Keeping Employee Performance High in Recessionary Time- An Interview with Yemi Faseun
Many organizations are now at a critical crossroads in terms of performance, growth, and survival. Their leaders and managers are confronting the most challenging questions of their business performance and survival: How can we keep employee performance high in these challenging times? How is COVID-19 changing performance management? And what will the new normal look like for business growth?
No one has a crystal ball offering easy answers. Only one thing is clear: What leaders and managers need right now are tools for problem-solving, adapting and innovating in wildly unpredictable circumstances.
In this first episode of The Performance Tools Linkedin Live Show, we look at the mindsets, strategies, and other tools that will be particularly valuable to leaders and managers as we adjust to the economic and societal fallout from the global pandemic.
One of the most influential HR leader in Nigeria, Yemi Faseun shares key insights with me.
▶Watch the broadcast with my guest, Yemi Faseun, 20/8/2020
Adedoyin: Virtually all economies in the world are facing a serious downturn caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. Businesses and their executives therefore face considerable challenges managing in a downturn. What do you see in this period of uncertainty and how should leaders across board lead right now?
So, if you ask me, I think the world has moved in phases. Or let me be specific to say that our world in this part of the divide has moved in phases between February 2020 and today. The first thing that happened was that we were shocked by the pandemic. The rate at which it was happening in other parts of the world and then we were thinking somehow hopefully it was not going to come to our world. You know hope is not a great strategy. But one guy boarded the plane from Italy to Nigeria and then the pandemic hit us as well. Then, we were shocked and fear gripped us and from the phase of fear, we were in lockdown trying to find a solution to a pandemic that had no cure.
After that phase, we started to also realize that we cannot permanently be locked down. We were understanding more and more about the virus and knowledge was giving us a sort of power. We were coming out of the phase of fear gradually because of the knowledge of the situation. Then we moved from that point of knowledge to the point of survival. We have to live with the virus to survive. Knowledge was helping us to move to the phase of survival. The virus is not going to go away for another year or more. We are realizing how we are going to live with this virus and how the virus is going to live with us for now. So, we have moved to the phase of survival.
And I promise you that so many other businesses that were ready for the future of work that we have been talking about for two to three years, it was so easy for them to move quickly along those phases that I mentioned. Some quickly moved from survival to recovery. So many organizations today are in recovery mode. The virus has not gone away, we are learning to live with it. We are waiting for the vaccines to come.
However, we must continue to survive. So businesses are now in the recovery mode. And in all of this, employees have been affected, impacted along this continuum, businesses also have been impacted. Businesses could not make money, businesses could not sell products, and businesses that were not ready for the online possibilities were in limbo for a very long time.
So, what we have seen is an impact both on the side of the employee and the side of the employer from a performance perspective. That is the kind of summary of the context of the situation we found ourselves right now.
Adedoyin: A lot of organizations are trying to recover. Some may not. For those that have recovered, what should they look out for when it comes to performance? Is there hope for these businesses, organizations in the next six to twelve months?
Let us not categorize all organizations and put them in just one box. From an impact perspective, I promise you, some organizations have made money. From an analysis, Zoom has made so much money during this crisis and I know some organizations here in our local space who have also made so much money. So, we are not going to box every organization inside one quadrant and say that all organizations have been negatively impacted. During my introduction, I did say that some organizations were listening to the sermon around the future of work and they were already getting their businesses ready for that future. Those organizations were easily able to grapple with the new realities quicker than others and they are enjoying the first-mover advantage right now. So, have organizations been impacted? Yes, some negatively, some positively and some adversely, and like you rightly said Adedoyin, some might not be able to recover from it. So, what should organizations be looking at? Again, it is not too late in the day, if you ask me, any organization that does not have a Business Continuity Plan or Business Continuity Management in place should have done that maybe about 3-4 months ago immediately the pandemic hit. Smarter organizations had their BCM in place way before now. Just in case there is an earthquake, just in case there’s a flood situation, just in case there is a fire situation like we always have in the US from time to time. Just in case the business cannot continue in Victoria Island or Ikoyi, what next? BCM helps us answer the question of what next if we cannot continue business the way it is currently structured. So, the guys who had their BCM in place- alternative worksite, alternative workforce, and alternative technology were quicker to move from those phases I talked about to a survival and recovery mode. So, let’s not just survive, let us thrive because of the fundamentals have been built, structured, processes in place to move the organization quickly to that little space where we do not really need human interactions. Some people were not sure there could be a pandemic. Could there ever be a situation where the whole world will be in lockdown was their question until it happened?
You know in a moment of change, there are those people who make change happen. Some watch change happens and then the wonderful people who are saying whoa, they have been caught in the middle of the things that happened already and they have become victims. So, some organizations have become victims because they didn’t have BCM in place. And again, the best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago, the next best time is now.
How should organizations respond? Some have responded way before now- two years, three years ago. For example, while I was working at Stanbic-IBTC around 2007-2010, we already had BCM in place. I was at Standard Chartered Bank between 2002-2006 we had BCP in place. In what-if scenarios, different what-if scenarios run for the organization so that we can switch the mode of the business. Those organizations were quarterly, yearly improving their BCM in case anything happens. They are always fine-tuning as the technological possibilities are available to them. So nothing really happens that they won’t have a clue on how to manage it. I know about two or three international organizations in this country that have not been at work since February or March 2020 till today. Guess what? They are making money because the BCP is in place.
Like I said, the best time to do this was 20 years ago, the next best time is now. Organizations must start thinking about BCP. Now the pandemic is a great example of a leveler. Leveled all of us at the same time. But if you don’t have a BCP in place, you were either almost gone or by now you are gone. If organizations can still quickly use BCP to recover their businesses and then move along those phases of recovery that’s the only thing I can advocate.
Adedoyin: Could we then say that the pandemic has fast-tracked the Future of Work people have always been talking about?
Yemi Faseun: No doubt. You would remember that most of the conferences we had last year (2019), the topic was mostly on FoW. Most of the conferences we had in 2018, I was a part of some of those conversations, the topic was on FoW. We were talking about Artificial Intelligence, Digitization, Leveraging on Technology, Robotics and all of these things are already happening. Even here in our clime. Yes, did the pandemic fast-tracked the FoW for the entire world at the same time? It is an unequivocal yes. No doubt about it at all. Now, people talk about the new normal, new realities. It is the same thing about the FoW we were talking about in the past.
Adedoyin: The disruption of Covid-19 has led to organizations to adopt remote working practices, engage employees differently, and work is being performed in a radically new ways. What do you think are the emerging trends in the roles of managers in the way they should manage the employees’ performance in this critical period?
Yemi Faseun: Let me mention four things that quickly come to mind as you are asking that question. This is based on the conversations I have had in the last couple of months at different forums.
- Resell the vision:
This is the time we are calling leadership and I am using leadership from a broad perspective. I mean individuals who are supervisors, managers, directors, all, even CEOs- leadership at different levels to resell the vision. The vision, the purpose of the organization. This is the time when leadership is called to question to resell. We sold the vision when we were going to go into the year 2020 by October/November last year. Most of us were done with budgeting. We made certain assumptions around Economic, Political, and the likes. Nobody made an assumption for the pandemic when we were planning our budget for 2020. We need to bring the pandemic into the mix of the business assumptions and fundamentals to 2020 and say to your team members how this has impacted the business and how it has impacted the vision that we had for the business from a 1-2 year perspective. But remember that before you can sell a vision, you must also have bought into it yourself. Not just anybody can lead through this crisis. Leadership in a crisis situation is calling for a level-five type of leadership. You must be able to hold on to the vision of the organization and must be able to resell the vision to members of the team. Guys, this is where we said we were going to go, this has happened. What are the impacts of this on our business and how are we going to grapple with the challenges and the new realities? We cannot do this alone unless we have you guys behind us. If a leader cannot resell that vision, he’s going to wake up one day, look behind him and there is nobody following him. Reselling the vision despite the odds facing all of us.
Anyone who cannot lead with empathy at this time cannot lead an organization or a business at all. The world is no longer looking for leaders in moments of peace. This is the war situation. We are in a war-like situation. Even though nobody is carrying any gun but the war is going on. Nobody is carrying sub-machine guns, rockets are not flying but there is a serious economic war going on. When we were talking about FoW 2-3 years ago remember we were talking about- Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity (VUCA). These things have moved to the next level because of Covid-19. We are totally uncertain of what the future holds, we are totally vulnerable to an enemy we cannot see and that’s the virus. We cannot see this enemy but it’s hitting the world from left right and centre. It has become so complex- work from home, work in the car. As I talk to you now, there is another session going on that I should be an active participant. I was actively participating for one hour, but I had to quickly cross over to attend this session with you. As I talk to you, it is still ongoing on my iPad. Our world has become so fluid. We are moving from one another and another all in the same goal. We need leaders who will lead with empathy, who will understand how pandemics has affected individuals and families, who will understand the mental health, mental well-being, and mental stability of the team members, who will not only concentrate on the KPIs, reports, meetings etc. Don’t forget that the individuals are working from home right now and some of these individuals are living in a one-room apartment. In that one room or two-room apartments, the kids are not going to school. They are at home. The spouse cannot go to work because of the pandemic. She’s at home. Around you is a full house and you are expecting the individual to concentrate on work. Kids crying, children running around, catering for the family. The infrastructure not very adequate. There is no adequate supply of power to charge laptops, phones. Or some cases where neighbour’s generating set is running people crazy due to the noise coming out from it and you still expect that individual to deliver. If you are not leading with empathy, then you shouldn’t expect anything from your team.
We need leaders who can communicate. I mean great communicators. The impact on the business. For example, HR person seats with the CEO and the CEO says hey, about 20 people need to leave the organization. We cannot sustain the wage bill anymore. True or true? Very true! Businesses are moaning and groaning under the weight and effect of the pandemic. The top lines/revenue are impacted and we need to watch the cost lines. In reality, we might not be able to afford the wage bill anymore but who is going to do the communication? Who is going to be involved in that engagement with the entire workforce? To say this is how we have been impacted. This is the reality on the ground. These are the hard decisions that we have to make right now. If you cannot communicate that in a way again that brings about empathy and humanness in you, you might be losing the entire workforce. Because how you treat people in a time of crisis like this is an indication of how you will treat them in the future. So, we need leaders, supervisors, managers who can communicate adequately and effectively. Who can engage and connect with the people. There is an element l called connectedness in the leadership function. This is the time to connect and not just to look at the KPIs, results, my board, my stakeholders. This is the time to also put the employees in the mix of all that is happening and how you can interrelate everything and make sure you’re communicating the right stuff to our employees. You can communicate in a way to the employees to say, this is the situation, they will stick by you, through thick and thin and when this is all over, you look behind you and everybody is still around with you.
- Emotional Intelligence
If you cannot lead with a high degree of Emotional Intelligence, you might not be able to lead at all. Because emotional intelligence again is understanding the impact of all of these on different individuals on your team or in the organization and addressing each person in a way they have been impacted. So, this is not the time to say this is the way you were last year when there was no pandemic. There has to be a shift. There has to be a fundamentally new way of reasoning and dealing with employees. Understanding self and understanding every member of the team and be able to relate with them given the situation we found ourselves. These four things I have mentioned stand out when it comes to leadership in this crisis situation. They have become important skills in leading people through a crisis situation and therefore through a recovery mode.
Adedoyin: There are immediate concerns, such as whether organizations should proceed with performance evaluation for 2020 and, if so, what do you suggest and how do you think this process should look like? For example, some tech firms, like Facebook and Google, have made headlines for eliminating or delaying performance reviews during this challenging time. Whereas many other companies are holding performance conversations.
Yemi Faseun: I do not agree that it should be eliminated. Remember, businesses have been impacted in different ways. We cannot have a blanket cover for all organizations because the outcomes have been different from one organization to another. As l am talking to you now l am in the office giving you one hour of my time. But l am at work. I am in Telco. So business is going on. Then, should we scrap the year 2020 performance review? I know a couple of my colleagues in this same Telco industry who have not been to the office since about March till today. About 100% of the workforce is still working from home and they haven’t lost a percentage of their market share. Revenue is still great, profit is still good and a good market share. Yet, they are not in the office. Should we then say performance reviews should be scraped in 2020? And on the other side i.e those businesses who have been negatively impacted, employees were not going to work. There are two categories. Individuals who are working from home and the individuals who are staying at home. The staying at home guys, there’s no business to do, so they might as well stay at home. A business owner called me about two months ago. Very great franchise in Lagos, Nigeria expanding his business. He had some concerns during the lockdown period and he was like Yemi, some of my workforces could work from home and some could not. Who am l going to pay, who am l not going to pay? Who am l going to lay off and who am l not going to lay off? That business is impacted differently and some businesses actually shut down and laid off people. Where you are in the outcome value chain of the pandemic will determine how you are going to relate with the performance management system in the year 2020. For the guys who have continued to do business, physical or online will need to revisit the fundamentals.
You know fundamental is not performance appraisal. It is the performance management system itself and what we say is that you shouldn’t wait till the end of the year to do performance appraisal. You must look at the continuum of performance management system- where we set objectives in January, we monitor the objectives as the year goes by, and then at the end of the year, we appraise performance. If you also go back again to great leaders communicating very well and reselling the vision, performance management has a very important aspect of the leadership question to play in that absolutely because the leader must have set the objectives at the beginning of the year before the pandemic. Then the pandemic hit, the leader or a great business manager will reevaluate the objectives in the face of the realities, and therefore do for instance by Q2 (3+9) i.e three months of actuals and nine months of forecast. When you get to Q3, you’ll do (6+6) i.e six months of actuals and six months of forecast and by Q4 you’ll do 9+3 i.e nine months of actuals and three months of forecast. So great managers must constantly communicate and engage and if those objectives need to change in the face of realities, he must engage and communicate it. So, let’s not do performance appraisal, let’s focus on performance monitoring and sort pf business performance evaluation on the goal. If you move me from a physical platform to service customers to an online platform to service customers, does that not mean that my KPIs should change? If you move me from sales just because I could not sell anymore to operations because I can do operations at home, should my KPIs not change? It’s the fundamentals of performance I think we must continue to visit and revisit in the light of the performance management system. So that we can say that at the end of the year should we do an appraisal or not. So if the fundamentals are in place, yes you should do a performance appraisal at the end of the year. But of course, we must put everything in the mix, we must put everything into consideration. There was no pandemic when we set the objectives now that pandemic has happened, we must evaluate, retweak, rejig the objectives but the employee is still there. Working at work originally and now working at home but in all, how do we manage the employees? We manage by objectives. If your objectives have changed for whatever reasons what are you achieving based on the changed objectives? That is what you should measure at the end of the year. For me, the tool is not actually the most important element of performance management, what is important is actually the fundamentals. However you may want to do it, let there be objectives at the beginning of the year. Let there be constant dialogue and communication. Let there be continuous monitoring of performance. Let there be no surprises at the end of the year. Do not put me on trial when we get to the end of the year and you say you want to do performance appraisal. I should not be too surprised working with you Adedoyin if you’re my manager. I shouldn’t be surprised when I come to the last quarter of the year because Q1 you told me I wasn’t doing well. Q2 you told me Yemi, you are not doing well and same in Q3. So, when it’s Q4, I should not be surprised about my performance because we are engaging and communicating all throughout the year. Should the 2020 appraisal be scrapped? No, I don’t think so. It depends on how the pandemic has impacted the organization.
Adedoyin: What are some practical actions companies can take to best manage near-term performance conversations during the COVID-19 pandemic?
Yemi Faseun: If you ask me, and like I have said before, the concentration should be on performance objectives. It is almost like the compass that guides the performance conversations from the beginning of the year and the rest of the year. It is about my KPIs, my objectives, my deliverables, and my KRAs. I feel that’s what we should concentrate on. We shouldn’t concentrate on when I log in to the system in the morning and my manager can see because IT has put something on the system and when I log out in the afternoon or in the evening. It shouldn’t be about time, it should be about productivity. We shouldn’t be measuring time now but how productive an employee is. The fact that I log in to the system and you can see it does not mean that I am working. It is my productivity that should measure my outputs for the period. The concentration should be on clear cut objectives. If they change for whatever reason, let’s communicate that change. Also, we must give attention to learning and development at this period. Learning and Development is taking a hit right now. We need to retool and reskill the organization. Things have changed dramatically. Can we retool and reskill the organization for the new normal, new realities? Let’s not ask, ask, ask the employees for one, two, three, and four. Can we also let the employees know that we are here to support them in terms of growing to be able to deliver what we are asking of them? So, there’s an aspect for management by objectives, there is an aspect for measuring the output and not time and also there’s the aspect of what can we do to help them in terms of performance. The organization should continue to show its duty of care to the employees. You expect me to do things totally different from how I have been doing it before and that’s because of the new realities but you haven’t skilled me. You have not retooled or reskilled me to do it and you are asking me to do, do, do. That’s why I always say that the entire value chain of HR cannot be taken in isolation. You are talking of performance management, there is a piece around reward, there is a piece around learning and development, and there is a piece around leadership. Even though, we are talking about performance management. Leaders also need to take their game a little higher to the point we are not just asking the employees to deliver but we are also saying what can we do to support you through this process. The employee assistance program is another one. So, in the near term what we should be doing is to concentrate on what we need to achieve, engagement, managing productivity and output, and not time and not managing face time. Something like, have you called me today? Why didn’t you call me? If there’s no need to call, what’s the point of calling? These are things I think we should concentrate on in the near term.
Adedoyin: In rounding up, can you give my listeners who are managers (managing team) 3 management advice on how to navigate this period and also 3 career advice to my listeners who are employees (individual contributors) on how to perform during this challenging time.
- It is a new world. No one alive or let me say a few people have experienced a pandemic situation before. The last one we read about happened in 1918. If anybody is alive today who’s witnessed a pandemic they won’t be many. This is not the time to grandstand. Managers, you do not have all the answers. Please engage with your employees. You will be amazed at the kind of results, answers, and solutions that will come out of naughty issues when you engage with your employees.
- Mental wellness is a big issue in the scheme of things right now. When you are on the phone or zoom call and you are shouting at the employees you cannot get the best from them. If you want to get the best from your employees, connect with them. Before you can connect with their heads to do stuff for you, please connect with their hearts. Be involved in their now rather than just asking for performance.
- Talent conversations now are totally different from what they were before the pandemic. Talents have choices. You need to know that. Be careful of the impact of your daily conversations and daily transactions with your employees. I am not talking about workers, I mean talents. They actually do not need to stay with you. If you are looking for talents that will take your team or your organization to the next level, you need to change your game.
- Sense of entitlement. Employees must throw it away right now. That’s the reality. I was listening to a management consultant this morning and he was asking about learning and development if it’s a right or a privilege. Remember, I mentioned that we should train people. From the employees’ perspective, we also shouldn’t see it as a right. Businesses are not making money and you are still saying send me on training. No sense of entitlement. Businesses are not making money and you are saying your salary has not been increased. No sense of entitlement. Businesses are not making money and we are saying forfeit your leave and consider that as part of your leave days because you’re home for one month, you are not doing anything anyway but you are saying no, you are entitled to your leave days. This is not the time for a sense of entitlement.
- Also, the empathy I talked about from the perspective of the managers must also be seen on the part of the employees. Empathize with the organization. Things have not been very very rosy for most organizations.
- Value up. Nobody pays you for anything except the value you bring to the workplace on a daily basis. So number 1, show up and number 2, value up and then you can expect value from that ecosystem.
Adedoyin Adebayo is the Director of Organizational Development at Insel Consulting, a Business Advisory and Strategic HR Consulting firm as well as the founder of Performance Tools, a platform set up with a vision “to empower a minimum of 300 million people globally in the next 10 years (2020-2030) by helping them to increase their LEADERSHIP SELF-AWARENESS through any or combination of his toolkits (training, speaking, coaching, mentoring, managing, books, articles, action learning, case studies, videos etc.) and guide them to develop their personal fulfillment and professional success around it and achieve maximum performance in any human endeavor they find themselves.