Many Human Resources (HR) professionals spend months researching the best performance management systems before making a decision on which one to implement at their organization. They jump on a demo (or five), poll their network, review case studies, negotiate contract terms, and get senior management buy-in on the final choice. The satisfaction of choosing a vendor and signing the contract deserves celebration, but this step is actually the start of a whole new process.
Implementation is a key point in any software investment. Without a successful implementation, you may not see the adoption across the organization you need in order to accurately and consistently measure employee performance.
A performance management system will majorly impact employees, so the rollout must be considered carefully and thoughtfully.
There is more to implementation than importing data and assigning roles, although those tasks are key parts of the process. You will need communication plans and testing periods to design an experience that will enable every employee to participate fully in your performance management process. This article will outline the steps you need to take in order to ensure a successful implementation.
Your Project Management Checklist for Implementing a Performance Management System
Here are the critical steps in implementing a performance management system at your company. A printable version of this list is available here.
Review Training Materials
Identify what resources are readily available to upskill yourself, management, and employees in the tool. Most likely your vendor will have adequate training materials or provide 1:1 time with an onboarding specialist.
Establish Import Methods for Employee Data
If you have an existing database in your HRIS or HRMS, speak to the vendor and your IT department about a compliant means of integrating the data into your new performance management tool. If no such database exists, set a plan in place for capturing the information you need to build employee profiles.
Import and Check Employee Data
Your go-live date can’t happen before your workforce data is on the system. Make sure you have everything you need, and that all the captured data is correct.
Review Employee Hierarchy, Correct Errors
Make sure the HR model you’ve built in your performance management system reflects the real-life operations of the company. Otherwise, you’ll miss out on crucial input feedback.
Review Demographic Data
Now is a perfect time to look at representation in your workforce. To measure performance fairly, diversity metrics should be taken into account.
Who will have the ability to change reporting structures in the system? Who will monitor the use of the system, and what level of access will each person have? In the end, who is responsible for the upkeep of the database, software, and training of the system?
Set Up Additional Integrations
The ideal is to have a single employee database where all information is automatically updated and pulled from regardless of which software portal you’re using. For example, if your performance management system has the ability to integrate with your HRIS or rewards platform, you should definitely set this up. The alternative is to have multiple profiles for each employee that can easily become contradictory if not kept up to date.
Set Up Single Sign-ons
Employees will each have a profile on the system where their unique KPIs and career development plan are kept and updated. Each employee will therefore need a username and password that you can set up for them, or prompt them to create themselves.
Identify First Module to Rollout
Performance management systems have multiple modules and features that you can implement over time. Your initial module implementation depends on the most pressing needs your performance management system is intended to address. We’ll cover more on this below.
Set Up a Timeline for Module Rollout
Have a clear goal of when you want to increase the operational use of your performance management system, and in what order its feature models should be introduced to employees.
Test System Features and Notifications
Ensure integrations are pulling data correctly, that automated prompts and notifications are sent as intended, and that the system is capturing all the information it should. The sooner you troubleshoot a problem, the less misinformation will be relayed.
Draft Announcements and Training Materials
You’ll need to convey a lot of information to stakeholders and employees about what the first days of using the system will look like, and what each person’s responsibilities for onboarding are. Check and double-check that this information is correct and clear. If people are confused, you can easily lose buy-in.
Review and Approve Announcements and Training Materials
It’s worth getting a second or third pair of eyes on the implementation communication and information. What reads clearly to you may not be so easy for someone else to understand.
Make an Announcement and Publish Training Materials
You’re well prepared, you’re ready to go live, and your people have great resources at their disposal. Great job!
Do's & Don'ts for Implementing a Performance Management System
Before we get into the nitty gritty of each step in the implementation process, let’s cover some basic things to avoid and tactics to keep in mind when implementing performance management software.
Do: Develop a Robust Performance Management Strategy
What problems are you actually intending to address with a performance management process? There are a number of potential answers to this question, and there may even be different answers from each member of your leadership team!
Maybe career prospects are hazy at your organization, and you want to create space for career development conversations. Perhaps there’s a desire to connect a performance appraisal to compensation decisions, whether it’s merit increases, bonus payouts, or equity refreshes. Or maybe individual goals need to be aligned and formally connected to company performance goals.
Distilling your performance management process down to the issues you want to solve will help illuminate what strategies make sense for your organization. Continuous performance management may help your team members quickly reorganize their priorities in real-time. Competency-based reviews like the ones in these performance review examples may help build clear, standard feedback for employees.
There are many reasons your company might implement performance management processes and systems, but without a strategy in place, you won’t be able to measure the success of your efforts.
Do: Review Support and Training Materials
No one can tell you how to use the software better than the people who built it! Take time to study the help articles, video overviews, and any other materials your performance management system vendor provides in order to have a firm grasp of the intricacies of each system.
Do: Ask For Help
You are definitely not the first person to ever use the performance management software you’ve chosen, so why not ask for help? You may know other HR Tech users in your network who can jump on a quick call to share what they learned in their implementation, or there may be people in your company who have experienced an implementation before and can tell you what they loved and hated about the process.
Don’t: Rely on software to determine your strategy
Phil Strazzulla has covered why HR software is not the answer to your problems, and this premise is true for effective performance management. If you’re struggling with managing performance in your organization, simply implementing software is not going to solve it.
Performance Management tools may be able to provide you with templates, training, and best practices, but you need a performance management strategy tailored to your overall strategic goals.
Don’t: Deploy Every Module Simultaneously
Most performance management systems have multiple modules to support your managers and employees, including annual review cycles, OKR tracking, one-on-one meeting check-ins, goal setting, career ladders, and more. But deploying every module at once will likely overwhelm your workforce and lead people to avoid the system altogether.
A phased rollout as part of your performance management strategy can help ensure everyone is able to master one part of the process before adding another element. This approach can also help you gain feedback at every stage of the process to inform future rollouts and make adjustments as you gather more information from your users.
Don’t: Do It Alone
If you’re an HR team-of-one or the person responsible for implementation within your team, taking this project on can be really intimidating! As I’ll cover in the step-by-step guide, it’s important to identify who the other stakeholders in this implementation are and make sure they’re aware of their part in the process.
A Step-by-Step Guide for Implementing a Performance Management System
There are 7 basic steps to implementing an effective Performance Management System, and some steps can be completed concurrently.
1. Identify Stakeholders
As I noted earlier, you are not implementing this system alone! Ultimately, every person in your company will interact with the software at different points of the employee journey. Identifying the various groups and individuals impacted and involved in this process will help you uncover who needs to be looped in for decision-making.
Some key groups may include:
The Executive Team
As I covered earlier, the system you implement will support your overall performance management strategy, which your executive team will have input on. In order to be successful, there needs to be alignment on what the system intends to accomplish and how each step in the process contributes to the performance management strategy.
Your executive team must understand how this system will accomplish the company goals they’re hoping to achieve so they can help encourage adoption amongst their teams. Without investment and buy-in from leadership, it will be difficult to get anyone else to use the technology.
The managers on your team will be expected to use the system more than your average employee, and the intent of the system is to make managing performance easier. Since there are a lot of expectations for manager participation in the review process, they need to be informed on what they are expected to take on independently and in conjunction with HR.
The IT Team
Your IT team may want to be involved before you’ve even signed the contract! It’s important to understand how the performance management system fits into your overall tech stack, what integrations are possible, and how secure the system is since it will be handling sensitive employee information.
The HR/People Team
This one may seem obvious, but it needs to be clear who owns the implementation process within the HR/People team. A team-of-one may not have to worry about this one, but this implementation is a huge feat and needs to be considered alongside the existing initiatives and responsibilities of the department.
This system will have a major impact on the experience of employees at your company, and each one is a stakeholder in the new system. Getting their input early on can help with employee buy-in once you’re in implementation.
Performance evaluation can instigate anxiety and concerns in employees, and clear, transparent communication about the strategy and the system will help alleviate the uncertainty employees may face.
2. Set a Timeline
Create a detailed timeline that documents every step of the process and who is involved or responsible for specific tasks and deliverables. This timeline will help you and your team stay on track, and should include achievable milestones for each phase of the implementation. You can use the checklist given above to do this.
While you may need to adjust the timeline as you go through the process, this schedule will help you and others understand how far you’ve progressed and what’s coming next.
3. Technical Setup
This step of the process is vital to the success of your rollout. There are three major areas to evaluate within your implementation.
How will your employee data remain up to date in your performance management system? Will the software integrate with your HRIS, ensuring employee data is synced often and reflects the current state of the organization? Or will you need to manually import employee data and make changes as they arise?
Understanding the answers to these questions will help you determine whose involvement is needed at this step and also what measures you need to take to ensure your data is reflected correctly within the system over time.
Along with an HRIS integration, there may be other integrations available, such as automated notifications to your internal chat platform. If you want employees to receive notifications across multiple systems, it’s worth noting what integrations are available.
Access and Permissions
After you’ve identified your stakeholders in the process, consider who needs administrative access or reporting access. You’ll want to review what visibility managers or department leads have access to, and consider making manual adjustments where necessary.
4. Test the System
This step may seem like one you could skip, but it’s eye-opening to experience what your employees will go through within the system. Once you’ve tested different modules and steps, you’ll have an in-depth understanding of what the system notifications will look like for employees and where they will need to navigate to complete different tasks in the system.
If you’re a Gmail user, you can use your work email address to create multiple accounts in the system to run different tests. Just add a plus sign (+) and any combination of words or numbers after your email address. For example, if your work email address was email@example.com, you could use firstname.lastname@example.org to create a user profile with a specific permission set and test the new system.
If you’re working in a large organization, you may want to test the performance management system with a designated team or department before rolling it out to the entire organization. This process will allow you to gather feedback from employees before the entire system goes live.
5. Write Guides and Announcements
The vendor you’re working with should be able to provide you with training materials, support articles, and templates you can share with your employees. Even with these provided for you, you’ll want to create custom guides for different groups within your company.
The guides will live in your knowledge management system, enabling employees to access the guidance whenever they need it. Include screenshots from the platform, the strategic goals of your performance management process, and who employees can reach out to if they need assistance.
Make sure to equip your managers with additional support and training! Outline answers to common questions they may get from their teams, best practices for asking for and giving feedback, and what they should cover in performance review conversations. Your employees will appreciate their managers being thoroughly prepared and informed about the performance management process at your company.
You’ll also want to draft and review announcements before you hit send. These messages should be clear, informative, and reflect your company’s voice. A clear communication plan, outlining announcements across multiple channels, will ensure no one misses this important update for your organization.
6. Make the Announcement
Now that you’ve created materials, tested the platform, and planned your rollout, it’s time to share what you’ve been working on! Reinforce the connection between your performance management strategy and the system modules you’re introducing to the company at large.
7. Request Feedback and Iterate
Your executive team, HR colleagues, and managers will have opinions on how the performance management system rollout went. But those aren’t the only voices you need to listen to! Solicit feedback from employees directly so you understand the experience of every level of the organization.
There are lots of ways for you to gather constructive feedback about the performance management process. Send out a survey to gather anonymous data, run focus groups with different employees, and set up 1:1 conversations to discuss what worked well and what could be improved.
You can also review the metrics within the system after a successful performance management cycle to gain insight into how employees and managers interacted with each other.
Once you’ve gathered all the feedback, review and pull out themes and areas you can take action on. Connect the actions you’re taking with the feedback you were given to make it clear that you’re not only listening to employees, but also acting on what they’ve shared with you.
How to Get Employee Buy-in for Your Performance Management System
The implementation will be useless if employees aren’t actually using the system, especially if you need employees to use the system to measure employee engagement. Here are some actions you can take to increase buy-in within your organization.
Define the Benefits
It may be easy to identify how this system will benefit managers, executives, and HR, but how will it affect employees?
Your communication needs to clarify how employees will benefit from this implementation. Will this system make career paths clearer and easier for employees to navigate? Will compensation reviews and adjustments be faster? Will the performance management cycle be shorter and easier to complete along with their regular work?
Without a clear positive impact, employees will not see the value in investing their time and energy in the performance management process.
A lack of information can lead to confusion and frustration. If you provide clear, consistent communication at every step of the process, employees will be more open to participating and engaging in your performance management process.
There are multiple channels of communication to consider, including email, instant messaging platforms, verbal announcements, video recordings, and guides or articles in your knowledge management system. Covering all these different methods of communication helps you meet employees where they are, reinforce your organizational goals, and keep everyone informed of what to expect next.
Follow Through on Feedback
If you ask for feedback, you need to share what you heard and how you intend to act on that feedback. Make a clever connection between previous employee feedback and new performance management initiatives.
Employees want to help make the workplace better, but if they see their feedback isn’t heard, they’ll get tired of participating in the processes you create. Show you’re listening by taking action on what they tell you.
Once you’ve completed the implementation of your performance management system, don’t forget to pause and celebrate! It takes a lot of time and attention to foster a smooth transition onto a new platform, and you deserve recognition for that hard work.
As anyone in HR knows, the work doesn’t end there. Stay connected to your performance management strategy, follow performance management best practices, and continually make sure the system works for your organization.