How should talent management evolve under the pandemic?

September 23, 2020 | Hazel L. & Rachael L.

No organisation could have anticipated the escalation of the COVID-19 pandemic, nor the effects it would have on the workforce. Gone are the days of face-to-face communication in the office, and instead, we are seeing a rise in remote working, technology-hosted meetings and, resultantly, uncertainty amongst staff. It is fair to say the pandemic has had a significant impact on the way organisations manage performance and motivation, as well as turned what we considered normal in the past on its head. 


Because of these uncertain times, efficient and effective communication becomes of vital importance. With the advancement of technology, messages or emails can be sent with a click, and meetings can be held virtually with ease and efficiency. However, effective communication is often overlooked, resulting in miscommunication and fragmentation in the company’s vision. 


Thus, some companies have considered the possibility of creating a business response and continuity office, where a cross-functional team could coordinate and monitor the activities of various business units. This could immensely improve communication between employees, management team, customers and partners; and enable the company to work towards a goal effectively.


Another matter impacted by the pandemic revolves around employee performance and reviews. Typically, reviews are conducted to assess the output produced by employees, in addition to guiding their future steps forward. They take several forms, such as midyear reviews, peer evaluations, and 360 appraisals. But what happens to these reviews when employees are not working in the designated workplace, and are detached from their managers? How will managers make well-informed conclusions and recommendations to educate and motivate their employees?


While some companies have postponed conducting reviews, many perspectives stress the importance of going through with them. During times of uncertainty, employees are in even more need of affirmation and guidance; without these, employees can lose their sense of purpose and become demotivated. However, specific procedures that have worked during more ‘normal’ times may not be as effective in accurately making assessments. In this case, flexibility and empathy are key. 

Firstly, the need for increased flexibility stems from the fact that the loss of normalcy requires an adjusted outlook. Priorly set targets, for example, are rendered irrelevant if external factors have a large impact on the organisation. Rather than putting long term targets, creating short term goals would be more effective as situations are unpredictable and ever-changing. Short term goals not only create a clear vision for the company but for the employees as well, which could motivate them during challenging times. 


In addition to this, employees may be unable to perform up to their typical work standard depending on the severity of impact. Employees and managers alike should be agile in their approach towards setting goals due to uncertainty, and therefore agile when reviewing performance. Experts say it is more useful to gauge an employee’s contribution and team performance during this time, rather than the ability to meet goals set in the past. 


Empathy comes into play when conducting reviews. Adhering to the criteria previously set does not accommodate for the impacts brought on by the pandemic, hence ignoring any struggles employees may be facing. Companies should be able to consider employees in three perspectives: performance, engagement and well-being. Understanding the different situations and states employees are in will result in more realistic and valuable feedback on how they can improve within their given setting. 


Experts believe that COVID-19 is a great opportunity to promote employer-employee relationships, as managers are often challenged to engage in more one-on-one discussions that carry empathy and compassion. According to Mercer’s 2019 Global Performance Management study, effective coaching requires empathetic and action-oriented managers. Staying flexible and having a sense of empathy are the fundamental keys to navigate through the current black swan event. 


Needless to say, employee conditions have changed due to a different working environment or the current situation they are in. In light of the pandemic, remote working and technology-based communication have become the new norm. The recent advancement in technology has aided companies to move their offices online with ease, where calls, meetings or discussions can be held virtually in individual “home offices”. However, it is easy to neglect the obstacles employees face in working remotely. 

Along with the concept of maintaining compassion and empathy, companies should take into account that employees may have a hard time adapting to remote working environments. Despite digital transformation being a prominent buzzword nowadays, the biggest challenge employees face is that there was practically no preparation for this drastic shift to a digital way of working. Working from home is the reality for most employees around the world. Hence experts emphasise on self-discipline and staying productive during these times. 


Motivating employees hence become of key importance, especially when there is uncertainty amongst staff members. Incorporating the “compassion factor” when conducting reviews or communicating on a daily basis has a great impact on employee’s motivation. Many companies have realised the importance of engaging employees on the basis that they are valuable, such as providing meaningful feedback or regularly touching base with employees have proved to boost employee motivation. 


When people think about improving employee motivation, many will draw connections to bonuses or financial incentives. This is not the case as they have little to no effect at all, especially during the coronavirus crisis. Experts say people overestimate the motivating effects of money, and further advise companies to make growth in knowledge and career development the focus of performance management. 


As the world deals with an unpredicted, unprecedented and uncertain health crisis, it is safe to say that the loss of lives and economic damage brought by the COVID-19 has been monumental. Nevertheless, we can try to make the best out of this situation by implementing change in performance management in preparation for better days ahead. Transformation implemented today is likely to prove one of the best ways of recouping losses as we move beyond the crisis.