Gaurav Kapil is currently leading HR for a deep tech Start-Up. With more than 15 years of solid experience in all HR functions & people interventions, including Talent Acquisition, Performance Management, HR Shared Services, and HR transformation, he believes in building organizational capability through high-performing teams.

His work spans diverse industries, including tech, education, SCM, oil & gas and e-commerce. Gaurav is an Engineer and holds an MBA in HR from MDI, Gurgaon.

In this Interview, Gaurav Kapil shares his take on current and future Performance Management practices in Start-ups:

What do you think about the current and future implications of OKRs in Startup organizations?

When Start-ups evaluate OKRs to traditional annual appraisals, it is more evident that OKRs introduce a refreshing perspective on performance management. They emphasize the importance of establishing a regular & a frequent cadence for performance assessment while incorporating the changes in ever-moving goalposts. Moreover, an integral aspect of OKRs is the concept of cascading top-level objectives down to individual contributors, while maintaining the essence of stretch.

However, the key differentiator, is at the latter part of this equation, which involves CFR—Conversations, Feedback, and Review, which requires a dedicated focus to run optimally.

In your opinion, should startups embark on their performance management journey right from their early stages of operation, and why? Based on your experience, what methods or tools have you found most effective in tracking and measuring employee performance over time?

In my opinion, the key factor is deciding when to introduce a more structured tool for measuring performance. All reward conversations have past performance as one of their discussion points.

As a startup grows and its organizational structure extends beyond the third layer or to a point where top management is no longer aware of every employee’s activities, it becomes increasingly crucial to introduce a structured mechanism.

In my experience initiation of dialogue itself starts creating the alignment between what is important and where the focused efforts should be. While basic Excel is very effective in initiating and tracking employee performance, I am of the opinion that an automated tool (linked spreadsheets/ Excel templates) will help us going the long way since this performance data will start speaking for itself within 6 months and after first cycle, will have a place to have long term career conversations.

In your leadership journey, how have you encouraged managers to provide regular and constructive feedback to their team members? Any examples that you would like to share?

The journey of understanding revolves around the importance of connection and feedback. This includes painting an honest picture of where situation can lead to, including painful part of letting a talent go and/ or unfairly rewarding someone disproportionate to the value generation. While most people on the face of it understand the value of giving frequent feedback, some managers come back with an adamant view that everyone is already aware and why do they need to waste time to give feedback that their members already know.

Regular feedback has three major positives going for it. Firstly, it facilitates course-correction as many team members may not fully comprehend their performance trajectory. Secondly, for startups, where change is a constant, frequent feedback sessions serve as a compass, helping to align everyone amid these shifting goalposts. Thirdly, when the performance cycle concludes, it’s not merely a matter of having a good people process; it’s about ensuring a fair process execution that team members were guided and informed about what was expected of them. After all, their future rewards hinge on their past performance, and any perceived fairness gap in the process could potentially lead to suboptimal future performance or attrition.

What recommendations do you have for maintaining a culture of continuous employee engagement, improvement, and motivation within an organization?

My personal leadership style tends to be more intense than what I often recommend to others. Personally, I am a firm believer in providing the team with a consistent overview of the big picture and making frequent course corrections based on weekly or even daily task updates. Additionally, I advocate for monthly one-on-one meetings and the practice of providing written feedback and feedforward to team members.

I would recommend Leaders to inculcate the process for atleast a monthly discussion and in case of large teams atleast a quarterly connection. And any such deep conversation should be documented for current clarity and future reference.

There are two key benefits to this approach. Firstly, it fosters the establishment and acceptance of a two-way communication channel, recognizing that it takes time for individuals to reach a level of maturity in discussing performance-related matters. Secondly, these conversations serve as a means to cascade the big picture down the organizational hierarchy, open up channels for feedback, and create a supportive environment for consistently aligning efforts.
If someone were to ask for my top tip,

So, if I am asked for the best practices, I would recommend implementing monthly connections and diligently documenting them.