This case study represents PATH's submissions to the i4cp Next Practice Awards. The awards will be presented at the
i4cp 2019 Next Practices Now Conference
Early in 2017, PATH published its People Philosophy to articulate its people-related values and principles. Using this as a foundation, the organization sought to align talent practices across the employee lifecycle, starting with the performance management process. When the Human Resources team started the project, the performance management process was more than 15 years old, not aligned with the current evidence regarding performance management, and not designed to support the much larger and more complex organization PATH had become.
The work done at PATH spans a broad spectrum, which means that the organization is characterized by a high diversity of talent and widely different business needs across its portfolios of work. It was clear that an innovative approach was needed to meet these needs, and it had to be evidenced-based. Leadership supported HR in the effort to challenge the status quo of traditional business practices and to find an approach that motivates employees and increases impact.
In just one year, the HR team designed, built, and implemented a new process, using a highly participatory approach to ensure consideration of PATH’s diverse needs. This included establishing a global design team, surveying 20% of staff on design principles, and running focus groups regionally to test ideas at various milestones.
In following the current research on motivation, the design team threw out traditional processes, such as annual evaluations, rating and ranking, and linking pay to performance. The objective was a process that would motivate and energize staff, rather than one that documents and ranks to weed out the poor performers. The design pulled the corrective action process completely out of the performance management process to place sole focus on the more than 95% of employees who are performing. The redesigned process would support a culture of ongoing feedback and learning, and would be future-focused.
The new process—called
GPS: Grow. Perform. Succeed.—is employee-powered and manager-facilitated. Employees create a GPS Compass by identifying their motivation statement, learning focus, and key work priorities. They meet with their managers in GPS Conversations to discuss their GPS Compass and request feedback. Managers, in addition to providing feedback on progress, support employees’ learning foci and make connections between employees’ work and PATH’s impact.
Employees put effort into GPS because it’s valuable to them, not for fear of being out of compliance. There are no required timelines or deadlines. Employees decide when and how frequently to hold GPS Conversations. Also, there is no required form to fill out. Employees and managers decide how they want to document the conversations in ways that will support them. Nothing is submitted to HR.
In addition, employees are responsible for requesting feedback directly from their colleagues. The design team created a feedback model to support employees’ getting and giving feedback directly rather than through a performance evaluation or filtered through managers. HR is training, supporting, and cajoling staff into trying new behaviors and building skill in receiving and providing effective feedback.
Pilots and a global launch
Implementation of GPS began with three pilot groups totaling about 200 employees. All three groups represented key points of diversity of PATH’s workforce populations: a shared services group, a health area program team, and a country team. In just over two months, the design team tested the new approach and refined it before rolling GPS out to the full population of 1500 employees.
When it came time to launch the process globally, it had to be different. The launch had to reflect the boldness and innovation the design team baked into the program’s structure. Instead of PATH’s usual process to kick-off a change initiative, launch parties took place around the world. Decorations, small treats, and a video message from the organization’s chief HR officer created a sense of celebration. Hand-out materials were branded specifically for GPS and supplemented by a newly designed SharePoint resources site.
When staff left the parties, they went back to their desks to find themselves enrolled in eLearning that would introduce them to the process. The design team was shocked when 80% of the staff completed that training within the first thirty days following launch—in organizational history, an unprecedented level of participation. Follow-up to the introduction to GPS included skill-building classroom trainings and online resources. Animated videos were created to demonstrate key aspects of GPS and how to give and receive effective feedback.
Impact on HR business partners
Although it was anticipated, given the impact of the change, there was little initial resistance to the new process from employees. The design team worked to discover where there might be resistance and found one key area with primary change agents, the HR business partners. With GPS, HR’s role in supporting performance management shifted from managing compliance to supporting the development of new habits and skills. For HR business partners, this change meant that some of their skills and well-established practices were no longer needed. On top of that, the GPS design team is learning as the program evolves, which means the HR business partners are being asked to adapt how and when they support the process while they are leading others through it. This has been a difficult change for some, and one that requires additional support.
It is too early to gauge how the design will affect PATH’s culture. However, increasing participation in and enthusiasm for GPS is taking place at a level that has exceeded that of the previous performance management process. All this despite the fact that GPS is not compliance-driven.
Among anticipated program results:
Feedback: Feedback becomes a part of day-to-day interactions at PATH, and asking for and giving feedback will be a regular occurrence. As part of that change, the expectation is that staff are skilled at getting useful feedback by asking targeted questions of people with valuable perspectives. Additionally, staff will be skilled at giving effective feedback to direct reports, peers, and to their managers and leaders.
Career development: Conversations about career development and career aspirations are regular and transparent. Employees and managers actively look for ways to make an employee’s time at PATH meaningful to their career regardless of where their aspirations may take them. Managers are skilled at identifying transferable skills employees can gain to grow beyond their current roles.
Impact: Managers are skilled at helping employees prioritize their work to best align with project work plans and organizational strategies. Staff report they can clearly see how their work contributes to PATH’s impact.
Engagement: Ultimately, it is expected that the results above will directly contribute to an increase in employee engagement.
PATH is six months into the new process, which means the organization is still in learning mode. Agents of change—the global team of HR business partners—continue to learn what it means to support rather than police the process, and staff are learning what it means to own their own careers and power the GPS process.
One of the strongest lessons learned has been the importance of piloting before a global launch. HR was able to make significant improvements in how it supported the process and was able to experience many of the different staff reactions and questions related to GPS. By the time of the global launch, there were no surprises.
Another key aspect of success, which also proved to be the biggest challenge, was launching in three languages. It sent a message to staff that HR wanted to ensure all employees could use GPS effectively, but it was the most difficult aspect to project manage. Estimating time and budget for translations, particularly when the end product was not yet fully realized, meant moving the launch date by one month to ensure readiness in all three languages.
Julie Baker is the Organization Development Specialist for PATH.