How do you build a performance management system for an organisation at the forefront of digital innovation?

Author: Justin Harper | Date: 25 May 2016

Twitter and Google’s HR policies are still evolving, hears delegates at HR Summit Singapore

Digital organisations such as Twitter and Google are pushing the boundaries when it comes to measuring performance – but even they don’t always get it right first time. The internet giants are household name, with millions of users around the world, but their HR policies are still evolving.
That is the view of Bala Subramaniam, Twitter’s head of HR, South Asia and Pacific, who previously worked for more than five years at Google as its HR business partner. He was speaking the recent HR Summit 2016 in Singapore in a discussion called ‘Performance is not normal’.
He said: “Google had a 41-point scale for measuring performance. It would start at 1.0 and go all the way to 5.0. That’s a lot of points. Looking at the distribution, 30 per cent of those numbers were never used. We would pick a manager at random and ask him the difference between a 3.3 and a 3.2 and he would say ‘OK, tell me what number you want me to put in there.’”
Subramaniam said the use of such numbers gave a false sense of accuracy. “What mattered was the big picture. Was the person doing their job well, or not doing their job well? Splitting hairs in that precise manner often led the person to lose sight of their targets”.
At Twitter he wants to build a performance management system where such precision is scrapped but a high level of accuracy remains. “A lot of organisations have adopted a forward-looking philosophy and done away with numbers and the 0.1s and the 0.2s. Google did this about two years ago, moving away from numeric distribution and went purely towards a dialogue and a conversation. That’s a good thing to do,” he said. Twitter is also moving its performance management models in this direction, he added.
However, moving away from a data-based system has its own challenges. “It’s great to have that conversation but tell me the last time you were able to plot a trend line using two paragraphs? You can’t compare two paragraphs, and it’s so hard to plot two paragraphs in an Excel spreadsheet. In HR we love working with spreadsheets.”
As HR professionals look for trends as part of the performance reviews process, it helps to have some numeric benchmark to work from, said Subramaniam. Many organisations are now trying to create a hybrid model that encompasses both dialogues with employees and some performance data. “Numbers are still important though. We need rich data and we need to get meaningful data to spot trends,” he added. Twitter has 4,000 employees across the globe, while Google now employs 70,000 people worldwide.
Also speaking at the summit was Syed Ali Abbas, former Chief HR Officer at Pacnet at Telstar, who is moving to Lazada, the e-commerce organisation owned by Chinese internet giant Alibaba. He said the digital revolution is a golden opportunity for HR professionals to show their worth. “In HR you can actually help take managers through the digital implications of what they are doing. Once you start solving problems, rather than just throwing policies and processes at them, that’s when you really are at the heart of the organisation and people will invite you to meetings.”