How Booz Allen Created an Inclusive Culture of Performance Feedback
Booz Allen is a global firm serving federal and commercial clients as their essential partner, solving problems and leveraging a breadth of management consulting, technology, engineering and scientific expertise to deliver breakthrough ideas, solutions and products. The firm enhanced its performance management approach over the past several years to align with industry best practices by removing ratings and streamlining the process to enhance the employee experience. However, results in their yearly people/culture survey showed that employees were yearning for more meaningful and frequent feedback to help further their careers.
In July 2016 the firm launched SnapShot, a performance management pilot, to provide an avenue for high-quality, frequent, meaningful career conversations between employees and managers to strengthen our culture of feedback. The purpose of SnapShot is to empower employees to own and drive their careers through monthly, informal discussions. More than 2,000 employees–just under 10% of the firm–participated in the pilot.
Managers of employees in the pilot received four weeks of feedback and career conversation training in addition to ongoing support from senior leaders and HR. The learning and development team utilized monthly short surveys to drive accountability and track the progress and performance of both managers and employees.
In addition, a pre and post-pilot survey were sent to participants and a control group to measure overall impact of the pilot on engagement. The SnapShot pilot led to higher-quality career conversations, increased connection between employees and managers and increased employee engagement, which reinforces our employee value proposition. They are in the process of launching SnapShot firm-wide due to the success of the pilot.
This case study represents Booz Allen Hamilton's submission for i4cp's Next Practice Awards. The winners will be announced in March and will share more detail on stage at the i4cp 2018 Conference: Next Practices Now
(March 26 - 29 in Scottsdale, Arizona).
SnapShot was created to advance the firm’s performance management strategy and align with strategic business initiatives. The firm implemented training and monthly conversations to proactively support their talent and respond to the ever-changing needs of the business. First and foremost, SnapShot was a response to employees’ desire for more feedback and coaching conversations, expressed through their annual people/culture survey. It was also designed to build engagement by strengthening relationships between employees and managers. Many employees’ managers (who serve as their advocate/coach) do not work on the same project as them and, therefore, do not have daily interaction with their direct reports.
The majority of Booz Allen employees also support external clients and work onsite with their clients instead of in Booz Allen offices. Some are even in SCIFs (Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility) where they have no access to their Booz Allen provided laptop or even to a personal cell phone. The firm needed to provide virtual training and resources through multiple means of communication to ensure managers and employees were connected and supported.
Lastly, managers with varying levels of tenure with the firm and different backgrounds and experiences coaching, providing both positive and constructive feedback to employees benefited from SnapShot. It is designed to help enhance managers’ skills to provide meaningful feedback and leverage employee insights to facilitate growth and development.
Booz Allen began with industry research and benchmarking to understand how other organizations evolved performance management philosophically and procedurally. They researched the pros and cons of making this change, how to create appropriate accountability measures, and defining a business case for making the shift. They then built the project team, formulated the pilot approach and contracted with an external survey vendor to support the process and learning and development partnered with HR and the business to identify participants. Participation was higher than expected due to strong business interest. The pilot officially launched with the pre-pilot survey to provide a baseline impression of employee role clarity, frequency of conversations, and their relationship with their manager.
To ensure consistency and quality in SnapShot discussions, multiple tools and resources were provided for managers, including communications and change support. Managers were trained on insightful questions to ask and provided with valuable future-focused discussion topics to enable development. A tip sheet with FAQs was distributed, briefings were held with all pilot participants to prepare them for the new process, and a SnapShot email address was created to quickly respond to email queries. A SnapShot webpage was launched through the firm’s intranet for all employees to access, as was a Yammer group to disseminate information directly to managers and encourage questions and discussions about the experience overall.
Then, for a six-month period, managers were required to hold monthly 10 to 15-minute SnapShot discussions. Replacing an annual written review with monthly conversations greatly lessened and spread out the administrative workload for managers. There was a need to ensure compliance, but enabling the process to feel light was also key. Each month, employees and managers completed a short survey to enable tracking of compliance and quality. SnapShot surveys were accessible via desktop or mobile devices and took less than five minutes to complete. The firm’s HR team, along with senior leaders, had visibility into survey responses via an online dashboard to identify employees who may benefit from a new manager or additional support/outreach.
Booz Allen ran the SnapShot pilot like an experiment and intentionally measured engagement, retention, promotion, compliance and cost (the business was concerned SnapShot would increase costs due to time spent on monthly discussions). Business cost analysis showed that SnapShot participants, on average, charged fewer dollars per month to indirect/administrative labor codes for each month they were in the pilot compared to prior months. Eighty percent of managers saw increased employee engagement as a direct result of the pilot and 95% of all participants believed their SnapShot conversations were valuable. Participants noted the monthly survey reminders were helpful, which in turn drove accountability. Overall, Booz Allen saw slightly increased retention and promotion rates of our SnapShot participants.
The post-pilot survey results showed significant strides across the board: employees were having frequent conversations about their professional development, gaining better understanding of expectations, feeling supported, understanding how to advance their career, opportunities, satisfied with the amount of feedback they received, and more. Results from the manager survey revealed managers felt empowered through SnapShot; they could now effectively coach, guide direct reports when in need and confidently have effective development conversations.
After the post-pilot survey, focus groups were conducted with pilot participants, where SnapShot received rave reviews. Feedback included:
“I’ve been at the firm 12 years, and this is the first time I’ve had this much time to talk about development.”
“This is easy, simple and less formal. As a career manager, it made me think of my employees more frequently and kept me engaged with their progress. I am more in-tune with how my employees are doing and it opened the lines of communication. This forces you to become a better manager.”
The SnapShot pilot was well-received and viewed as a welcome change by business leaders and staff. The firm’s change management approach concentrated on a high level of socialization prior to the launch, enabling multiple stakeholders to align with the SnapShot pilot strategy from the beginning. For a large transformational change, the number of persons driving the pilot spanned across the business. Business leaders were engaged throughout the pilot and sent monthly communications directly to participants, to support driving accountability. SnapShot elevated HR as they played a more consultative role in ensuring business leader awareness and encouraging them to communicate and hold participants accountable.
Booz Allen is now in process of aligning the firm-wide launch of SnapShot to support its Employee Value Proposition with key strategic initiatives, including the redesign of the Career Manager role. As they prepare for the enterprise-wide launch, the firm has committed to provide training and tools to ensure:
- Employees regularly seek actionable, specific feedback from their managers;
- Managers understand how to coach and develop their employees;
- Manager-employee relationships are stronger and employees feel they have opportunities to grow and develop.
Reflecting on the pilot process, the firm noted the following lessons:
- They would have created more mechanisms for employee and manager feedback.
- Though they checked in with leaders and HR in on progress, L&D could have pulsed employees more to see what tweaks could have been made during the pilot.
- They would have been clearer about how SnapShot fits in and supports their full performance process (e.g. promotion, compensation).
Looking ahead, Booz Allen will continue to hone in on the importance of high-quality conversations and creating an inclusive culture of feedback. They will provide enhanced resources and training opportunities for all employees. The SnapShot survey will continue to drive accountability for high-quality performance and development conversations. They are shifting their technology platform from an external vendor to an internal system to enhance the employee experience, manage costs, and to fully integrate with HRIS.
Survey results will be utilized by senior leaders and HR to identify employees at risk of low performance relative to few SnapShot discussions occurring, low scores on the value of their SnapShot career conversations, and more. Managers identified as receiving consistent low survey results will have mandatory training to improve their feedback and coaching skills.