1 hours read – Posted by – October 12, 2019

How to Grow a Diverse and Inclusive Team with Evidence-Based Performance Management

Watch the webinar or read the full transcript.

Libby Stewart:

Welcome all to our discussion today around How to Grow Diverse and Inclusive Teams with Evidence Based Performance Management. As Esther said, my name is Libby and with me today is the fantastic Natasha, another evidence-based practitioner.

Natasha Ouslis:

Hey. I’m so glad to be here.

Libby Stewart:

Natasha and I connected earlier this year to chat all things performance management and nerd out on organizational psychology as this is what we’ve both done. We found time and time again, we kept revisiting the subject of diversity and inclusion as a super awesome outcome of evidence based performance management practices amongst many, many other things. We finally decided to bite the bullet and run a webinar on our thoughts on the matter. Why don’t I let you introduce yourself, Natasha.

Natasha Ouslis:

Thanks Libby. I am a Behavior Change Specialist and Evidence-Based Consultant and Researcher in Organizational Psychology as Libby had said. I’m coming to you from this perspective of a lot of these evidence based workplace and general psychology principles that we’ll be diving into today with a lot of relevant, exciting stories and examples for you to really dig into. I’m as you can see the Chief Behavioral Scientist of the Jasmar Group where I work on improving processes, leadership development and strategy. That is all evidence based towards driving team belonging and better performance and organizations. On the side of that, just for fun as a hobby working on my PhD at Western University in Canada.

Libby Stewart:

Interesting hobby. I said my name is Libby, I’m Head of Professional Services and Research at 7Geese. At 7Geese actually we’re a highchairs stuff company focused on continuous performance management. In terms of my professional background, I’m also Organizational Psychologists. I did my degree over in Australia. I moved over to Vancouver, Canada with 7Geese a while back, and I’m an Evidence Based Practitioner. I’ve had roughly now 10 years of experience in corporate practice and I’ve worked across the whole gambit of Talent Management functions including Organizational Development, Talent Management and Board Advisory, you name it.

Libby Stewart:

Actually, prior to working in that corporate practice when I was doing my degree, I was able to work extensively in research projects, particularly in the fields of psychology the many fields of them. Social business, cognitive neuropsychology, and by far my favorite projects that I was able to dive into or around the affirmative action programs and women in the workplace and this really sparked my passion in terms of diversity and inclusion. I’m really excited for the discussion today, I feel that diversity and inclusion is such a wicked and complex problem. It’s getting growing attention, and it’s attention that it truly deserves.

Libby Stewart:

We actually see so many organizations and companies and countries even, that are trying to change policies and practices, yet overall we’re not seeing that needle really shift enough, at least on a global scale. There are actually many things that we can do in this space, particularly from an individual and in company based perspective. I guess, in terms of our goal in this is to make a real intangible impact using that evidence based practice to drive inclusive workplace practices and this will be really a focus for our discussion today.

Libby Stewart:

I wanted to give you a little bit of context on 7Geese as well, very briefly. This is quite relevant to the topic at hand, so you can understand I guess the lens at which at least I’m coming at this. The work we do at 7Geese is very much centers around what we refer to as I mentioned before, continuous performance management and we are big believers in evidence based practice. In that sense, everything that we do at 7Geese is we try to bake that research around human motivation and performance into our product. We have all these cool features and functionalities that allow you to do that. We have things like strategic goal setting, one-on-ones, feedback. We’ve got values-based recognitions, data driven performance reviews, career growth plans and more recently key talent indicators to allow companies to build an inclusive and effective performance culture.

Libby Stewart:

When we were talking about this, Natasha and I were scoping this out. We were talking about the fact that we hear so much about driving diversity and inclusion through hiring and selection practices and other elements of talent management. Rarely do we hear about how this relates specifically to performance management. This is probably because the majority of the time people aren’t having the most pleasant experience when it comes to performance management, especially if they’re being exposed to the traditional old clunky way of doing things.

Libby Stewart:

Today, we’re really going to try and weave through those contemporary and evidence based practices in that performance management space that we can actually shape that positive outcome that we’re looking for in relation to building an inclusive performing cultures.

Natasha Ouslis:

Awesome. To give you a roadmap of how going to pull all these things together from our backgrounds to protect tools that can support us in this building inclusive performance management. First we’ll talk about why performance management broken? What are the challenges, and the frustrations that we all have? I bet you are also having in this space. How were performance management can be a barrier to inclusion and to everyone feeling that they belong in an organization? Why inclusion and belonging matter for our performance? How we each experience our work in day to day. The elements of performance management that can be unintentionally excluding and demotivating people. They’re not doing their best work and feeling really connected to those around them at work.

Natasha Ouslis:

Fortunately, we can do something about these elements that are designed sometimes with the unintentional detriment of being very exclusionary and we can design for belonging. At the same time benefit all kinds of other positive things like motivation and performance. Libby, you are doing all this work in this space. You’re working with so many clients in this area. What are the problems? If I can pluralize this question, can you walk us through a little bit of a challenge?

Libby Stewart:

There’s quite a few, and I’m sure that those of you that have veiled into this probably thinking of your own things as well. I guess, we’re going back to what problem are we trying to solve? I mean, this is what happened when I came to 7Geese. I’m like, “Why did we build the thing? Why did we build this platform? What is the problem?” Well, the problem is, is that traditional performance management is essentially broken. I’ll give you an example, last night I was actually at an event, I was doing a presentation on performance management. There’s about 100 folks in the room and I asked them to raise their hand if they ever had a negative experience with a performance review and 80% of the room popped up their hands. Then I asked the remainder if they knew someone who had and I had the whole room.

Libby Stewart:

I’m sure if most of you are listening are going, “Yeah, I’ve also had pretty traumatic experience with performance reviews or performance evaluations.” I certainly don’t hear anyone saying, “I’ve had the most wonderful experience with these as well.” Whether it be from yourselves administering internally, whether it be that you’ve been on the receiving end of a really poor process. This is a problem we are trying to solve is the fact that this isn’t perceived as a very positive employee experience.

Libby Stewart:

Certainly, when I hopped onto Google a couple of days ago and you can see a screenshot up there I actually typed in, “Reactions to performance reviews.” Because I wanted to see, where is it at? Even just three days ago. You’ll have a look there, people also ask, how do you dispute a bad performance review? What do you do after a pole performance review? How do you handle an unfair performance review? The stellar question are performance reviews even helpful?

Libby Stewart:

I think this is really giving us an indication of where performance management stands right now. I don’t think anyone is alone if they’ve had that experience. I actually think that this is a really important point, because I think there’s a lot of negative associations with this concept. We’ve had these horrible past experiences and they are impacting us in terms of thinking, “Well, I don’t really see this as a solution to help us with building an inclusive practices because nobody likes them. Nobody likes performance management.”

Libby Stewart:

I find that in my work I’m meeting with people and organizations and I’m talking about performance management programs. Halfway through the conversation I’ve realized that every single person in the room is talking about something different based on their past experiences. One person is talking about compensation. One person is talking about evaluations. One person is talking about promotions. Ultimately, what I’m trying to do right now when I think we all need to do is just pair this right back. I need to shut out biases and associations associated with this and start talking about the same thing. The same thing that this is the core element is how do I inspire my people to unleash their potential and perform to the best of their ability. I find that if I can bring people back into that space and go, “What we’re trying to do is elevate the performance of your people here.” We can actually all get on the same page, but I’m actually paring away all of these associations to actually get to that real conversation.

Libby Stewart:

I think, summarizing this, I think the real problem here is it’s just this real lack of collective understanding around what good performance management actually looks like and how to shift from our old clunky, horrible processes that have given us all these negative experiences. To something new and fresh and agile that’s actually a driver for all these really cool outcomes like inclusive practices and there’re so many cool organizational outcomes we can drive with this. I think none of us have had the experience of being on the end of a positive process or at least not many of us. This is something that we really need to recognize when we’re talking about this in this space.

Natasha Ouslis:

It sounds like you wouldn’t say to throw the whole thing away and it’s just all garbage, but do you get that question or do you grapple with this?

Libby Stewart:

Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. I think we go back to 2000, I think a lot of people did. They’re like a bullish, the performance review, they were like, “Chuck them out the window.” I think a lot of organizations did you know they threw the baby out with the bath water though because then we actually had organizations coming back around and employees were asking for evaluations back because they had no sense of progress. Right? At the end of the day they’re flooding in this ethos of continuous conversations or something nebulous. They’re floating at sea going, “I don’t actually know how to measure progress. I don’t know where I’m going. I don’t know if I’m progressing anywhere. I don’t know who’s evaluating me or based on one.” It actually opened up the forum for even more bias.

Natasha Ouslis:

Yeah. So much potential there for ambiguity, for threat, for feeling excluded. Because maybe you’re like other people are getting valuable input and feedback and no one is choosing to reach out to me and tell me how I’m doing.

Libby Stewart:

Yeah.

Natasha Ouslis:

It sounds like throwing the baby out of the bath water there.

Libby Stewart:

Don’t Chuck it away, but there’s a way to get it right, definitely.

Natasha Ouslis:

Awesome.

Libby Stewart:

Yeah. Look, if I wanted to summarize this though, and I’m thinking about the topic in mind. Basically, what I just said before a lot of the challenges is that we chuck it out. We leave it open to bias. In the past, it was also our open to bias because it’s a once a year annual process relying on things like our memories. Remember, the most recent projects someone did or most salient project they had. We can easily create scenarios and perceptions of exclusion because we don’t know how decisions were arrived at when it comes to our performance, our promotions, our projects. We feel like an outsider to those decisions because they’re not necessarily transparent.

Libby Stewart:

The biggest trigger that I see popping up, and this is in the evidence as well, is this idea of perceived fairness and the employee reaction in that process. We really need to be able to perceive the process is fair, and you even see that popping out. It doesn’t seem fair. Then the process itself, and this is a big one, is we haven’t revisited why in a long time, which I think is what I was mentioning earlier. Going back to why do we have performance management in the first place? We’re doing this to allow people to perform. Unfortunately, I think organizations I’ve got to the point where they’re actually pulling this data through this process to serve the needs of their decision making. To make it easier to figure out their talent management curves and who’s getting promoted and where do we need to put compensation funds, et cetera, et cetera. You’re forgetting the employee in the center of the process, which is really leading to that poor employee experience that we’re seeing. Natasha, I’d be interested in your perspective, I’m sure that you’ve got a different perspective on this.

Natasha Ouslis:

Yeah. I hear so much coming out of this that in our conversations we’ve tried to distill into the challenges of performance management currently not inspiring people. You said people are not usually having a wonderful positive experience where they walk out, and they’re flowing ready to take on the world of things they’re going to work on. There’s really a lack of inspiration coming out of that when it could be a tool or motivation and inspiration in that sense. Are people really being involved? Not necessarily in developing the process, not necessarily in creating the data and showing people evidence of how they’ve been working. Then managers have to focus on things that they might not have the best perspective on.

Natasha Ouslis:

Like you said, they’re just relying on their memory. The latest thing that happened, whether they left early last week or something. People don’t feel involved in the decision, the process and the outcome. Then of course from an inclusion perspective is performance management being designed right now to be inclusive, to have all those elements of fairness to promote belonging? Or is it pitting people against each other? Creating ambiguity and threat? We were hearing, a lot of these in the Google searches, in the conversations you have with clients, and the way that we’re taking up performance management situations not having a positive experience here.

Natasha Ouslis:

We have this everywhere. What’s underneath this lack of inspiration and inclusion, et cetera? Well, our basic psychological needs, the things that we are each critically needing as humans beyond the shelter, food, and water that we talk about are underpinning the lack of inclusion, involvement and inspiration. Those basic needs are challenges, we all want to grow and improve. We all want to have a path to get better, to show people that we know things, we’re learning things that autonomy. We want to give our input, we want to have control. We don’t want people telling us what to do, micro managing our everyday experience. Of course, we all need that belonging, we want to be accepted in those groups that are important to us and work where we’re spending over time. So much time if we’re excluded at work constantly that’s just so demotivating and unfulfilling.

Libby Stewart:

I think just to add to that as well, I mean, I love this concept. Basic psychological needs is something I bring up quite a lot. When I think about it, I try to position it to people at your basic psychological needs every single time you have a human being in your workplace and you’re asking them to perform, whether it be at a task, at their role, at their job, whatever it is that they’re doing, you need to satisfy these basic psychological needs to help them get there. The analogy I like to give people is, I want you to think of these things as food, water, and sleep. If I ask you to run a marathon tomorrow, but I give you no water are you going to be able to run that marathon? Maybe. Will you get to the end line? Probably. Will you get there in very good shape? Probably not. Would you do it again for me next week? Probably not.

Libby Stewart:

When we’re thinking about this, we really got to factor that in and go, “Okay, we need to hone in on these principles.” First and foremost, to make sure that when we’re reflecting on our performance management practices, are we satisfying these three basic psychological needs? Plenty of concepts out there like grit, growth mindset, whatever. They’re great. They’re icing on the cake, they’re wonderful. At a very base level food, water, sleep, this is what we need to satisfy.

Natasha Ouslis:

Yeah. I mean, if I can even do one marathon.

Libby Stewart:

Yeah. I mean, it could be extensive.

Natasha Ouslis:

Yeah. I would need so, so much water. Why does this matter? What does this have to do with performance management? Just telling people that they’re doing their job, they’re not doing their job? What does this have to do with anything? Well, the thing is that these basic needs drive commitment, performance, retention and all of that through our motivation. Am I motivated to run that marathon next week when I am parched? When I am lacking the right fuel that I need the sleep to actually get me to have that stamina across the 42 kilometers or 26 miles that we’d be doing?

Natasha Ouslis:

This is what really is underpinning our motivation. It drives our extra effort and our commitment to the organization. It keeps us there. We’ll talk about in a second, the lack of growth sometimes that might be happening from missing that challenge. The feeling of powerlessness when we have no autonomy, the exclusion that just demotivates us and then this chain of events doesn’t happen.

Libby Stewart:

I mean, look, from an organizational perspective this is like the holy grail of organizational outcomes, right? We’re looking for discretionary effort. We’re looking for commitment. We want to stop turnover and reduce it. We want people to perform. This is the pathway to doing that, we just need to get people into that psychological state of motivation. This is what we need to satisfy.

Natasha Ouslis:

Yeah. Yeah. When we don’t have that, and I think that our listeners are probably experiencing some of these things in some roles they’ve had. We have in a worse wellbeing from a health perspective, from a mental health perspective, physical health, we have that burnout. We don’t have anything left to give, right? There’s no fuel in the tank anymore. Then we want to leave. We’ve maybe reached the end of our worth in this organization, we feel like, “Well, what am I learning? What am I giving? What are people even asking from me?” That engagement and that experience is poor. Right? At the end of the day, we’re feeling excluded when we’re not giving that challenge, we don’t have that belonging and we don’t have the autonomy to maybe speak up and be listened to give our input there.

Libby Stewart:

Look, I think I’ve seen this play out in practice many times, right? Because, obviously we play a lot in this space. I’ve seen both the positive from that previous slide. I’ve also seen the negative from this slide as well. I’m going to guess from a positive perspective in terms of satisfying these needs. I’ve seen it happen where organizations have allowed people to create their own goals. They’ve given them that autonomy, they’ve inspired them toward a strategic mission. They’ve given them alignment with their goal setting piece, which gives them that challenge, that motivation, that inspiration to connect to their purpose. They’ve also given them some structure and fairness in their process, which has allowed them to alleviate that need for belonging, which is that perceived fairness variable, which is really important in terms of satisfying these conditions.

Libby Stewart:

Then also I hear these awesome stories of clients coming up with really cool initiatives right from the front line because they’re people who feel like they’re part of something so much bigger than them. They feel like they’re part of that picture and they really satisfy it to that famous analogy that you hear out there, the janitor that works at NASA, they asked him, “What do you do for a living?” He didn’t say, I clean the restrooms. He said, “I’m sending a man to space.” I see this happening in organizations doing this right. I hear stories of groundskeepers coming out with really cool initiatives because they’re so excited about what their organization is trying to achieve and they’re connecting to an executive strategy, which often they feel so disconnected too. Simply through the way they’re setting their goals and having their one-on-ones in terms of those conversations.

Natasha Ouslis:

We want that when we create that strategy and then no one engages with and we have it made it connect and resonate with people. It’s because like you said, we’re not meeting these needs for them. That purpose that comes together when we’re motivated, when we have these basic needs to be met, it all drives towards what you’re saying. It’s so exciting to see that. I mean, it must be great to work with these organizations, you make this happen and for them and with them, right? That’s so awesome.

Libby Stewart:

Yeah. It’s really cool to see because it really brings it to life. Especially, because as you know, many people are having these positive experiences. We’re seeing those positive examples. It certainly reinforces it for myself, as a practitioner.

Natasha Ouslis:

Your motivation.

Libby Stewart:

Definitely my motivation, absolutely. I’ve also seen some other cool instances, we’ve got companies as well, they’ll line up their engagement scores next to that continuous performance management activities and will frequently they’re adopting those performance management activities for teams and departments. The highly engagement scores in those teams and departments. There’s a clear positive correlation there and likewise when there’s less activity, less engagement because they’re having more touch points with their leader, they’re having input into their goals, they’re getting feedback. It’s these basic things that people are getting out of that.

Libby Stewart:

On the flip side, you’ve mentioned negative outcomes. I’ve seen organizations, I think we’ve all experienced organizations where, and I think this is the thing that comes to mind for me is that point at which you’re conducting an exit interview with somebody and you’re asking them, what are the real reasons why they’re leaving and beyond all the scenarios where people maybe don’t like their boss or something we had happened. It’s those scenarios where it’s that gray area and you know they haven’t elicited all the potential they could have with your company. The answer is, “I just didn’t have enough opportunities for growth. I wasn’t challenged enough. I got a bit bored.” That’s where we’re not satisfying that challenged need. I had so much more to offer. Finally, we’d done our job just a little bit better. I find that devastating that moment in that interview because I’m like, “There was an opportunity here that we missed.”

Natasha Ouslis:

Yeah. We put a barrier up in a way because they were obviously willing. At one point they weren’t going to give this effort and they were going to stay there and do these things and we broke that from happening. There’s something that got misaligned there, can we unleash that in people and transform that experience?

Libby Stewart:

Exactly. Then I think the most pertinent to the topic at hand today is exclusion, right? Most relevant, I see these negative impacts playing out in terms of creating a perception of exclusion in particular. For example, when people aren’t involved in key decisions that impact them, particularly around performance. Whether it be the goals, whether they’re not involved in team meetings, it triggers that autonomy piece and the belonging piece. What I tend to find is say someone stepped out of the office for a day and a meeting happened and a decision was made, right? A decision that directly impacts you in your role and you have no say, you don’t know that it’s happened until way later because there’s no transparent structure in place.

Libby Stewart:

Basically, it all boils down to a lack of organizational structure and discipline or any parameters around how do we communicate these things. It doesn’t feel like it was a fair process. I’ve actually been the external consultant in that situation and I know it wasn’t intentional. I know it just so happened that they were all the right people in the room at that time were coming up with the right topic and then they’d go, “Wait a minute, we didn’t know such and such was involved.” Once you create that perception of exclusion, people will come back into it and they go, “They’ll fill in the gaps.” They’re like, “Why was this made without me?” We know if we leave any room for ambiguity with these processes, people fill in the gaps with the most paranoid belief, right? Especially, if there’s low trust within the organization as well.

Natasha Ouslis:

If you say something like, “We didn’t intend.” It doesn’t erase everything that they felt, because you can say logically, “I know that you wouldn’t intentionally excluded me, but it happened and I feel how I feel because of how it happened.” Can we do something like you’re saying about that, your transparency and structure to avoid it in the first place? Because, we think people should be okay. Once they know I didn’t mean it, then they’re just going to feel fine but it doesn’t exactly.

Libby Stewart:

Any kind of structure is always seen as the devil. It’s not, it’s actually the thing that facilitates that kind of safety. That’s something we need to have some semblance of structure and it doesn’t have to be come on control, there are ways to do this.

Natasha Ouslis:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). Thank you for sharing and it’s great to hear the positives, but obviously we want to transform those negatives. These challenges with performance management, lack of inspiration, involvement and inclusion are demotivating because of these basic needs that are underlying them. When we see this really direct relationship and what we’re going to do for today, because we need to just focus it in on it is just focus on the inclusion and belonging piece. We’re going to touch on these other elements, but the fact that performance management can be designed to be inclusive, fair, to promote belonging is we think really new and different transformative. We’re going to give you some ways that we can do that.

Libby Stewart:

Yeah. I think, we’ve touched on the word belonging, we’ve touched on inclusion and I think belonging is becoming more of a concept that people collectively recognizing is just super important. Beyond being a basic need and beyond means something that we’re not doing, why is belonging so important as a specific variable? Well, basically, the long and short of this story is it hurts when we don’t belong, and it hurts when we’re excluded. The exclusion is actually super harmful to us as human beings, it’s actually a lot of evolutionary theories around this in terms of survival because we always in the pack, and the second you got removed from the pack unit that basically meant death. Sometimes they say that’s why it’s so important.

Libby Stewart:

Some great examples of this and how this has played out in the social ostracism research. This is something that Natasha and I have been poking about a lot, it’s so easy to trigger that sense of exclusion. They did one study at one point in time where they brought participants into a room, and they were told they were going to play a computerized Ball Toss Game. They were told it was actually just a mental visualization task or something to that end, they were told it was about something completely else. Basically, they were brought to the room and then they said, “You’re going to be playing this game and only two other computers, it’s not even other human beings.” The idea of the game was just to toss the ball from one person to the other.

Libby Stewart:

What they did in the toss is actually, toss the ball to the participant twice. It was all fairly evenly going twice, then I stopped passing the ball to them at all. They continued on and then afterwards they did a whole bunch of surveys. What were the outcomes? Well, people reported things like feeling less belonging, less self-esteem, lower rating of meaningful existence. I’ve heard some studies saying even thoughts of death perhaps even occurred, which is-

Natasha Ouslis:

Heavy stuff.

Libby Stewart:

Heavy stuff. I mean, this is just insane because it’s a Ball Toss Game on a computer for how long? Maybe 10 minutes, who knows. They knew it was computers, but this is how wired we are to thinking we were excluded from that scenario. There’s actually, this has been replicated in other research as well. They’ve had African American participants come into a room doing the same activity and they were told that the other two people playing were members of the KKK. Not even a group that they wanted to be a part of, the same effects were elicited. They felt excluded, they had that low meaningful existence. Those feelings like, “Why do I even exist?” Which is absolutely insane because obviously I want to be part of these groups.

Libby Stewart:

This has been highly replicated. There’s a lot of research and social ostracism. I just wanted to show you that this effect is really powerful to actually be excluded from the group. You want to just turn your back on someone. That’s actually quite big, and it’s going to trigger a lot of thoughts and emotions that are so deeply wide within us. It’s quite a challenge. It’s been shown in other studies as well. Look, not just in the social psychology space, but in neuroscience. In studies where they’ve popped folks into the fMRI scanners, these are the scanners that show what parts of your brain are being activated when you do a task or an activity. They might show you predictions of being excluded, ostracized, and they’d be this in various ways.

Libby Stewart:

Basically, they show that the same region of the brain that processes physical pain is highlighted when you experience social exclusion. It’s literally processing, you may as well be putting someone’s hand on a hot plate. That’s the kind of scenario that we’re thinking about. You might go into a social interaction and go, “It wasn’t intentional.” Even if it was unintentional if you bump into someone, and you popped their hand on a hot plate, surely you would recognize that this is actually going to hurt them. Unfortunately, because we don’t recognize the severity of this, we don’t often do that and think about that in terms of our practices, and the harm that could be involved.

Natasha Ouslis:

Just like we don’t know if our brain is tired. We don’t really know if we’re feeling that exclusion in a social way, but we can see the physical aspect of being tired or being hurt. It’s really visible to us, but those invisible ones are just as powerful as you’re saying.

Libby Stewart:

Sometimes even more powerful because people don’t feel like it’s necessary. Why am I reacting like this? Maybe it’s me.

Natasha Ouslis:

Yeah. Happening more often, am I breaking my bones, hearing things from people are exclusionary.

Libby Stewart:

Look, this is something that I don’t think this is as far as anybody social support and community every single day, every clinical intervention, every special intervention, community interventions. Social support is one of the biggest buffers for anything like suicidal ideation, depression, a whole host of clinical outcomes.

Natasha Ouslis:

Hopelessness. Yeah, all of that.

Libby Stewart:

Everything, it’s a single variable that we can say safely, do you have a social support system? Because, it’s so important to us as a buffer, we need to be included in that.

Natasha Ouslis:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Libby Stewart:

They’re just a few examples, but we really want to reign home the point. I mean, this is really wide into us and exclusion hurts. We need to think about this belonging piece. We need to think about inclusion. We do this at work all the time. We have poor people processes, and I’m saying processes in particular because processes are the things we follow. They create that semblance of structure. We may have passed over great candidates and hiring and selection is we have no fair or standard process for a meeting that bias or mitigating that bias. We might’ve passed over for promotions and given them no feedback at all because we don’t have a formal performance management system or transparent process for promotions or defined parameters for why we promote our people and what we promote them on.

Libby Stewart:

Perhaps people weren’t invited to participate in a leadership program because there’s no rigor in the selection process. People were just hand selected, or they look like they’re high potential. Staffing people for projects because the selection was arbitrary and whoever the lead liked at the time they went, “Yep, I want that person on my team because I like them.” As I mentioned, making key decisions in the absence of somebody that you knew this really directly involves, if you’re going to give people stretch projects, if you’re going to make a decision about their work and how it’s impacted. Let’s not trigger their autonomy in that space and take the control away as well. I find there’s always an internal rationale for this.

Natasha Ouslis:

Yeah. It’s all about efficiency, right? We didn’t make that decision with you because we had to move quick, or it’s too much work to explain to you and get you up to speed on the whole meeting. Someone is sick for one day and then all these things happen, the whole situation changed under their feet. Or imagine you’re gone for six months, 12, 18 months on maternity leave, you’re taking a parental leave and now you don’t even recognize this place anymore. All of these decisions have been made away from you and then you’re supposed to just pop back in as if nothing has changed.

Libby Stewart:

Yeah, absolutely. I think the key point to think about here is that, what impact does that have from a business perspective? We know that, that will impede productivity. Any anxiety is going like people are not putting all their effort and energy toward their work, then it’s going to impede their productivity. It’s going to impede your projects. It’s not just about being nice.

Natasha Ouslis:

They’re worrying about is they’re spending all this time worrying instead of working.

Libby Stewart:

They don’t want to work together, where’s the cohesion, right? That there’s so many ramifications from a business perspective. You could talk about that all day. I mean, the gratification we want to talk about today is the diversity and inclusion agenda. We’ve mentioned all of these examples. What does this mean for impacting that agenda? Well, obviously a key barrier to diversity inclusion is a lack of inclusion and belonging in our work environments. You always hear the expression that diversity is getting people to the party. Inclusion is getting them to dance. Well, collectively, companies are recognizing that actually inclusion needs to come before diversity. Why is that? Because if you bring people into the front door, into a really hostile environment it’s going to backfire.

Libby Stewart:

From that individual’s perspective, look at all the harmful effects of that exclusion when they not accepted into that group immediately. I hear so many examples of this and it’s really quite scary actually. It actually tends to backfire too because for the majority group, I’ve worked with male dominated workforces that brought one female into a role. It’s reinforced the male stereotype because when they leave they’re like, “Yeah, they couldn’t cut it here.” Well, no, they left because we didn’t make that a welcoming environment. We didn’t set them up for success. It’s not easy to get people to dance.

Libby Stewart:

We need to focus on getting people to dance at the party. We need good music. We need to good atmosphere. We need good lighting maybe a DJ, a space that allows for mingling, a hype man, whatever you need. You don’t just toss them all into a room and go, “Come on guys, let’s party.” It doesn’t happen that way. We need to really think of what are all those processes? What is the lighting? Where are we going to make this happen? What is the physical space? How are we doing this?

Natasha Ouslis:

For the people coming in and the people who were there, because you might be assuming that everyone feels included who’s in this company right now. When we hear these exit interviews and we know people left because they didn’t feel welcomed because they didn’t have a challenge, the process can be improved for them and it can be improved, like you said, because we need to get our house in order before we start inviting people over for that.

Libby Stewart:

Absolutely. Look, we know that this is important. We know there are ramifications of not doing this. I have this posted up, some actually pictures here. This is just about the gender pay gap. There are so many issues more globally around the diversity and inclusion agenda and I’ll need to factor in more intersectionality and so forth. Basically, one of the key ways we can do this is to start removing some of these barriers to inclusion, through our practices. We need to stop moving on this now. Sometimes, I think Natasha you made a great point before, sometimes it seems like a really big, big thing. It’s a really big thing to digest, like how am I going to make any impact or fair and standard practices will make an impact even if it’s just through one thing. Like affecting your performance culture, affecting one.

Natasha Ouslis:

It doesn’t have to be overwhelming.

Libby Stewart:

Yes.

Natasha Ouslis:

We don’t need to have 18 million interventions to solve each of these problems separately. As we can see, the pay gap can be related to the work that we have, the flex work culture. If we have that, do we have to be always on? What are our performance reviews you’ve been faced on? What is our performance management criteria? Because if me sending all these emails when I’m supposed to be at home or supposed to be sleeping is benefiting you and giving you brownie points for people who are making this decision than people and folks who have children who have other responsibilities, elder care are going to have a harder time doing this. Can we address both pay gaps and flexibility and work life balance and all those kinds of things in one way with one solution and one process.

Libby Stewart:

Approach. Yeah, absolutely. I think we need to start changing now I think is the message as well because I mean we’re getting growing attention toward this fight, changes need to start happening immediately. World economic forum said it’s going to take 202 years to close the gender pay gap at our current rate of change. I’m sure it’s worse for other groups not getting as much attention. There are actionable steps we can take, if we take this down. I think the key message here is obviously we need to get better at creating a more inclusive work environments and how we do these in our practices as well.

Libby Stewart:

Just to quickly summarize where we’ve landed, we know how important belonging is in the workplace and that this is a basic psychological need and what those needs are. We know how much it hurts to experience unfairness and exclusion, so much scientific research to show that this isn’t just fluffy stuff. It is real. We know that it’s negatively impacting the diversity and inclusion agenda, which dramatically needs to be addressed through our processes and through inclusive work environments. Finally, we know that actually people process, in particular really need to focus on this, and we can do this through things like performance management. They have the power to play a huge role for us and be a lever actually that we can use. I guess the flip side to that is if we don’t use it and just let it float, it’s the thing that will be a detriment. We have to be intentional with this in terms of, how we design that. Let’s talk solutions.

Natasha Ouslis:

Yeah. We have a lot of solutions that people love to tell us and Libby and I have heard these before, often we’ll approach this from quota perspective. We’ll roll out unconscious bias training for everyone. Like companies at Starbucks do when they have a big event to the media and they close all their stores down. We hire a high level person in this role or are we here all the time? We need to shift hearts and minds first. We need to do these things first. If we don’t have someone, for example, in that diversity officer role who’s changing processes, it’s not just having that person in this position that now we can tick the box. We’ve hired someone into the C-suite level. It’s making the change that they’re going to make. It’s actually the process, it’s not just the awareness. What have you heard? You’ve heard these hearts and minds a lot.

Libby Stewart:

Yeah, I have. I mean, I think these magic pills, and we’ve done that in inverted commas, right? It’s always a quick fix, a stop gap, a bandaid. There’s a few of them, right? I here unconscious bias training all the time. I don’t mind unconscious bias training, but it has to be paired with an intervention. It’s really asking people to rise above something that is unconscious. It’s okay to have awareness, but usually use that as an awareness piece around your change management process. If I’m going to change something in your hiring and selection process, that’s when unconscious bias training to tell you why I changed your process so that we could mitigate bias because we mitigated it through using an objective criteria and doing X, Y and Z. We’re moving names from your resumes, et cetera, et cetera.

Libby Stewart:

So often what I see is, “I’ve got a problem with bias in my company. Can we just roll out training?” To them that’s the solution. Well, I’m going to tell you right now, there’s absolutely no evidence to say that that works and translates to behavioral change. We need to be careful how we use these solutions. We can use it as part of a bigger picture, but it isn’t the solution in and of itself. Hire a diversity officer. Well, we’re pretty much just delegating the responsibility to someone else. Are we taking accountability for that ourselves? Yes, I get it. In some ways we want to show that we’re taking this seriously, you want to show a symbol, but how much are we leaving that as a box ticking exercise as you mentioned before?

Libby Stewart:

The biggest thing, we need to shift hearts and minds. I mean, I come across this all the time. I know you do too. I think from a psychological perspective that’s going to take a long time. The stats we had before 202 years to close the gap, I’m not waiting the people that come around. I mean, I think actually one of the best examples of this it’s called a directional nudge. It was a study that was done. Basically, they had this horrible example of urinals were really messy, and I think it was in a European Train Station, Airport? Yeah, in the airports they’re really gross, and it was in the men’s urinals. Basically, they decided, “Okay, well how are we going to address this because this is pretty gross?”

Libby Stewart:

If they wanted to shift hearts and minds, would they have put up some campaigns to be like, “I’ll think of the janitors, this is an awful job for them. We really need to empathize with the janitors.” Or maybe they could have given them a vision and be like, “Everyone, don’t you want to go to a clean bathroom? Would you like a nice experience when you go to the bathroom?” Obviously, these things wouldn’t work. What actually ended up working is putting a little sticker of a fly in the bowl and the urinal and that directed their stream onto the fly bowl and that stopped the mess that was happening in these urinals because we’re able to redirect behavior.

Libby Stewart:

In that instance there was a quick nudge. It was an automatic thing for some reason putting that fly in there worked. Then afterwards, I’m sure everyone looked around and went, “Actually, this is really clean space. It’s not okay in here to just drop a towel on the floor. It’s not okay in here to make a mess.” They nudge the behavior before the hearts and minds started to shift behind it. I think this is something that we recognize. Micro behavior change, really makes a big impact and people can see, “Okay, I get it now.” I think we can employ that.

Natasha Ouslis:

Yeah. I think we don’t need to go through all those steps. Right? This is the challenge with awareness then we’re going to intend to change and then we’re going to try to change and then we’re going to do this and instead of we can go straight to, let’s say, intervene on the behavior directly. That’s what we are talking about things that we hear. I mean, around the hearts and minds around leaning in and such like that is the confidence you got to smile more. You got to be so good that you can rise above these systems and decision processes that are not actually helping you or at companies. These aren’t working. Why are they not working?

Libby Stewart:

Look, when we look at these things, we’re asking the individual to rise above the system. I guess one thing I want to flag here is we’re not saying that these things aren’t important. We absolutely are saying these things are important. On an individual level, yes, you should try and embrace these characteristics and behaviors. Yes, we should ideally shift hearts and minds over time, but there are things we need to do now. We need to do them foster. If we want to do them faster, it’s actually not that great. If an organization goes, “We’ve got a problem with women getting into leadership.” It’s their problem. You guys, you need to run in confidence training or something. You need to get more confident.

Natasha Ouslis:

Be more like men.

Libby Stewart:

Sometimes these solutions can often feel really overwhelming them for the individual in that position because you’re like, “The system doesn’t support me, it feels like everything is against me.” I think, solutions that require us to rise above the system. Again, not saying they don’t help sometimes, but then not the whole answer. We need to look at the bigger picture and the system and the process and the support that we are setting up.

Natasha Ouslis:

Because, we don’t really want more people to just be dominating acting like this. There fortunately a lot of ways that we can approach our solution development design that do work. Having more consistent people, systems and processes, increasing that fair news, providing the transparency and structure, this helps us make our decisions better. It helps people who should be there and should get to the next stage in hiring or promotion process there. They’re where they should be and not being overlooked for something that’s irrelevant.

Natasha Ouslis:

Evidence based decision making, looking at your organizational data, the scientific evidence, the insights from your practitioners who’ve been doing this and gathering that, honing their judgment. Hearing from stakeholders is going to help us to make better decisions that don’t end up leaving people behind that actually consider what works, but take the science of behavior change like you said, apply that to make faster progress. Then putting this altogether into designing for the behaviors we want affecting people and letting them have choices, right? Not just laws, policies, punishment, but designing the environment, making it easier to actually be inclusive the way we intend to.

Libby Stewart:

I mean, I think to that point if we progress on, this is what we’re talking about. You’re probably familiar with thinking fast and slow, but for those of you that aren’t familiar with this, we have two different modes of thinking most of the time or all of the time I should say. There’re some very significant differences between the three. System one behavior is a savior because it’s an automated fast and unconscious area of our mind that helps us process a whole load of information with us. So much information coming to us at one point in time, that this system one thinking which is what we spend the majority of our time in is what is actually responsible for all these shortcuts and biases and things that we see coming out in practice.

Libby Stewart:

Though it saves us, but it also limits us, which is why we need to engage in system two thinking from time to time, which is that critical logical brain that we have that slow and conscious and effortful. It’s there for those complex decisions. The problem is, is that system two gets tired easily. We can only use it from time to time. So many of the solutions that we’ve talked about that we see organizations hamming home, requiring us to use system two more often. I guess in what we’re trying to say is if we design for the behavior, we allow people when they’re in system one to automate some more of these decisions. If we designed for system one just a little bit more well designed to nudge people into system two, for example, through a selection process if they’re going too quickly, but then you’ve got a rigid, robust criteria that people have to justify decisions against. All of a sudden they have to switch into system two cause they can’t quickly accelerate through the process.

Libby Stewart:

Other way around, if you’re setting up a system for behavior and you want to go, “Okay, we want to look at system one.” I think there’s the example of, we weren’t getting enough organ donors at one point. Instead of making the model or something where people had to think about it and wanting to engage and opting into organ donation, they actually instead made it a default setting that you were opted in and if you really were against it you would opt out because there was a barrier to behavior because it required us to think a little bit more. There was another barrier, there was something else that we had to do and maybe we didn’t even know about it. Again, design the system to facilitate the outcome that you actually want. Taking to an account how our brain processes information.

Natasha Ouslis:

Yeah, absolutely.

Libby Stewart:

Stop telling people to just be better humans.

Natasha Ouslis:

Exactly. What we can do is design the systems and processes with the evidence of what works and that facilitates the behavior we do want. We can set the system, like you said, we can take the heroic effort out and save our time for other things that we need to put all of that effort into. We’re designing that works and we’re using these evidence based solutions. Why do we have to pass the interventions? What do we do to take into account the evidence?

Libby Stewart:

Yeah. I mean, when we look at the evidence I guess it’s basically questioning our assumptions. I think if particularly in the diversity and inclusion space, I see so many organizations going, “We’re going to promote this, we’re going to do this, we’re going to do this program, we’re going to set up any out pants forth.” What are the evidence first? Because, a lot of the time it can be counterintuitive. There was an organization, they were looking at women getting selected into a leadership program, and they gave them bias statistics, right? It was clearly biased on the selection criteria for this program. Men were being favored. They compare this in two organizations, one organization that promoted D & I and one that didn’t.

Libby Stewart:

What they found is women in the organization that promoted D & I didn’t identify the instances of discrimination because they believed they’re in a workplace that wouldn’t do that. This is just great, just one example of how something that was really well intentioned backfired because people weren’t identifying instances of discrimination. No one was calling it out, no one was changing the system, and it completely biases practices were happening. It’s just that on the surface level it looked like.

Natasha Ouslis:

They said they were fair. Then people were like, “They might have been.”

Libby Stewart:

They bought into it, they didn’t challenge it. That’s just one example of many. Go back to the evidence and get curious about it because the evidence and designing for the brain, these two things will save you. Let’s talk about that in PM.

Natasha Ouslis:

For sure. We can apply these to performance management as any process with these structures and decision points, we can redesign those decision points. Let’s jump into a little bit of this evidence, I want you to reflect on what you think the best way is to improve employee reactions to performance management. Think about whether senior leadership develop it there, they have more experience we can ensure that people feel heard when sharing their views. We could instead keep the process really private and make sure that other people aren’t affecting it or hearing about it or we can involve them in developing the process.

Natasha Ouslis:

A lot of different strategies we could take for performance management here and what people did fortunately try to answer this question is they combined 27 studies in total there was over 6,000 people that they are evaluating here of what strategies are related most with satisfaction for people going through the process, their fairness, and their motivation to go and actually use the information they got from PM. Fortunately, the active participation in involving people in developing the process building and chances so that they feel heard is really the best thing that works out here. Giving people a chance to express their opinions, giving people more control for that autonomy, bringing them in so that they feel they belong.

Libby Stewart:

Yeah. I mean look, this is really important for us too, because this is what we’ve tried to build in with 7Geese in the work that we’re doing here. This is why we have so many channels for feedback, they drive fairness. We’ve built everything with the idea of having an employee empowerment in mind because it’s so fundamental to making sure this actually works. We look at meta-analysis that are combining the effects to one huge. For us this means this is something legitimate that we need to incorporate. For a lot of, an example, a lot of the processes we recommend a notch within our system might be an employee led one-on-one where you’re going, “Okay, I’m going to pick the questions because there’s a need that I’m not having met. I really want to be heard on this front. I want a coaching one-on-one.”

Libby Stewart:

I’ll pick the questions that we’re going to talk about and I’m going to prepare my responses, I’m going to send that through. Then we can have a conversation that is a little bit employee directed, but still getting that manager input to notch the conversation they want as opposed to going to a manager and saying, “You’re not coaching me enough. This isn’t good.” You want to feel heard and you want a solution, well this is one way to do it. We’ve got feedback mechanisms in there where you can give people feedback, you can ask for feedback. You’ve also got mechanisms where you can actually feel heard in terms of getting feedback from a broader audience and sharing that with different people. You’re not just blocked at the manager level, it’s a fully transparent system where you can share and review that feedback.

Natasha Ouslis:

You’re making it less awkward, you’re making it easier to do these things. It’s weird to ask for feedback.

Libby Stewart:

It’s weird.

Natasha Ouslis:

If a button right that I can do and it’s like a legitimate part of our business and our process, then I click the button, ask for the feedback instead of going and having a weird potentially exclusionary situation going.

Libby Stewart:

Yes, and also that sense of control. I can control my development and I can drive it. That sense of autonomy that we’re trying to drive there as a basic need, but we do this in goal setting. Here’s the direction, I’m not going to tell you how to get there. You’re the expert in field, you’re the monster of your domain. You tell me how you’re going to get there. Come up with something, you do whatever you want. I’m not going to tell you, but this is what success will look like as an end state. Again, we want people to feel like there’s a fairness in that and that they’re being heard and they have input into that process.

Natasha Ouslis:

Yeah. One more, a really cool meta-analysis also to discuss is when our performance management ratings most accurate and don’t have that inflation where everyone is a five and a five, everyone is a four to a five. You can use those ratings for pay maybe that actually, because it’s so important, it makes them more accurate. Reflect on whether you think for promotion development or when they’re just hit in a way and normally use them. What’s the best instance and opportunity for this? Unfortunately, this is another question that we answered. 22 studies looking at tons people in total over 55,000 compared when performance evaluations where we’re for pay and promotion, admin positions or for that growth development and feedback. What we find is with development and feedback, they’re more accurate and they’re less inflated to just be like, “You get a five, you get a five, you get a five.”

Libby Stewart:

Yeah, absolutely. Look, we have tried to apply this as well. I mean, in all of the recommended practices we have, we actually completely separate out your promotional salary review from your development and growth reviews so that you could have really robust conversations about growth and development because it’s the growth and development that will really notch that performance. It’s a safe space. You’re just trying to get better and you’re trying to see that progress. The problem I see happening with a lot of organizations in terms of these growth conversations is the fact that they’re not based on anything robust.

Libby Stewart:

We also need data to drive that conversation. We need feedback, and this is actually something we factored in. We built a feature around reviews, and in that reviews feature, what we did is we tried to pull through all of the data that people were putting into the platform over a period of time. Your goals, your values based recognitions, your feedbacks, and people were actually able to reflect on these pieces of feedback and have a really robust conversation with their manager around. I don’t know about you, but I don’t often get the time to sit back and go, “How am I going in terms of my strengths and my development areas?” Oftentimes, again, you’re biased even about yourself. It’s a really robust growth conversation that you’re able to have.

Natasha Ouslis:

Yeah. What can we do to just put this all together? Well, what we’ve put together is linking those needs together, linking the challenges, the involvement, inspiration, inclusion and giving you a little bit of these design elements that we can do. Some of those considerations include the administrative processes. You can get feedback before you can help people to set those goals by giving them guidance, but having that autonomous management and control over what’s going to happen in the one-on-ones, when I’m going to have them, what do I need from you as a manager?

Natasha Ouslis:

We’ve got some stuff in here, but these are also linked together, right? Data-driven performance reviews helps to involve people in their data, creating it, managing it, where should it be used for, where should it go? It’s also something that helps to include people and make it more fair. We’re looking across these as really complimentary and serving to satisfy all those needs. What’s great is that we can use tech to facilitate process transparency to have this data feed directly into our conversations, to actually allow people to monitor their goals, to see the progress, to watch how they are growing and improving.

Libby Stewart:

Yeah, absolutely. I think like we’ve listed here a few recommendations, Natasha and I could pull together many, many more. This was a quick brainstorm that we were pulling together in the end of all of this to go, there are so many factors we can consider in this process. We can’t obviously be too prescriptive here either because every company culture is different, every cadence is different. We’ve got to make this make sense for different companies, but when it comes to that inclusion front, I guess the key point being here, having a fair standardized process in some rhythm or structure to it. You can do this in a nice way, you don’t have to lead with a stick. You can lead with the carrot.

Libby Stewart:

When it comes to performance management, I’m having an ongoing continuous process we can remove and mitigate a lot of the bias associated with those, once a year reviews because we’ve got many, many touchpoints, much more data and we’re using this in proactive and different ways that are fit for purpose. We’re not trying to squeeze this into a box. We’ve got data driven growth conversations, which I think is so important because as leaders too, it’s often quite difficult. If I’ve got 55 reports, how do I dig in and really serve this person? How do I help them through this conversation to see that progress? So that we don’t have a horrible tone of a conversation with her like, “I just got bored or I wasn’t challenged or I needed a new challenge.” Is all we hear all the time.

Libby Stewart:

The fairness factor as well, because if we can do all of these things and remove these barriers at the very fundamental, component about performance management, doing all these things will actually elicit all these outcomes, like a more diverse inclusive workforce. It will elicit innovation. It will elicit better financial results. If we can address these things at that basic core, we can actually foster these outcomes that we’re looking for. It doesn’t have to be a separate initiative just around D & I.

Natasha Ouslis:

Yeah, absolutely. Bringing this all together, these are things that you can do right now to redesign from that legacy system and add what we know now about how people are motivated, what we want to experience to focus on them and design that experience for better processes. Like you said, better performance through continuous performance management and stuff. We’re really excited to bring this to you and give you some places to launch.

Libby Stewart:

Some nuggets.

Natasha Ouslis:

Launch off this conversation and these changes.

Libby Stewart:

Yeah, absolutely. Look, we’re right at the end here. We’ve got three minutes to spare, Esther, do we have time for Q and A or would you like to put up the poll?

Esther:

You could probably squeak in one question.

Libby Stewart:

Okay. Let’s open the Q and A.

Natasha Ouslis:

Yeah. Let me move this out of the way. This basic needs calls to mind David Rock’s were in SCARF Model. Absolutely, a lot of overlap, especially with the SCARF Model. Some really great insights there into what can drive it. You see relatedness is actually another term for belonging. That one is so key. The autonomy is there, but the SCARF also gives you a sense of what will drive the feeling of those needs to be satisfied. Certainty is a tool to reach the fulfillment of those basic needs. The fairness as well, a tool to make this happen. So, really great insights. Thank you for that one.

Natasha Ouslis:

Cognitive diversity, another area we’re wondering about and interested in. Absolutely, there are different things that we can do within the culture, within performance management to value people skills, neuro diverse folks skills as well, and even as you’re mentioning also with the hiring processes. This redesign to take a lens on the extreme user in these who we also want to include in can also end up transforming that for everyone. What do you think Libby?

Libby Stewart:

Absolutely. I think having a focus, and this is very much what we’re saying is if you design it with the human in mind, you’re going to allow the outcome full cognitive diversity as opposed to just focusing our initiatives on minority groups. Because we can see with all this intersectionality, we can see in or with these different minority groups, so many initiatives just focus on one minority group. Like, are we doing something for women? Are we doing something for this area, that area, et cetera? That’s not the way to go about it. The way to go about it is actually, “Yeah, maybe we need to have a couple of initiatives to make sure that we’re focusing on their needs, but at the core of it making sure all of our systems and structures are evidence-based, they’re fair instruction and they’re taking into the human brain.” Because in essence, if we do that at the fundamental core of it, we’re actually going to facilitate the outcomes, which are cognitive diversity.

Natasha Ouslis:

Zarina, I see your other comment just really briefly. Thank you for calling out on our team, our use of guys because that’s a force of habit and that’s a behavior change that, at least for me, it’s very difficult to shift. I agree, it’s exclusionary. We work on it all the time and yet when I’m just snapping back into these forces of habit, we find that so, so difficult. I need a big sticker on my laptop changing my language, but this is another way and thank you for calling it out that we can change, but also how hard it is to change. How much support we need, even ourselves, of course, even working in this space to improve. Thank you for all your comments here.

May Chau

May is a Content Strategist contributing to the improvement of modern performance management at 7Geese. Connect with her via may@7geese.com