Rajesh Balasubramanian , Consultant – OD & HR

Rajesh Balasubramanian , Consultant – OD & HR

Rajesh Balasubramanian is a senior HR professional with 24+ years of managing people and HR operations in consulting and corporate roles. He has demonstrated capabilities in the HR domain and worked with clients in India, KSA, Oman, and Ghana. Skilled in HR operations, budgeting, change management and leveraging data-driven approaches for transformation, he is equally proficient in stakeholder engagement, collaborating with CXOs, Board of Directors and employees to translate business imperatives into effective interventions for measurable results. He has been consulting in the areas of organisation design, performance management, talent management, total rewards consulting and organisational change & effectiveness. 

Rajesh has been associated with companies like Shining, TIG Global, Randstad etc prior to spearhead the people management agenda of Synergy Maritime, as Group Head – HR. He is currently working as an independent HR&OD Consultant co-creating progressive HR programs for clients in India and Middle East. He is a Management graduate in HR and alumnus of IIM Bangalore with psychometric assessment certification from SHL group.

In this Interview, Mr. Balasubramanian shares his take on current Performance Management practices:

Based on your experience, how can we balance the need for formal performance assessments with informal, day-to-day feedback and coaching?

In my professional experience, a combination of formal and informal performance discussions is essential for effective continuous performance management. These two components, though complementary, serve different purposes. Informal discussions primarily focus on providing targeted guidance or specific insights related to performance aspects of task completion or behavioural aspects whereas formal discussions revolves around overall performance and behavioural aspects. 

Informal discussions are typically not officially documented or recorded, making it difficult to use them as part of formal review discussions, though they play a crucial role in course correction and immediate feedback for improving one’s performance. Ideally, a routine of formally recording feedback discussions and tracking progress including that of the informal feedbacks given to associates, wherever possible. 

To streamline the process, formal check-ins can be scheduled monthly, with a mid-year overall review (with or without ratings) and a final year-end review aimed at assigning ratings, while information feedback discussions are not bound by timelines and frequency of occurrences. This structured approach ensures that both formal and informal discussions are made part of the performance management model. Even if monthly check-ins pose a challenge, a quarterly check-in, at least, is essential to maintain the momentum of ongoing feedback and performance conversation culture. 

In fact, I consider use of performance conversation would be more apt than performance assessments or review, when it comes to performance management modelling. 

Could you discuss how to handle situations where employees consistently fail to meet their performance goals, and what support can be offered to help them improve?

One of the most pertinent point, when performance expectations are not getting met by employees consistently is to follow an approach of diagnosis, design and deliver. 

Diagnosis does mean, identifying the root cause for the failure. The issues could be but not limited to lack of role clarity, unclear performance expectations, inadequate support from team and or manager, unavailability of tools/techniques for performing, improper or inadequate training and knowledge transfer, lack of employee commitment, role fitment issues, not using the employees’ actual skills, lack of feedback etc. An open and candid conversation with the employees to ascertain the challenges would help to identify the cause of concern. The diagnosis would clearly pave the way to design the most relevant intervention that needed to be implemented to be able to make the employee perform better.  

The design phase would cover the action planning that are necessitated to ensure the challenges identified are circumscribed to the extent possible. This is normally considered as part of the Employee Assistance Program in some companies. During this phase, the HR and manager can design interventions depending on the diagnosis, such as providing regular feedback, setting more clearer performance expectations, role changes, team changes, skill enhancements through trainings including performance improvement plans (PIP) with a clear roadmap with action plans, timelines and expected outcomes. 

The Delivery phase is the actual implementation of the interventions decided in the design phase and ensuring a continuous monitoring and recording of the effectiveness and outcomes of the interventions. Needless to mention the approach may vary based on the individual and context. The objective is to create a supportive environment that facilitates improvement while maintaining accountability for performance expectations. 

According to you, what role does feedback play in managing performance failure, and how can we provide constructive feedback that helps employees improve?

Feedback plays a crucial role in managing performance failure, providing a mechanism for employees to understand their strengths, areas for improvement, and expectations. Constructive feedback is particularly important, as it focuses on development rather than criticism, fostering a positive and growth-oriented work environment.

Remember, the goal of feedback is to facilitate growth and improvement. When delivered effectively, both positive and negative feedback contribute to a culture of continuous learning and development. Positive feedback is aimed at reinforcement of positive behaviour while negative feedbacks are aimed at the required behavioural changes. Balancing both will help to deliver an effective feedback. 

The effective feedback is expected to achieve the three things:

  1. Continue what one is doing (positive) 
  2. Start something new 
  3. Stop something which one is doing currently (negative) 

Approach to effective feedback should be 

  1. Specific and descriptive (can use situation, behaviour and impact model)  
  2. Timely (when the time is appropriate) 
  3. Articulating about the behaviour/performance in a specific context and not targeting personality or being judgemental 
  4. Giving time for reflection and action 
  5. Connected to or aligned with the goal/role requirements, not generic and out of context

A psychologically safe environment is a mandatory or given requirement for the feedback coaching to be effective in an organisation. 

The emerging Gen AI tools can significantly contribute to this by analyzing the activities, requirements, personality traits, and other relevant factors of employees to determine the appropriate type of feedback required and crafting the words carefully for effective communication.  

Can you suggest some strategies which can be followed to keep a track of performances of employees on a continuous basis?

According to me, two things can be done easily. 

One, as indicated earlier pertaining to feedback mechanisms, monthly check-ins and recording of feedback and progress can certainly be institutionalised. This does help in ensuring the various feedbacks given/received and the reflection and imbibing of the same thereof, enabling the managers to ascertain overall performance from tasks accomplishments, understanding facilitating and inhibiting factors, behavioural tenets etc.

The second one to me are the use of productivity tools such as project management tools like Asana, Trello, Jira etc and Communication and collaborations tools for real time managing and working on documents, communication etc such as Slack, MS teams, Google Workspace etc 

The performance management module in HRMS, if integrated with the productivity tools and or using tools within the HRMS application such as task management, knowledge management, goal management, continuous performance management, rewards/recognition tools etc will ensure collecting various information that are relevant to understand the performance on a real time basis. 

Assigning tasks through productivity/tasks management tools in-built or integrated with the HRMS/PMS module would help fetching performance data such as completion timelines, quality of tasks (reworking and change requested), quantity of tasks (role load) etc which can be directly used in assessing the performance on a continuous basis. 

Goal setting and monitoring tools which are SMART goals or OKR based ones, can give clear visuals pertaining to the goal progress and status including the level of achievements. 

Collaboration/communication tools would give insights pertaining to timeliness and quality of employee contributions on a real time basis which helps ascertaining who is performing at what levels and how. 

Continuous performance management tools are those which can record feedbacks on specific areas and incidents including acting as the old critical incident diary method. Ensuring that these applications which are easily made accessible for managers and employees, can be of immense help in providing specific inputs which can act as data points for assessing the overall performance. 

Rewards and recognition tools are akin to continuous performance management tools by and large except for the manner in which the tools are designed/managed in HRMS. 

While all the tools and applications may ease the manner in which feedback and performance tracking are measured/monitored, the critical element in this would be the user adoption of such tools at the employee levels. The larger the user adoption of tools, the better data collection would be. 

How do you create a work environment that encourages employees to take risks and innovate, knowing that failures will be addressed constructively?

Organisation wide belief systems and cultural tenets are the major ingredients for a work environment that is considered safe and allows initiative/risks and failures. Creating and sustaining such a culture takes lots of effort for HR and employees. 

Willingness to listen without bias and action by members in the organisation including the leadership plays a vital part in setting the tone for being a safe working environment – a psychologically safe place. Only when employees are unafraid of voicing opinions and suggestions, knowing the absence of reprimanding in any form from the team and managers, this scenario would prevail. 

Not judging the person, but the action in a particular context while providing the feedback which also helps the person to learn the mistakes or reasons for failure would enable the person and others to become more proactive and prudent in their approach. Encouraging and training people to become agile in their approach by being iterative in problem analysis and solutioning would help employees to know how to approach issues, keeping risk elements in perspective. 

Creating a risk assessment and monitoring framework as well as imparting knowledge on how to use the framework would help people to be more cautious in their approach. Needless to mention, the reward and recognition measures for innovative behaviour and actions act as positive reinforcement of such behaviour in the organisation. 

How do you differentiate between a one-time performance lapse and a systemic issue?

Logically speaking, one time lapse is not a recurring phenomenon whereas systemic issue will clearly stand out in the nature of its occurrence, which could be repetitive and consistent. 

When the objective of performance management model and the approach to performance management is flawed, the systemic failure is widely perceived. Invariably, systemic issues would be more of policy and process related challenges which perhaps are not either clearly defined or poorly executed. For instance, how the goals are set, how they are communicated, how appraisals as a process is managed etc, if found to be visible across wide section of employee base, it can be construed as a systemic issue. Introducing a new performance management approach and or a new application can also lead to performance lapse in either the inability of employees to get acclimatized with the new approach or less time to adapt to new application including but not limited to how the data is captured, processed and used. 

One time performance lapse by and large can be considered as a fall out of a change management initiative which was inappropriately designed or implemented, posing as an impediment for people to either perform or record their performance leading to lapse like. Other than that, a change in the team, manager, leadership, process and role changes etc are also can entail a performance lapse in the case of an individual employee.