and see their true potential. This allows managers to help employees with career development and to prepare them for potential future roles in the company, which has tremendous benefits for both the business and employees. Managements’ neglect of the desire for growth within the workplace can have major repercussions for your business. 

Increase Employee Recognition

In line with focusing on present actions, your business needs to commit to promptly recognizing achievements and best practices, and publicly showcase demonstrated right attitudes and values. This helps your employees to feel valued and increases the sense of community and belonging within the workplace, which in turn boosts employee engagement. 

Revamp Company Culture

Agile performance management should be accompanied by a more agile company culture and working environment. Overhaul tired old culture by encouraging innovation, new processes, risk-taking, autonomy, flexibility, questioning, integrity, persistence, creativity and accountability within your workforce. Doing so will allow your business to maximize employee potential and get the most out of your employees. 

Tools to Support Agile Workflows and Performance Management

The key to good agile performance management is good tools. A variety of tools are available to help support agile working environments and performance management. Leverage tools like platforms for employee recognition, employee productivity tracking software , intranet and communication platforms, and other workplace monitoring tools.

Read on to discover how the tools below can help your business make the move towards a more agile performance management system.

  • Support more agile performance management with Totara Perform. Totara Perform is an agile performance management system that will empower you to: increase engagement by aligning employees with company goals; enhance workforce productivity with regular check-ins, continuous feedback and employee performance reviews; adapt your performance management process around your organization.
  • Stay connected and collaborative with Jostle. Jostle is a cloud-based simple intranet solution; the next-generation intranet that improves employee engagement and internal communications. Jostle connects remote workers with the rest of their organization, whether they're working from home, at a coffee shop, or out in the field. Jostle was specifically designed to help businesses build a positive company culture and boost employee engagement.
  • Get continuous feedback with 15Five Continuous Performance Management software. 15Five Continuous Performance Management software is a complete performance management platform that creates effective managers, highly engaged employees, and top-performing organizations. The idea behind the platform is simple - employees take 15 minutes to answer a survey from their managers, and managers need five minutes to review.
  • Increase employee recognition with Awardco. Awardco is designed to help businesses achieve better employee engagement through rewarding recognition. Awardco is built for optimization, customization, automation and all the other great -ations you need for a solid employee rewards and recognition program.
  • Get performance insights with Insightful. Insightful has a variety of features which can help boost employee engagement and productivity. Useful as employee work tracking software for remote employees and employers, Insightful is so much more than simple worker monitoring software. Insightful empowers employers and employees to understand what enables them to do great work - whether in the office, remote, or hybrid. 

Insightful helps boost performance by improving workflows and allowing teams to create more efficient processes and foster productivity. This enables employers to provide a more autonomous, flexible, and agile company culture and track performance in real time.

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Insightful helps teams improve productivity, related posts.

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Performance Management Case Studies: Revolutionaries and Trail Blazers

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Five com­pa­nies that have led the way in set­ting new per­for­mance man­age­ment trends

Note: This blog post was updat­ed in July 2019 for accuracy.

Per­for­mance man­age­ment is an ever-evolv­ing field. The more we learn, the bet­ter we can adapt our per­for­mance man­age­ment sys­tems to make our com­pa­nies health­i­er, more moti­va­tion­al places to work. This is why it is so impor­tant to keep up with the lat­est per­for­mance man­age­ment trends . Com­pa­nies who fall behind lose out to their com­peti­tors. They also run the risk of los­ing their best per­form­ers along the way.

Since 2012 , com­pa­nies all over the world have been mov­ing away from old-fash­ioned annu­al appraisals and towards con­tin­u­ous per­for­mance man­age­ment . More than ever before, human resources exec­u­tives and line man­agers alike under­stand the human need for reg­u­lar feed­back, effec­tive coach­ing and human interaction.

A num­ber of rev­o­lu­tion­ary com­pa­nies have led the way in dra­mat­ic changes to how organ­i­sa­tions — both For­tune 500 multi­na­tion­als and SMEs — con­duct their per­for­mance reviews and moti­vate their employ­ees. In their wake, com­pa­nies the world over are adapt­ing their per­for­mance man­age­ment prac­tices and read­just­ing their once-fir­m­­ly held beliefs regard­ing per­for­mance rat­ings and annu­al per­for­mance appraisals. Here at Clear Review, we have helped over 200 organ­i­sa­tions effort­less­ly shift away from tra­di­tion­al annu­al appraisals.

Below, we have col­lat­ed five notable per­for­mance man­age­ment case stud­ies. These organ­i­sa­tions have shak­en up their exist­ing process­es and have reaped sig­nif­i­cant ben­e­fits in terms of pro­duc­tiv­i­ty, employ­ee engage­ment, morale and performance.

1 . Adobe Intro­duced Con­tin­u­ous per­for­mance Man­age­ment in Place of Per­for­mance Appraisals

Adobe was the fore­run­ner of change when they aban­doned annu­al per­for­mance appraisals back in 2012 . They felt that while they were forg­ing ahead and evolv­ing as a com­pa­ny, their per­for­mance man­age­ment sys­tem was archa­ic and inef­fec­tive. It was a waste of time and had, ulti­mate­ly become a box-tick­ing exer­cise. Adobe esti­mat­ed annu­al appraisals con­sumed 80 , 000 man­age­ment hours each year . This was the equiv­a­lent of near­ly forty full-time employ­ees work­ing year-round. Clear­ly, a change was needed.

Adobe replaced annu­al appraisals with reg­u­lar one-on-one check-ins , sup­port­ed by fre­quent feed­back  — both pos­i­tive and con­struc­tive. There are no per­for­mance rat­ings or rank­ings and they allow dif­fer­ent parts of the organ­i­sa­tion to deter­mine how fre­quent­ly they should hold check-in con­ver­sa­tions, based on their work cycles. Now that forced rank­ing has been abol­ished, employ­ees at Adobe are assessed based on how well they meet their goals . Man­agers are also trained on the nuances of giv­ing and receiv­ing feedback.

The result has been a marked increase in employ­ee engage­ment, with vol­un­tary turnover decreas­ing by 30 % since check-ins were intro­duced. This makes Adobe a per­for­mance man­age­ment case study we should all be aware of.

Take a Tour of Our Con­tin­u­ous Per­for­mance Man­age­ment Soft­ware .

2 . Deloitte Saved 2  Mil­lion Work­ing Hours per Year with Week­ly Employ­ee Check-Ins

In 2015 , Deloitte was the first big name to announce it was scrap­ping once-a-year per­for­mance reviews, 360 -degree feed­back and objec­tive cas­cad­ing. This change occurred after the com­pa­ny cal­cu­lat­ed these process­es were con­sum­ing a remark­able two mil­lion hours a year across the organisation.

Deloitte’s new per­for­mance man­age­ment process requires every team leader to check in with each team mem­ber once a week to dis­cuss near-term SMART goals and pri­or­i­ties, com­ment on recent work and pro­vide coach­ing. The check-ins are ini­ti­at­ed by the team mem­bers, rather than the team lead­ers to ensure these check-ins take place fre­quent­ly. This also serves to give employ­ees a sense of own­er­ship over their work, role and time.

These week­ly employ­ee check-ins are sup­port­ed by quar­ter­ly reviews when team lead­ers are asked to respond to four future-focused state­ments about each team mem­ber. Rather than ask­ing team lead­ers what they think of the team mem­ber — which is what tra­di­tion­al per­for­mance rat­ings do — they ask what the team leader would do with the team member.

3 . Gen­er­al Elec­tric ( GE ) Put an End to​Forced Rank­ing per­for­mance Management

Under the reign of its for­mer CEO , Jack Welsh, Gen­er­al Elec­tric was the most well-known pro­po­nent of annu­al per­for­mance rat­ings and forced dis­tri­b­u­tion curves. 

For decades, GE oper­at­ed a ​ “ rank and yank ” sys­tem, where­by employ­ees were appraised and rat­ed once a year. After­wards, the bot­tom 10 % were fired. Not exact­ly a recipe for employ­ee engage­ment! Such an envi­ron­ment is a breed­ing ground for unhealthy com­pe­ti­tion, reduced team­work and employ­ee burnout.

In 2015 , under CEO Jeff Immelt, GE announced it was replac­ing this approach with fre­quent feed­back and reg­u­lar con­ver­sa­tions called​” touch­points ” to review progress against agreed near-term goals. This new approach was sup­port­ed by an online and mobile app, sim­i­lar to our own Clear Review per­for­mance man­age­ment tool , which enables employ­ees to cap­ture progress against their goals, give their peers feed­back and also request feedback.

Man­agers will still have an annu­al sum­ma­ry with employ­ees, look­ing back at the year and set­ting goals. But this con­ver­sa­tion is more about stand­ing back and dis­cussing achieve­ments and learn­ings, and much less fraught than annu­al reviews.

4 . Accen­ture Aban­doned Rat­ings for per­for­mance Development

As of Sep­tem­ber 2015 , Accen­ture, one of the largest com­pa­nies in the world, dis­band­ed its for­mer rank­ing and once-a-year eval­u­a­tion process . Like GE , Accen­ture has decid­ed to put fre­quent feed­back and con­ver­sa­tions at the heart of its new process and focus on per­for­mance devel­op­ment, rather than per­for­mance rating.

As Accenture’s CEO , Pierre Nan­terme, stat­ed at the time ​ “ It’s huge, we’re going to get rid of prob­a­bly 90 per cent of what we did in the past.”

As Ellyn Shook, Chief HR Offi­cer at Accen­ture , stat­ed:​“Rather than tak­ing a ret­ro­spec­tive view, our peo­ple will engage in future-focused con­ver­sa­tions about their aspi­ra­tions, lead­ing to actions to help them grow and progress their careers.”

5 . Cargill Intro­duced Coach­ing Con­ver­sa­tions in Place of Annu­al Appraisals

Like Adobe, Cargill, the US food pro­duc­er and dis­trib­u­tor, start­ed to trans­form its tra­di­tion­al per­for­mance man­age­ment process­es back in 2012 , when it intro­duced ​ “ Every­day Per­for­mance Man­age­ment ”.

Cargill removed per­for­mance rat­ings and annu­al review forms and instead focused on man­agers hav­ing fre­quent, on-the-job con­ver­sa­tions and giv­ing reg­u­lar, con­struc­tive feed­back. They have made this work by:

  • Reg­u­lar­ly reward­ing and recog­nis­ing man­agers who demon­strate good day-to-day per­for­mance man­age­ment practices.
  • Shar­ing the expe­ri­ences and tips of their suc­cess­ful managers.
  • Hold­ing teams account­able for prac­tis­ing day-to-day per­for­mance management.
  • Build­ing the skills need­ed to suc­ceed at Every­day Per­for­mance Man­age­ment, includ­ing effec­tive two-way com­mu­ni­ca­tion, giv­ing feed­back, and coaching.

The out­come has been impres­sive, with 70 % of Cargill employ­ees now say­ing they feel val­ued as a result of their ongo­ing per­for­mance dis­cus­sions with their manager.

Per­for­mance Man­age­ment Lessons to Be Learned from These Per­for­mance Man­age­ment Case Studies

When we look at what these five organ­i­sa­tions have imple­ment­ed, we can see some evi­dent trends emerg­ing, which are like­ly to form the basis of per­for­mance man­age­ment for the years to come. These trends are:

  • Reg­u­lar one-to-one per­for­mance con­ver­sa­tions, or ​ “ check-ins ”, ini­ti­at­ed by the employee.
  • Fre­quent, in-the-moment, pos­i­tive and con­struc­tive feed­back from peers and man­agers Near-term objec­tives rather than annu­al objec­tives. Set­ting and review­ing objec­tives reg­u­lar­ly, rather than once a year.
  • For­ward-look­ing per­for­mance reviews, focus­ing more on devel­op­ment and coach­ing and less on assessment.
  • Drop­ping per­for­mance rat­ings .
  • Per­for­mance process­es sup­port­ed by mobile-friend­­ly, online per­for­mance man­age­ment soft­ware .

Move away from annu­al appraisals to con­tin­u­ous per­for­mance management

Find out how our sim­ple, effec­tive per­for­mance man­age­ment soft­ware can help you move away from annu­al per­for­mance appraisals towards a more agile, intu­itive per­for­mance man­age­ment sys­tem. Book a free demo of Clear Review where our expert team will take you through the platform. 

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