Use performance management to give your employees purpose, and watch what happens next

Imagine joining Netflix before anyone knew what it was.  You received a job description before starting.  On day 1 your boss gets you started on your key responsibilities. Whether your role is to sign movie licensing deals, develop their software or provide customer service,  as often happens for a large majority of people, your sense of engagement will likely start strong and then wane in the months following the honeymoon period.

But now imagine what would happen if before you even started, you knew the purpose for Netflix and how you fit in.  You knew they wanted to create the worlds most popular movie and TV streaming service.  They wanted to give people access to the shows they loved on-demand, a completely new idea.

The people you worked with continually talked about this picture of the future.  How much more engaging and motivating would it be?  You’d have a purpose beyond your end of week pay packet. As Hubspot’s culture code puts it: paychecks matter but purpose matters more.”

Individual performance (and subsequently overall business performance) dramatically improves when employees know why they are doing their job. It’s further enhanced when people know how their job impacts or contributes to the goals of the business overall.

The key benefits of a sense of purpose

Maintain a sense of purpose at all levels in your organisation – linking everyone’s job to the bigger picture – and your business will reap the rewards:

  • Significantly higher engagement – which lowers absenteeism and turnover and increases productivity
  • A faster business – with everyone pulling in the same direction you can achieve your goals more quickly
  • A more innovative business – having a clear direction promotes more creativity

Well-executed performance management clearly defines the link between an employee’s job and the objectives of the business – day in, day out. Here’s how:

1. Clearly articulate company goals to everyone

Sharing your company’s goals is the starting point for both purpose-driven employees and great performance management.

Creating a sense of purpose at an individual level starts with the leadership team asking “why do we do what we do?” – then clearly communicating the answer to the business. In his 2010 TED talk, Simon Sinek makes a terrifically powerful appeal to leaders (it’s worth watching):

“It’s those who start with “why” that have the ability to inspire those around them.”

Transparent company goals that are communicated clearly and often lay the foundations for a workforce driven by a shared purpose. They are also the bedrock for effective performance management.

At its core, great performance management ensures that employees are aligned with the business as it moves forward. It has the power to ensure the right people are in the right roles, doing the right tasks and developing their skills in line with business needs.

Of course, in order to do this job effectively, performance management relies on every employee understanding the fundamental goals of the business.

2. Align employee goals with business goals 

Give your employees purpose by clearly explaining exactly how their job affects the success of the business. A crucial step in the implementation of a great performance management system is giving goals this context.

The SMART approach is a best-practice method for setting goals (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-bound). The ‘R for relevant’ is the key here – make sure all goals are clearly relevant to the business’s purpose.

For example, using the idea in our introduction, if you were setting a goal for a HR executive, an aligned and purposeful objective would be to “Contribute to successful commencement of services in Australia by establishing a leadership team by January 2015 with proven past successes building operations from the ground up” 

At Netflix, giving employees context is ingrained behaviour. The Netflix culture code captures this by saying: “High performance people will do better work if they understand the context.”

But it’s not just Netflix that says so – research backs up the statement strongly. If you’re interested to read more on this, I can suggest two papers from the Center of Advanced Human Resource Studies: ‘Seeing Clearly’ from this collection of white papers and ‘Employee line of sight to the organisation’s strategic objectives – what it is, how it can be enhanced and what it makes happen’.

3. Use performance management to maintain a sense of purpose when things change

Business objectives, and subsequently business strategies, can change in a heartbeat – especially in fast-moving, innovative organisations, or those facing fierce competition, regulatory upheaval and so on. Change can mean that job roles quickly become misaligned with the new direction of the business. To keep your employees on the right track and adding value despite shifting sands, ongoing feedback and coaching is crucial.

The effect of coaching on purpose and engagement hasn’t gone unnoticed at Wells Fargo. A top executive announced last year that he expects bank managers to spend two thirds of their time coaching their staff.

Ongoing feedback and coaching are key elements of best-practice performance management. Providing plenty of contact time between employees and their managers/mentors, regular feedback means new strategies can be quickly implemented on the ground.

Done well, every coaching and feedback session will leave your employees feeling that achieving their individual goals are directly connected to the success of the business.

In conclusion

A sense of purpose lies at the very heart of driving employee engagement and better business performance.

Great results happen when every employee is connected to purpose, every day. Best-practice performance management makes this straightforward.

With clear goals, feedback and coaching, your employees will have a direct and tangible connection to the success of your organisation.

Jon Windust

Jon Windust is the CEO at Cognology – Talent management software for the future of work. Over 250 Australian businesses use Cognology to power cutting-edge talent strategy. You can follow Jon on Twitter or LinkedIn.

How to make feedback less stressful

Regular feedback is one of the most powerful tools in improving the performance of employees. Recent numbers say 65% of employees want more feedback than they’re getting, with 98% of employees disengaging when managers give little or no feedback.

With numbers like these, there’s no question that regular, meaningful feedback is crucial to business success and employee satisfaction. What is less certain is how to help ensure managers actually give the feedback that delivers better performance and more engaged people.

The answer relates directly to stress. People actively avoid giving feedback because it’s so stressful. If we could remove or lessen that stress reaction, we’d all be much happier to give and receive feedback more often.

A recent webinar from Harvard Business Review: “Making Feedback Less Stressful” aims to do just that.

The best webinar on feedback I’ve ever seen

Whether you need to encourage your leaders to deliver feedback more often – or you’d like to improve your own skills, this SlideShare is a great resource (If you’re working specifically in this space, I suggest bookmarking this 146-slide pack). It’s the brainchild of Ed Batista – executive coach, change management consultant and course facilitator at Stanford University. Batista facilitates ‘Interpersonal Dynamics’ (or ‘Touchy Feely’ as it’s more commonly known), which is one of the most popular electives at the university.

If you’re short on time, let me help. In this article, I’m going to talk about the two most important things that I took away from Batista’s webinar on making feedback less stressful.

Takeaway one: Why is feedback typically so stressful?

Before looking at how to reduce the stress around feedback, we need to understand why it’s so uncomfortable. Batista doesn’t beat around the bush here: “Feedback is a social threat”, he says. Just like all threats, it causes physiological, emotional and cognitive responses. These include:

  • Increased heart rate
  • Heightened blood pressure
  • Anger, aggression, fear and anxiety
  • A negativity bias

Of course, it’s the person receiving the feedback that experiences these stress-inducing reactions. However, being the person giving the feedback and being responsible for such uncomfortable reactions is no picnic either.

Takeaway two: How you can personally make feedback less stressful

If you knew your feedback was going to be accepted gratefully and acted on every time, how would that affect your management behaviour? My guess is that you’d deliver feedback much more often.

In his presentation, Batista suggests two frameworks for delivering effective  feedback. Both of the frameworks focus on feelings – but from different perspectives:

Framework 1: A simple equation (that’s quick to remember)

This framework is an easy-to-remember equation that requires you to draw on your own feelings (as the feedback giver). If you link the feedback to an emotion you are feeling, it tends resonate more and have a longer-term impact

“When you [X], I feel [Y]”

[X] specifies a behaviour and clarifies what you’re talking about.

[Y] specifies an emotion, creating interest and influencing future behaviour.

For example: “David, when you keep making avoidable mistakes in these mark ups, I feel really frustrated.”

Framework 2: The SCARF model (for when you have more time to plan)

When you give feedback, you risk threatening five components of social situations: status, certainty, autonomy, relatedness and fairness.

Before you give feedback, consider the recipient’s thoughts and feelings – and reframe your feedback accordingly:


Status is a person’s relative importance to others. If their status is threatened they will feel like they are being spoken down to, undermined or patronised.

How to reduce the status threat

Encourage people to give themselves feedback on their own performance:

“How do you think that went? How might you do it better next time?”

You may also want to give praise in public.


Certainty concerns the future – and how predictable or secure it is. At its worst, threatened certainty may manifest as a fear of being demoted or even fired.

How to reduce the certainty threat

Establishing clear expectations is the best way to increase certainty. While expectations would generally be set prior to a task beginning, you can give feedback during the task to help reduce certainty threat:

“Remember, the ideal outcome here is…”


If someone has autonomy, they have a sense of control over events and they have choices available to them. If feedback is seen as micro-managing, it will feel like choices are being taken away.

How to reduce the autonomy threat

As a threat to autonomy could feel like losing choices, the best way to avoid a negative reaction is to give choices as part of your feedback:

“Here are two options that might work, which do you prefer?”


Relatedness involves deciding whether someone is a friend or a foe. A healthy manager-employee relationship can be damaged if feedback threatens relatedness.

How to reduce the relatedness threat

Encouraging friendships is a good way to reduce this threat, especially if people work remotely. At the point of giving feedback however, you may want to try personally relating to the task at hand:

“I had to do this last week/last year and I struggled, try this next time it might help.”


To evaluate whether feedback is fair or not, the recipient will look at the actions of other employees and the feedback given to them. It is important that your feedback is based on fact too – not an assumption or a generalisation.

How to reduce the fairness threat:

Make it clear that you are not treating one person differently to another:

“Like I just said to Sid…”

For more detail, check out ‘SCARF: a brain-based model for collaborating with and influencing others’ by David Rock – the creator of the SCARF model.

In conclusion…

Increasing the frequency of feedback is a sure-fire way to improve performance and engagement – both at the individual and team level.

However, telling your leaders to give feedback more often is only part of the story. Address the reason/s why people don’t naturally give feedback: complacency can be a problem, but the more probable reason is the uncomfortable stress reaction people often experience when both giving and receiving feedback.

Training everyone (including leaders) in the art of feedback is a great opportunity for companies wanting to step-up performance and deliver stronger results. I recommend using this webinar as a starting point. The great news is, everyone can learn to give better feedback more easily, with less stress for both the giver and the receiver.

Have you seen any other great resources on feedback? Let me know via Twitter: @cognology.

Jon Windust

Jon Windust is the CEO at Cognology – Talent management software for the future of work. Over 250 Australian businesses use Cognology to power cutting-edge talent strategy. You can follow Jon on Twitter or LinkedIn.

What can Netflix, HubSpot, Zappos and Google teach you about the future of performance management?

What if one-on-ones were like an episode of The Voice?

What is a one-on-one? It’s a conversation between a leader and team member to discuss performance. Where the person is going well and what needs improvement. These meetings should take place often (monthly is a good start) and should be in a neutral space or where the employee feels comfortable. These conversation gems can unearth problems you weren’t previously aware of that may be inhibiting a persons’s ability to do their job effectively (both at work and outside of work).

Regular one-on-ones aren’t a virtual magic wand and won’t fix every problem – but conducting these regularly can help you become aware as a leader of a person’s ability to do their job.

So why aren’t they done? Many organisations simply do not do them as they aren’t aware how beneficial they are, or more likely, managers just don’t know how to do them.

The TV show ‘The Voice’ is very popular. The judges are constantly providing one-on-one coaching and advice to improve performance. They do it well.  Some of these coaching tips won’t convert to the workplace though. Take a look at this very light-hearted video comparing one-on-ones to ‘The Voice’.

Jon Windust is a Partner at Cognology – Talent management software for the future of work. Over 250 Australian businesses use Cognology to power cutting edge talent strategy. You can follow Jon on Twitter or LinkedIn.

Crowdsourcing vs. 360 Degree Feedback (part 2)

In the last blog post I introduced the differences between Crowdsourcing vs. 360 Degree Feedback.  In this post we’ll look at some different needs and pick the best tool for the job.

If your need is any of these, 360 Degree Feedback is the best tool for the job
  • Identifying actual behaviors to develop as opposed to general needs.
  • Targeting the training budget to highly specific needs.
  • Providing the organisation with quantitative data and analysis.
  • Giving an individual a comparison to a benchmark.
  • Finding the gaps between how well a person knows themselves compared to how others see them.
  • Analysing a group of people for common strengths and areas needing development.


Crowdsourcing is a great new tool for the manager’s toolbox.

If your need is any of these, Crowdsourcing is the best tool for the job
  • Getting feedback at a moments notice.
  • Obtaining general and open-ended feedback.
  • Feedback that is not prompted by set behavioural categories and questions.
  • Asking follow-up questions.
  • Asking for feedback from colleagues to support your performance review.
  • Getting ad-hoc feedback on team members to support their performance review.
  • Getting feedback on team members who you aren’t working directly with (for example, when team members are working in project teams).
  • Enabling people to discuss feedback together.

Crowdsourcing is a useful tool for getting feedback on ad-hoc things at a moments notice.  It has a much less formal feel and is very much in line with our social technology age.  For example, people can discuss the feedback together.  It doesn’t replace 360 Degree Feedback which is very effective at identifying highly specific behaviours where people can be developed.  But crowdsourcing is a great new addition to the toolbox that can simplify life for managers and HR.

Request a demo of our social module to see crowdsourcing in action.

Crowdsourcing vs. 360 Degree Feedback (part 1)

In a previous post I talked about my experience crowdsourcing for feedback.  It’s a much different experience to receiving 360 Degree Feedback.  It’s less formal for a start and you have total control over it.  Crowdsourcing has a number of advantages over 360 Degree Feedback.  Which begs the question, should 360 be consigned to the scrap heap?

Let’s start with a basic understanding of the two approaches.

360 Degree Feedback is an organised process where people receive feedback against a questionnaire.  The questionnaire is usually based around a set of competencies and behaviours.  For example, new leaders may receive feedback against a set of competencies and behaviors that define good leadership.  Responses are provided by a number of people who are invited to give feedback. To be able to provide good quality feedback, they need to know the person well.  You can read more about 360 Degree Feedback on our web site here and here.

Crowdsourcing is a less formal tool that you can use to go out to a wider group of respondents. For example, you might crowdsource using every person in a department as a potential respondent.  Unlike 360 Degree Feedback, there’s no expectation that every person in the group will respond.  You can initiate crowdsourcing as and when you like it.  Although you wouldn’t want to annoy people too frequently, crowdsourcing is suitable to use more than just once or twice a year.

Screenshot of crowdsourcing tool

There’s a big difference with the number of questions you ask with each tool.  With 360 Degree Feedback you might ask 60 highly specific questions. With crowdsourcing you might ask just one or two questions like “can you provide at least one suggestion where I can improve as a leader”.

In the second part of this blog post we’ll look at whether crowdsourcing or 360 Degree Feedback is the best tool for the job.  I’ll give some examples of different needs and pick a winner.

Request a demo of our social module to see crowdsourcing in action.

HR Rescues Man – Crowdsourcing feedback

Or the boring title: One of the ways our new crowdsourcing feedback tool is useful.

How many people do you know who love HR? Dan does. His performance reviews were now all in the one place, quicker and easier than before.

But his love may be short lived. He had struggled with the review for one of his team. He felt like he had been dropped into the desert Bear Grylls style. Can HR come to the rescue?


It was Belinda’s review that had hit Dan for six. Belinda worked on projects right across the organisation. Dan wasn’t involved in the projects and found he couldn’t offer any feedback on Belinda’s achievements. He’d been completely lost and made a blind assessment on Belinda’s performance. That wasn’t the way he wanted to review his staff.

It’s a familiar story. Managers don’t always have the right information. Like trying to choose the water well that’s safe to drink from, it’s a risky way to review performance. It might be OK, but chances are …


Let’s try this again. This time Bear Grylls style with the right knowledge and tools.

HR threw Dan a lifeline. Prior to Belinda’s review, Dan used the new feedback crowdsourcing tool in Cognology. He could pick from a great range of questions, which saved him a heap of time. Dan selected the key people Belinda had worked with and Cognology took care of the rest.

By the end of the week Dan had his compass. He had a complete view of Belinda’s performance and some brilliant examples of her contribution to the business. The insight he gained was incredible. He was even able to discuss the feedback online.


Bear had his helicopter. Dan had HR. From that day forth, HR was known as Human Rescue.

If you want to fly in and save your managers from wandering the desert, you can see more on our social enterprise software at our web site.