Innovations and trends in performance management

With the year drawing to a close and the festive season almost upon us, I thought now would be a good time to take stock of everything we’ve learned in 2015.

Agile Performance Management

The annual reviews and performance metrics of traditional Performance Management (PM) have been slowly giving way to an agile (APM) approach. This trend became increasingly obvious in 2015, with the publication of numerous papers and case studies all highlighting the benefits APM offers. Add to that the fact that major companies like Adobe went on record crediting this new approach (they went agile in 2012) with the rocketing share price they’ve experienced since adopting it, and it’s little wonder that APM is picking up pace.

The increasing popularity of the agile approach doesn’t surprise me. Agile Performance Management strategies are an integral part of Cognology’s solutions, and regular readers will know I’ve long been an advocate of real-time reviews and 360-degree feedback. I’m not the only one to note the accelerated change in PM this year and, while companies like Accenture announce plans to adopt it, others warn of the potential pitfalls of an accelerated change.

Tom Hakk, the founder of The HR Trend Institute, believes organisations are failing to recognise the difference between performance ratings and management. He worries that companies are so keen to jettison the traditional annual reviews and performance metrics, that they are abandoning PM altogether. I’m not sure I agree with his observation (the number of HR managers citing PM as ‘important’ or ‘very important’ rose to 75% in 2015), but I do recognise his concern. If we fail to implement this new approach properly, it could cost us more than it’s worth.


With poor onboarding contributing to the failure of 50% of new hires, doing it properly has the potential to save organisations thousands (and some, much more). I covered the science behind onboarding earlier this year and discovered that 35% of companies spend nothing (as in $0) on onboarding. Of the rest, 40% think their programmes are ‘less than moderately effective’.

Innovations and trends to revolutionize performance management, employee engagement, L&D, freelancing and onboarding in 2015
In October, Google gave us a lesson on how to tackle this sticking point. Their analytics team experimented with multiple approaches before hitting on the Just-in-time option. Characterised by an email to a manager the night before a new hire starts, onboarding is left entirely up to managers providing they perform five key tasks:

  1. A role and responsibilities discussion.
  2. Match new hire with peer buddy.
  3. Assist new hire to build a social network.
  4. Conduct onboarding check-ins once a month for the first six months.
  5. Encourage open dialogue.

It might not sound particularly innovative, but Google’s data suggests this approach reduced new hire time to productivity by 25%.

Imagine how technology can improve this by starting the onboarding process from contract stage through to Day 1 and the first six months. Incredible.

Learning and Development (L&D)

I’ve delved into L&D topics many times this year. By far the most important takeaway was the benefit of aligning learning with strategy, and its ability to increase ROI, enhance engagement and speed organisational progression.

Like PM, L&D has been driven by technological advancement, with gamification and social learning taking centre stage in 2015. Offering benefits across the board, a recent study by PWC suggests the technological innovations in this field will become increasingly important as more Millennials enter the workforce. Statistics published this year indicated that L&D is more important to this group than any other, with 52% stating that fast career progression is more attractive than salary.

Employee Engagement

Arguably one of the most notable takeaways of 2015 was the discovery that work engagement and employee engagement are two separate entities, often operating independently of each other. This, coupled with the finding that individuals engage differently, goes some way towards explaining why employee engagement initiatives traditionally produce poor results.

Newly published data suggests that engagement is an increasingly important issue. The average employee is 6% less satisfied with their role in 2015 compared to 2014; experiencing a reduction in enablement, autonomy and a sense of accomplishment.


You probably don’t need me to tell you that freelancing is the new workforce megatrend. Driven by economic pressures and an increasing focus on lifestyle over work, this trend is particularly popular with Millennials, 38% of whom work freelance.

This isn’t a number that is likely to decrease anytime soon. PJMorgan’s Chauncy Lennon is studying the rise in freelancing and flexible work initiatives. His findings suggest that this new megatrend will change the business landscape. In the future, we can expect to see operations organised around workers, instead of workers organised around companies.

To sum up…

As research continues to offer us greater insight, and technology gives us new metrics and opportunities, it seems likely that the changes we’ve seen this year in PM and L&D will be mirrored in other areas, including employee engagement and onboarding, which are currently poorly managed in a number of industries.

It’s been a year of learning and discovery, improvements and advancements in the HR field. At Cognology, we’re excited about what the year will bring. If there are topics you’d be interested in hearing from me on next year, drop me a line. In the meantime, have a wonderful Christmas and festive season.

See how an Onboarding System can help you reduce employee turnover.


Up to 20% of staff turnover happens within the first 45 days of employment. Source: Urbanbound

How to Make Sure Freelancers Feel at Home in Your Business

Incorporating freelancers

I’ve mentioned the many potential benefits that incorporating freelancers into your business can have on this blog before.  Employees can build leadership skills by managing freelancers and maximize efficiency of production by taking advantage of short-term contracts.

Approximately 38% of the millennial workforce works freelance.  As this work trend grows, expanding your business is very likely to involve hiring some independent contractors, that is, freelance consultants.   

In taking advantage of these benefits, the challenge for traditionally structured organisations will be figuring out how to incorporate freelance workers into the larger company framework.

Here are my top tips for making the freelance economy work for your business.

How can leaders best incorporate freelancers with the permanent team?

In almost any successful future enterprise, work is going to involve collaboration.  Keeping your permanent staff in projects with freelancers will lend a sense of continuity to projects and their ultimate objectives.  

While your permanent team should be well versed in the mission and traditions of your business, freelancers bring a fresh perspective and sense of creativity to projects.  Just remember that project challenges are bound to crop up, so it’s important to plan for risks before they happen, especially in a mixed team that combines freelance and permanent staff.

Reimagine your view of the Freelance worker

The onus is on you to ensure you establish an attitude of equality between permanent staff and freelance hires.  Permanent hires bring knowledge that can take months and years to build, and important company know-how and cultural imprimatur. On the other hand, freelancers can bring in a breath of fresh air: new ideas and new skills.

It’s also important that you work to keep an even keel in mixed project teams. An article in the Harvard Business Review makes the point that there is often “…the common perception of contingent workers as somehow less important, less skilled, or less committed than ‘permanent’ employees…” It is key to eliminate this attitude up front.  

Consider how you will introduce your chosen freelance hires to your permanent team and vice versa.  Make sure you establish mutual respect for everyone’s skills and commitment: how you tackle this is really down to your leadership style.

Freelancing means short-term contracts, not short-term workers.  Keep good freelancers on the payroll

A skilled freelancer is someone you will want to hire again and again.  By bringing back stellar independent contractors, you ensure both consistent results and allow repeat freelancers to establish a rapport with your permanent team.

A freelancer who is familiar with your company structure and culture will also be able to switch easily between project teams. In this way, freelancers can also help to prevent information silos creeping up among your permanent staff.

Facilitate the transfer of skills between freelancers and your permanent team

Presumably, the freelancers you work with have skills that make them a valuable part of any project, as does your permanent staff.  Once you’ve hired and re-hired a skilled freelancer and they have a working relationship with the permanent team, there is an opportunity for positive skill transfer between them.

For example, while a freelance copywriter may be able to point out the finer details of rhetoric for copy, permanent staff can apprise him or her on company-wide initiatives, skill sets, and strategic plans.

How can you make freelancers feel like “part of the team”?

Incorporating freelancers

When bringing on temporary employees, it can be difficult to help them feel like part of the team, especially if they are working with a lot of permanent staff. It may take several projects before a freelancer feels that they really know and understand the company, and is comfortable with the employees they’re working with.

It’s a tough ask, and many managers don’t even try to help freelancers break the ice, treating them as short-term resources with no long-term benefit (unfortunately, the business’s loss). However, the rewards are worth the effort.

Here are a few ideas on how you can create a friendly, work-positive environment for your freelance workers.

Consider creating a social-media based project space or use a Social Enterprise system and invite them to join

If you’re not already using a social enterprise tool in your business, you could set up a social media page or group meant just for the collaborators on any given project, and includes both permanent staff and freelancers.  Encourage all members of the group to introduce themselves on the site and to keep the rest of the group up-to-date with their contributions through posts on the page.

Whether you choose to employ a social enterprise system or mainstream social media, a tool such as this could also serve as a safe space for team members to troubleshoot or ask for support or advice on aspects of the project.

Consider hiring freelancers who live near your company’s home base

Not only can freelancers feel excluded from the team due to their temporary status, they can also be separated from the company by hundreds or thousands of miles.  

If your company is located in a large city, it’s likely that hundreds of talented freelancers live within an easy distance of your business.  Consider looking for hires from this local pool of people.  

By incorporating freelancers who live in the same city (not to mention the same time-zone), you will give the entire team something in common.  Freelancers who live in the area could even come into the office for project-related meetings or brainstorming sessions. This is another great way to make sure freelancers feel invested and part of the team.

Provide hot desks or common work areas

Giving freelancers a space to work in your office can help engender a feeling of belonging, which also facilitates knowledge transfer and collaboration.

Even providing a common work area like a long trestle table (ala Facebook and Google office styles) allows freelancers to work in the office at least some of the time in comfort, and not feel like they are displacing other staff.

Freelancers who are able to work shoulder to shoulder with permanent staff have greater opportunities for incidental conversations that can lead to project break-throughs and faster speed to results.

Does your company frequently hire freelancers for projects? What tactics do you use to make them feel like a part of the bigger team? I would love to hear your thoughts.

Are terms like ‘Hollywood’ and ‘Gig’ Spelling the End for the Traditional Employment Model?

It’s a Brave New World

Montclair Film Festival, CC BY 2.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

I recently listened to a great interview on EconTalk, where journalist Adam Davidson spoke about his experience as a technical advisor for the upcoming movie, The Big Short. On his first day on-set, Davidson was amazed that over 150 people were already working before ever having a full company meeting to strategize the process.  Even more incredibly, many of these professionals had never worked together before.  And yet, everything moved like clockwork.

Davidson experienced first-hand a style of hiring and working known as the ‘Hollywood Model’. A bunch of specialists, usually freelancers, are pulled together to form a team, and each person is hired only for the length of their component of the project, ranging from a few days to over a year.  The team disperses as rapidly as it formed.

In his article for the New York Times, and an upcoming book, Davidson posits that the ‘Hollywood Model’ and the ‘Gig Model’ (used to describe very short-term jobs like Uber or TaskRabbit) will dominate the future of work.  And this, for some, could be a very good thing.

The Changing Face of Employment

The traditional, corporate model of employment (join as a graduate, work for 40 years, retire, and get a gold watch) has been waning since the dawn of the twenty-first century.  After that, younger people started job and career ‘hopping’. Many corporations no longer needed long-term positions, so what had been previously steady jobs were outsourced, while others were replaced by technology.

In this world, the specialized freelancer is king, evidenced by the growing numbers of people who work as freelancers.

So what are the benefits of freelancing for freelancers? 

1. Specificity 

While on set, the movie’s makeup designer told Davidson that zombie makeup (yes, making people look ‘undead’) was all the rage.  People skilled in this particular area were in greater demand and, as a result, they earned greater pay.  Makeup artists looking to build their repertoire started to expand into the ‘zombie area’.

Freelancers can build their skillsets based on what’s trending.  They can find a way to work within a niche that separates them from the pack.  The Internet makes it a cinch to develop a niche and then find the right market.

2. Leverage 

Freelancers can use their in-demand skills to negotiate higher pay.  For example, at a large corporation, two analysts might perform the same job, but one analyst outperforms the other.  In the corporate model, both analysts are likely paid the same, but as freelancers one might command far more.

In short, freelancing favours the highly competent.  As an employer, this means that you can ensure you get best bang for your employment buck too.

3. Reputation 

Especially, Davidson points out, in a world like show-business where everyone rubs elbows, word gets around about who is reliable and who is likely to flame out.  A good working reputation helps freelancers get more work, and find better projects.

What are the benefits of hiring freelancers for employers? 

1. Short-Term Contracts 

After doing some research, you can hire freelancers with good reputations for a single projects and judge his or her fit with your mission.  You can even assign a test project, with little money down, to make sure he or she will be able to meet deliverables.

2. Reliability 

For freelancers, a solid reputation is everything.  And now you can find freelancers based on trusted references or online reviews.  Sites like and provide client reviews of the independent contractors, so you can make selections based on how well a freelancer rates compared to others.

3. Savings 

Not only is hiring a long-term employee a bigger risk if he or she isn’t a fit, you also have to provide all supplies, software, and any necessary training.  By choosing a freelancer, you can find someone who already has the skills, software, or access you may need.

4. New Managers 

As I’ve written in my blog before, new managers should always start by managing freelancers. By letting the managers assess the success of projects over time, they can see how their own interactions with freelancers meets (or doesn’t meet) the objective.

Are There Still Benefits of Permanent Employment? 

If freelancing is growing in market-share and can save money, what are the benefits of permanent employment?  Should businesses be shopping all their work out to independent contractors?

In a word: no.  In the interview, Davidson points out the not-insignificant benefits that come with having permanent staff.  Both companies and workers see and experience benefits from a permanent employment model.

While pay for freelancers can move up and down based on current trends, businesses and permanent employees are shielded from these market signals.  No matter what your staff excels in, a business is still paying a fixed rate.  This shields the business from ballooning costs for services if one particular service (for example, zombie make-up design) suddenly experiences increased demand.

Employees are also shielded from these market effects.  If the market for their specialty (say, copywriting) bottoms out, permanently employed copywriters are not affected.  They are equally unaffected if the cost for their work goes up.

What is the Future of Work?

It’s possible that the permanent work structure we consider ‘normal’ was just an aberration of the twentieth century.  As industrialization and commoditization increased throughout the 1900’s, a company’s main initiative was to produce for the lowest possible cost in order to compete.  Now, in a market saturated with cheap goods, more companies are working towards creating greater value, differentiating themselves, and avoiding commoditization.

To remain agile and ahead of competitors, companies need to work with more skilled people, and need more flexibility to hire contractors for limited assignments.  Freelancers who strive for excellence, are reliable, and are better than average are set to benefit most from this scenario.

Does your business currently utilize independent contractors? What projects do you find lend themselves best to freelancers? I’d love to hear your thoughts below or join the conversation 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.



Freelancing is the new workforce megatrend

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you’ll know that I’m passionate about the future of work. I love thinking about what it means for organisations today, and how we can all prepare for the very exciting changes that we’re likely to face over the next 5-10 years.

In thinking about the future of work, freelancers have recently captured a lot of my attention (as you may have seen last week on this blog). My recent interest has been prompted by the freelance stats published in the latest Mary Meeker Internet Trends report.

Like many people – I was surprised when I saw the numbers on just how many people are currently freelancing. But what I think is equally significant is what this growth means for the broader workforce.

Freelancing statistics

Freelancing is officially huge (and continues to grow)

In the US, 34% of the workforce is now freelancing in some capacity (that’s the equivalent of 53 million people). For millennials, that figure rises to 38% of the workforce.

There’s clearly a range of freelancing going on here – not all of these 53 million people are freelancing full time:

  • 40% are independent contractors – doing freelance, temporary or supplemental work on a project-by-project basis
  • 27% are moonlighters – doing freelance work in addition to a primary job
  • 18% are diversified workers – with multiple permanent and temporary sources of income
  • 10% are temporary workers – with temporary employment through a single employer, client, job or contract
  • 5% are business owners – who employ 1-5 people, to support a growing freelance workload

Perhaps the most powerful statistic here is the overall growth of freelancing as a proportion of the US employment market. Over the past 10 years, the number of freelancers in the US has grown by over 10 million people (that’s the equivalent of nearly 25% growth over the period).

While Australia and New Zealand might not yet be reporting these big numbers in the freelancing market, my guess is these two countries are not too far behind.

There are a number of reasons that freelancing has seen such strong growth:

  • Economic drivers.
    Some of the freelance growth is about the economy. The business environment through the GFC has forced many people to start freelancing as permanent positions have been retrenched.
  • Technology drivers.
    Through ease of finding work and better collaboration, the Internet has had a transformative effect in facilitating the freelance economy. 65% of freelancers said the Internet makes it easier to find and deliver work.
  • Lifestyle drivers.
    I think it’s a telling statistic that more than half (53%) of current freelancers began freelancing by choice not necessity. The numbers indicate that much of this choice is about flexibility – in the same survey 32% of workers under 35 indicated they believe they’ll be working mainly flexible hours in the future.

These growth drivers aren’t likely to go away any time soon – which means that ongoing growth of freelancers is set to continue. And whilst clearly not everyone is going to be a freelancer, this does mean big changes in the workforce and the way we all work.

What does the growth of freelancing mean for the future of work?

I think more freelancing is great news for everyone in the workforce. It has the potential to benefit both employers and employees, whether freelance or more permanent.

Here’s my reasoning on why freelancing has such potential to reshape the workforce (for the better):

Freelancing helps to solve the purpose problem

Freelancing is a naturally healthy way to work. You produce deliverables, and for those deliverables you get paid. There’s a clear connection between what you put in and what you get out. That connection drives purpose.

In today’s workforce, many salaried employees have lost their sense of purpose. I think a lot of this comes down to the lack of clarity around how they’re really adding value.

Freelancers have complete transparency over their value. That’s rewarding and will lead to a working population that’s on average more engaged.

Freelancing makes the trade-offs in full time work clear

For most workers today, full time work is the ‘default’ choice. This is great for many, but it does involve trade-offs. You’re accepting a wage that’s significantly lower than what you’re potentially worth, in exchange for increased security over the medium-term.

Increased availability of freelance work makes this trade-off very clear. For those employees who choose to work in a full time job, this becomes a deliberate choice to seek security. Better alignment between employees and employers leads to healthier, more transparent workplaces.

Employees must take responsibility for their own growth and development

In an economy with more and more freelancers, every worker has to take responsibility for their own growth and development. Whether you’re freelancing or working in a corporate environment, the only person who’s completely got your development interests at heart is you. In a world dominated by freelancers, everyone is their own L&D department.

Freelancing drives better management

As I wrote in this article, successfully managing a freelancer forces any manager to learn effective performance management.

Management of independent freelancers is hard, and requires rigorous and regular performance management to succeed. A manager’s ability to get value from a freelancer depends entirely on how effective they are at setting clear expectations and delivering feedback.

The value of a manager is their freelancer network

You face a lot of uncertainty when you work with someone for the first time. Regardless of how well structured the hiring process is, there’s a lot of uncertainty that’s not resolved until you’ve actually worked together.

Due to this uncertainty, there’s big value in a manager who has worked with great freelancers previously. They have a known freelancer network that’s a known quantity – saving the organisation time and money.

Better systems and processes

Plugging talent into the organisation frequently on a task specific basis means that you need great processes. For example: if the task takes a week, but it takes a week to onboard (and three months to pay) there’s a big disincentive to using a freelance workforce.

Freelancing will force more organisational agility

Organisations using more freelancers will move faster. But this cuts both ways – leveraging a talent ‘cloud’ means the organisation can scale up faster. But there’s also less cultural infrastructure holding the organisation together over the long term. Organisations without great systems and processes have the ability to fall apart quickly as well.

As freelancing continues to grow we’re set for an exciting few years

The ongoing growth of freelancing is exciting. I think more freelancing is pushing us down the road to happier, healthier and faster moving workplaces.

Freelancing is a force for good in the working world. Overall we’re going to have more natural organisations, where more people are connected directly to the creation of value. That’s a great thing.

All organisations need to start thinking about how they’re going to make the most of the freelance revolution. For large organisations, it’s time to start experimenting with freelancers. If you do, you’ll be ensuring you’ve got the right organisational capacity to compete successfully into the future.

I’d love to hear about your freelancing experiences. Jump into the comments below or join the conversation on 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.