A Review of Social Performance Management.
Some of the key players in this new, rapidly emerging field.
by Louis Carter
Integrating the power of social networking into the modern workplace is a process that has only just begun. The near-future result will be a complete makeover of the way modern corporations work. Traditional management styles and hierarchies will give way to a new way of doing business that is chaotic, collaborative, highly productive and very fast.
Social Performance Management is new enough that many executives are still unfamiliar with the term. That won't last much longer. The power of SPM will be impossible to ignore, resist or undo. SPM is the future of workplace productivity, and the future is arriving now.
The Very Short History of SPM
The first SPM providers began popping up five years ago. Yammer, now owned by Microsoft, and Rypple, acquired by Salesforce.com and re-launched as Work.com, both came on the market in 2008. NationalField was launched the same year by three leaders of Barack Obama's presidential campaign, which had been much heralded for its innovative use of social media.
Saba began merging its traditional HR software with social networking in 2009. In 2010, MangoSpring released Mango Apps, and 7Geese introduced the first social version of its performance management solution. That same year, Globoforce trademarked the term "Social Recognition" and WorkSimple began touting its trademarked "Social Goals." Our own organization, Best Practice Institute, launched Skillrater, a social rating and collaboration platform, in 2012.
What is Social Performance Management? It is the use of a social network platform, whether cloud-based or residing on an intranet, to optimize workplace performance and accomplish HR and talent management functions. Some of the most common applications of SPM are goal management, employee alignment and engagement, development and coaching, talent mapping and recognition.
Many companies forbid their workers from logging on to Facebook or Twitter while at work; celebrity tweets and Farmville addictions can be a drag on productivity. But imagine a workplace where a social network is a primary platform through which workers communicate and collaborate. A workplace where the weekly staff meeting and the annual performance review are replaced (or enhanced) by continuous online interactions. An organization where goal-setting and team-building and project management and performance reviews take place out in the open, on a social network, with all employees engaged and participating. That's Social Performance Management.
It is ironic that SPM, which is rapidly becoming the business world's most important use of social networking, is so late to the social business table. Most companies today believe they have embraced the power of social media because they have Facebook pages and Twitter feeds. However, many businesses have not yet begun to comprehend the real transformation that social networking will inevitably introduce to the workplace.
As one Harvard Business Review blogger said earlier this year: "Too many companies have kept social platforms separate from their essential businesses." Everyone acknowledges that social media are changing the world, from relationships to politics to entertainment, but businesses are only beginning to focus the power of social on revolutionizing the way we work.
How We Got Here
When the World Wide Web emerged at the start of the 1990s, businesses first saw the Internet as a marketing space. Company websites were essentially digital versions of the brochure and Yellow Page ad.
The term "Web 2.0" was coined in 1999 to herald the arrival of the interactive web. Through forums and blogs and wikis, the Internet became an ever-changing, ever-expanding world of user-generated content. Facebook, begun in 2004 to pick out the hottest girls on campus, spread social networking around the world and blazed the trail for other social networks.
As the "new web" created opportunities for new business uses, Web 2.0 led to Enterprise 2.0. Organizations began to ask: How can we use the new social technologies to advance business strategy?
Not surprisingly, the first place many businesses turned was marketing. Companies with a website added a Facebook page and launched a corporate blog. It has taken a long time for businesses to grasp that the explosive power of a digital platform, which enables the rapid exchange of information and ideas among multiple people, can be used for far more than merely hawking our wares.
One of the first non-marketing applications of social media was in talent recruitment. Today much of the heavy lifting in matching workers and jobs takes place online. But that's just the start. True social business and Management 2.0 are being born today as businesses are applying the power of social to performance management.
Making Performance Management Social
Most companies are dissatisfied with the results of their traditional performance management systems. The 2010 Study on The State of Performance Management asked 750 senior-level HR executives to give their company's performance management systems an A to F grade. More than half gave their own systems a C, D or F.
It is time to try something new. Social Performance Management is very new. Here are eight common functionalities of the first wave of SPM solutions, with one or two examples accompanying many of them.
Email revolutionized business. Almost half of office workers in a recent Ask.com survey said most of their office communications are by email, IM and the telephone, even when colleagues are nearby. Social solutions will introduce a similar but even more radical transformation in the way we communicate at work, replacing the one-to-one exchanges of private emails with one-to-many and many-to-many communications.
Consider the exponential improvement in quality and speed that will result. The person with the right answer or solution or idea will be able to chime in immediately; often it will be a person who would not have been consulted in a one-on-one exchange. The entire team will follow the discussion, sharing information and acquiring ownership in the outcome.
Such communication will be tantamount to self-management. Before SPM, a supervisor receiving an email might never have found time to send an answer. With SPM, day-to-day situations will often be addressed by the team before the supervisor ever gets involved.
One recent study estimated that if all of the knowledge hidden in private business emails was shared on a social platform, employee productivity would increase by 25%.
• Yammer began in 2008 by touting itself as "Facebook for business." People can log-in for free using their company email address and interact with everyone else with a similar email domain. The product took off like a rocket. Microsoft was certainly impressed, paying $1.2 billion to buy the company in 2012. Yammer boasts about 8 million users today.
• 7Geese chose its name in admiration of a group of geese flying in tight V-formation, a feat which requires continuous communication and collaboration. The company was founded in 2008 and introduced its first social performance management solution in 2010. 7Geese says that its product "gives everyone a voice regardless of their position in the organizational chart … [It] helps move from an Us vs. Them (management vs. employees) organization to a We organization where everyone feels valued and heard."
There is, of course, a big difference between social networks like Facebook and Twitter and the networks that are becoming platforms for corporate work. The former networks are mostly casual ways to occasionally stay in touch with friends. However, Social Performance Management platforms provide a way for team members to work together and achieve company goals. SPM is not just a digital water cooler; it is a powerful environment in which workers are helped to co-labor, i.e., collaborate.
• MangoSpring was founded in 2007 and introduced MangoApps in 2010. MangoApps' social network comes with a toolbox of features designed to deliver on the promise: "Everything you need to collaborate." The tools include MangoProjects for project management, MangoTasks for task and time management, MangoDocs for document sharing and MangoIdeas for ideation. Most SPM solutions offer similar tools.
One tenet of social business is that workers are not exclusively motivated by a paycheck at the end of the week. The enthusiastic worker is the one who has found intrinsic motivation.
Traditional management styles have failed miserably to appeal to workers' inner drive to excel. Executives and managers make decisions from on high, handing them down without explanation and with little regard for the workers whom they expect to carry out their instructions.
More thoughtful leaders may still make the grave error of believing that a PowerPoint revealing the company's business strategy and mission statement is going to generate genuine excitement from the rank and file. Most people are just not motivated that way.
What does motivate people? Human connections. People will do much and go far to satisfy their sense of belonging. They want to be a valued member, not of a strategy or corporation, but of a group of people.
Business social is one of the most powerful tools ever developed to cultivate that sense of belonging. Through social networks, employees can connect with each other and their overseers to share with and encourage each other. Through SPM solutions, employees are empowered to their value in the organization and draw meaning from the position they hold.
4.Training and Coaching
Business training and development have not changed much in recent years. Websites have replaced textbooks, and PowerPoints have replaced chalkboards, but training still largely revolves around classroom lectures and conference presentations. Social networking is changing all that.
Workers can access the information they need online. What they need beyond that are knowledgeable teachers and coaches to help them understand and apply what they are learning. Social networks are an ideal environment for real-time learning that is spontaneous and practical.
• Work.com is owned by Salesforce, which specializes in services for sales people, from account management to customer relations to lead management. One feature Work.com promises is real-time coaching for sales, service and marketing.
• Our Skillrater product works similarly to enable real-time continuous mentoring. Employees can request a rating on a skill or activity whenever they choose. Feedback accompanying the rating offers guidance on how to improve. After making improvements, an employee can request a new rating to document one's progress. The result is an ongoing training process that is employee-driven.
5.Goal-setting and Goal Management
A good company has well-defined goals, and those goals should be communicated clearly and repeatedly to team members. A business social network is an ideal tool with which to achieve that.
Productivity is optimized when each individual has personal goals that connect with the group goals. When individuals share their goals on a social network, they turn their personal goals into social goals, drawing the feedback and encouragement of co-workers. As we tell our Skillrater customers, participants "help each other get better over time."
• WorkSimple, launched in 2010, built its product around the idea of goal-setting and goal-sharing and even trademarked the term "social goals." On its website WorkSimple says: "We learned along the way that employees love social goals. They knew for the first time what was expected of them … They could see what others are working on, and how their job role and goals impacted the greater objectives…"
However, WorkSimple closed in February, citing undercapitalization, i.e., not enough paying customers.
Recognition is the main thing in Globoforce's approach toworkplace productivity. The company began in 1999 with the concept of "strategic recognition," tying recognition to company goals. In 2010, Globoforce introduced Social Recognition, a social network that enables "a continuous stream of recognition activity" in the workplace.
Almost all SPM solutions offer ways for co-workers to recognize each other, from a simple "Thanks!" or "Good job!" to various kinds of badges and rewards.
7.Feedback and Appraisal
Performance appraisal is a big reason why a lot of what we call "management" results in embittered, resentful workers. One thing almost everyone agrees on is that the annual performance review is a negative experience we would all love to do without. However, most companies continue to do periodic reviews, perhaps because they have not found a feasible alternative. Now Social Performance Management provides that alternative.
Traditional performance appraisals fail because they attempt to feed months of management oversight into a single meeting, diluting any praise with the inevitable criticisms, which come far too long after the fact. Employees leave hurt or angry. Statistics show that productivity often goes down after a performance review.
Social networking is a far better way to give feedback. It takes place in real-time. It focuses on one task at a time. Positive feedback is delivered when it is deserved and not watered down with negative comments. Negative feedback may sting a bit, but much less so when an employee knows one can earn positive remarks within days or weeks, rather than waiting another year for another review.
Some companies have even abandoned the review process in favor of the social platform. Most companies so far continue to conduct annual reviews, but now the reviews are informed by a continuous stream of feedback. All of an employee's positive moments throughout the year have been document, and the employee is less likely to be blind-sided by criticism.
• Saba's performance management toolslend themselves to companies that have not eliminated periodic review. For example, Saba Pulse tracks goals, achievements and missed deadlines, with the intent to "incorporate social feedback into formal performance reviews."
• Work.com includes the ability to give anonymous feedback. "The element of anonymity makes it easier to get honest, constructive and helpful feedback, and it can make feedback easier to give and take," the company says.
• In stark contrast, Skillrater does not permit anonymous feedback. We believe feedback is ineffective when employees do not know the source. To the contrary, anonymous feedback can create a toxic work environment. Similarly, we negative feedback is strongly discouraged. The best productivity improvements occur when feedback remains positive and future-focused.
Qualified talent has been the holy grail of corporate business for two decades. Most companies are recruiting, training and stealing workers as fast as they can. However, many companies could do much better at taking advantage of the "hidden talent" they already have on the payroll.
An administrative assistant is also fluent in Spanish. Someone in accounting has years of public speaking experience. A warehouse worker is a natural-born salesperson. Another employee happens to be a talented artist and graphic designer. You get the idea of "hidden talent."
Talent mapping solutions to identify such "hidden gems" have been around for a while. However, combining talent mapping with social networking is transforming the search for hidden talent. Employees are empowered to speak up on their behalf when they possess a talent or insight that meets a specific need. Co-workers, who often know more about their peers than do managers and supervisors, also have a forum to speak up on someone's behalf.
• Saba's People Cloud and SilkRoad's Point are two examples of social solutions geared toward talent management.
Our product, Skillrater, uses a social rating system that not only identifies but quantifies talent. Workers can request a 1 to 5 rating at any time on any skill or activity. The numeric ratings provide a way to measure one's progress over time. When the company requires a particular skill, it can turn to Skillrater's rating metrics to discover a hidden talent waiting to be put to new use.
Providing feedback has long been considered to be an essential skill for leaders. As they strive to achieve the goals of the organization, employees need to know how they are doing. They need to know if their performance is in line with what their leaders expect. They need to learn what they have done well and what they need to change. Traditionally, this information has been communicated in the form of “downward feedback” from leaders to their employees. Just as employees need feedback from leaders, leaders can benefit from feedback from their employees. Employees can provide useful input on the effectiveness of procedures and processes and as well as input to managers on their leadership effectiveness. This “upward feedback” has become increasingly common with the advent of 360 degree multi-rater assessments.
But there is a fundamental problem with all types of feedback: it focuses on the past, on what has already occurred—not on the infinite variety of opportunities that can happen in the future. As such, feedback can be limited and static, as opposed to expansive and dynamic.
Over the past several years, I have observed more than thirty thousand leaders as they participated in a fascinating experiential exercise. In the exercise, participants are each asked to play two roles. In one role, they are asked provide feedforward —that is, to give someone else suggestions for the future and help as much as they can. In the second role, they are asked to accept feedforward—that is, to listen to the suggestions for the future and learn as much as they can. The exercise typically lasts for 10-15 minutes, and the average participant has 6-7 dialogue sessions. In the exercise participants are asked to:
• Pick one behavior that they would like to change. Change in this behavior should make a significant, positive difference in their lives.
• Describe this behavior to randomly selected fellow participants. This is done in one-on-one dialogues. It can be done quite simply, such as, “I want to be a better listener.”
• Ask for feedforward—for two suggestions for the future that might help them achieve a positive change in their selected behavior. If participants have worked together in the past, they are not allowed to give ANY feedback about the past. They are only allowed to give ideas for the future.
• Listen attentively to the suggestions and take notes. Participants are not allowed to comment on the suggestions in any way. They are not allowed to critique the suggestions or even to make positive judgmental statements, such as, “That’s a good idea.”
• Thank the other participants for their suggestions.
• Ask the other persons what they would like to change.
• Provide feedforward - two suggestions aimed at helping the other person change.
• Say, “You are welcome.” when thanked for the suggestions. The entire process of both giving and receiving feedforward usually takes about two minutes.
• Find another participant and keep repeating the process until the exercise is stopped.
When the exercise is finished, I ask participants to provide one word that best describes their reaction to this experience. I ask them to complete the sentence, “This exercise was …”. The words provided are almost always extremely positive, such as “great”, “energizing”, “useful”, or “helpful.” One of the most commonly-mentioned words is “fun!”
What is the last word that comes to mind when we consider any feedback activity? Fun!
Eleven Reasons to Try FeedForward
Participants are then asked why this exercise is seen as fun and helpful as opposed to painful, embarrassing, or uncomfortable. Their answers provide a great explanation of why feedforward can often be more useful than feedback as a developmental tool.
1. We can change the future. We can’t change the past. Feedforward helps people envision and focus on a positive future, not a failed past. Athletes are often trained using feedforward. Racecar drivers are taught to, “Look at the road ahead, not at the wall.” Basketball players are taught to envision the ball going in the hoop and to imagine the perfect shot. By giving people ideas on how they can be even more successful (as opposed to visualizing a failed past), we can increase their chances of achieving this success in the future.
2. It can be more productive to help people learn to be “right,” than prove they were “wrong.”Negative feedback often becomes an exercise in “let me prove you were wrong.” This tends to produce defensiveness on the part of the receiver and discomfort on the part of the sender. Even constructively delivered feedback is often seen as negative as it necessarily involves a discussion of mistakes, shortfalls, and problems. Feedforward, on the other hand, is almost always seen as positive because it focuses on solutions – not problems.
3. Feedforward is especially suited to successful people. Successful people like getting ideas that are aimed at helping them achieve their goals. They tend to resist negative judgment. We all tend to accept feedback that is consistent with the way we see ourselves. We also tend to reject or deny feedback that is inconsistent with the way we see ourselves. Successful people tend to have a very positive self-image. I have observed many successful executives respond to (and even enjoy) feedforward. I am not sure that these same people would have had such a positive reaction to feedback.
4. Feedforward can come from anyone who knows about the task. It does not require personal experience with the individual. One very common positive reaction to the previously described exercise is that participants are amazed by how much they can learn from people that they don’t know! For example, if you want to be a better listener, almost any fellow leader can give you ideas on how you can improve. They don’t have to know you. Feedback requires knowing about the person. Feedforward just requires having good ideas for achieving the task.
5. People do not take feedforward as personally as feedback. In theory, constructive feedback is supposed to “focus on the performance, not the person”. In practice, almost all feedback is taken personally (no matter how it is delivered). Successful people’s sense of identity is highly connected with their work. The more successful people are, the more this tends to be true. It is hard to give a dedicated professional feedback that is not taken personally. Feedforward cannot involve a personal critique, since it is discussing something that has not yet happened! Positive suggestions tend to be seen as objective advice – personal critiques are often viewed as personal attacks.
6. Feedback can reinforce personal stereotyping and negative self-fulfilling prophecies. Feedforward can reinforce the possibility of change. Feedback can reinforce the feeling of failure. How many of us have been “helped” by a spouse, significant other, or friend, who seems to have a near-photographic memory of our previous “sins” that they share with us in order to point out the history of our shortcomings. Negative feedback can be used to reinforce the message, “this is just the way you are”. Feedforward is based on the assumption that the receiver of suggestions can make positive changes in the future.
7. Face it! Most of us hate getting negative feedback, and we don’t like to give it. I have reviewed summary 360 degree feedback reports for over 50 companies. The items, “provides developmental feedback in a timely manner” and “encourages and accepts constructive criticism” both always score near the bottom on co-worker satisfaction with leaders. Traditional training does not seem to make a great deal of difference. If leaders got better at providing feedback every time the performance appraisal forms were “improved”, most should be perfect by now! Leaders are not very good at giving or receiving negative feedback. It is unlikely that this will change in the near future.
8. Feedforward can cover almost all of the same “material” as feedback. Imagine that you have just made a terrible presentation in front of the executive committee. Your manager is in the room. Rather than make you “relive” this humiliating experience, your manager might help you prepare for future presentations by giving you suggestions for the future. These suggestions can be very specific and still delivered in a positive way. In this way your manager can “cover the same points” without feeling embarrassed and without making you feel even more humiliated.
9. Feedforward tends to be much faster and more efficient than feedback. An excellent technique for giving ideas to successful people is to say, “Here are four ideas for the future. Please accept these in the positive spirit that they are given. If you can only use two of the ideas, you are still two ahead. Just ignore what doesn’t make sense for you.” With this approach almost no time gets wasted on judging the quality of the ideas or “proving that the ideas are wrong”. This “debate” time is usually negative; it can take up a lot of time, and it is often not very productive. By eliminating judgment of the ideas, the process becomes much more positive for the sender, as well as the receiver. Successful people tend to have a high need for self-determination and will tend to accept ideas that they “buy” while rejecting ideas that feel “forced” upon them.
10. Feedforward can be a useful tool to apply with managers, peers, and team members.Rightly or wrongly, feedback is associated with judgment. This can lead to very negative – or even career-limiting – unintended consequences when applied to managers or peers. Feedforward does not imply superiority of judgment. It is more focused on being a helpful “fellow traveler” than an “expert”. As such it can be easier to hear from a person who is not in a position of power or authority. An excellent team building exercise is to have each team member ask, “How can I better help our team in the future?” and listen to feedforward from fellow team members (in one-on-one dialogues.)
11. People tend to listen more attentively to feedforward than feedback. One participant is the feedforward exercise noted, “I think that I listened more effectively in this exercise than I ever do at work!” When asked why, he responded, “Normally, when others are speaking, I am so busy composing a reply that will make sure that I sound smart – that I am not fully listening to what the other person is saying I am just composing my response. In feedforward the only reply that I am allowed to make is ‘thank you’. Since I don’t have to worry about composing a clever reply – I can focus all of my energy on listening to the other person!”
In summary, the intent of this article is not to imply that leaders should never give feedback or that performance appraisals should be abandoned. The intent is to show how feedforward can often be preferable to feedback in day-to-day interactions. Aside from its effectiveness and efficiency, feedforward can make life a lot more enjoyable. When managers are asked, “How did you feel the last time you received feedback?” their most common responses are very negative. When managers are asked how they felt after receiving feedforward, they reply that feedforward was not only useful, it was also fun!Quality communication—between and among people at all levels and every department and division—is the glue that holds organizations together. By using feedforward—and by encouraging others to use it—leaders can dramatically improve the quality of communication in their organizations, ensuring that the right message is conveyed, and that those who receive it are receptive to its content. The result is a much more dynamic, much more open organization—one whose employees focus on the promise of the future rather than dwelling on the mistakes of the past.
Marshall Goldsmith is the million-selling author of the New York Times bestsellers MOJO and What Got You Here Won’t Get You There – the Harold Longman Award winner for Business Book of the Year.