Adopting Continuous Conversations at Newport Group

Newport Group helps companies offer their employees a more secure financial future through retirement plans, insurance, and consulting services. With 1,500+ employees and 26 offices, Newport needed a performance management strategy that aligned with how the company conducted business and offered employees frequent career and growth conversations. Below is our Q&A with Jackie Ward, CHRO at Newport Group, about how they transitioned from an annual look-back on performance and to more continuous conversations. 

Reflektive: Can you tell us about your team at Newport and how you support the company’s performance management programs?

Jackie: Our HR team has thirteen employees, and we cover core HR functions, learning and development, talent acquisition, and engagement (diversity and community work). I spearheaded the Reflektive decision-making process back in 2017 and oversee the partnership, with my team members driving the day-to-day operations. 

Reflektive: What was performance management like prior to using Reflektive?

Jackie: Reviews happened once a year, and was a look-back on past performance. Compensation was often too closely connected with reviews, and became the focal point of the conversation. I also wanted to explore disconnecting pay from the conversation to give employees and managers an opportunity to speak to career and growth. The experience was very rigid and not beneficial for our employees. 

Reflektive: Why did you decide to make a change to your performance management program?

Jackie: When I first joined, the company was undergoing a period of substantial growth. Newport is agile and fast-moving, and I wanted our performance management strategy to align with our culture. We also had a number of exciting acquisitions, so we wanted to ensure that employees had the opportunity to develop relationships and have ongoing conversations across the company. Our CEO is a strong believer in continuous conversations, connections and building relationships.  

Reflektive: When reviewing, why did you decide to go with Reflektive?

Jackie: We reviewed a number of different platforms, and it came down to:

  • Productive conversations with the entire Reflektive team. As I was exploring different vendors, I was impressed with the product knowledge and understanding of my challenges, that we were able to dive into productive conversations quickly. 
  • Product flexibility offered us breadth to engage in ongoing conversations.
  • Enablement of continuous conversations for employees.
  • Moving away from the annual look-back review to more frequent conversations with quarterly check-ins, and the change management support. 

Reflektive: How is your company using Reflektive?

Jackie: Reflektive offers our employees the structure for more continuous conversations. Employees are encouraged to have casual 1:1s at least monthly, a more formalized quarterly check-in and annual skip level conversations. The process is well received and we average a 97% completion for our quarterly check-ins. 

Our culture has always been keen on promoting kudos and shoutouts. With Reflektive, I really like how Recognition is pulled into check-ins, so managers can avoid any recency bias and pull in all the great work their teams are doing. 

We’re also regular users of Goals. We set goals on a quarterly basis, and the product allows employees the flexibility to adjust and update should anything change. 

Reflektive: How do you educate employees and drive adoption of Reflektive?

Jackie: Reflektive is integrated into a number of our onboarding and training programs. During employee onboarding, we have a dedicated training for all new employees. We also host a number of 2-3 minute videos on our Intranet that offers a refresher of different aspects of the product that employees regularly use. 

Following each quarterly check-in, we share completion rates in our All-Employee meetings. My HRBPs attend management meetings, and take each business leader through their team’s results and future improvements for conversations. 

Reflektive: With COVID-19, what changes have you implemented?

Jackie: Pre-COVID, our workforce was across 26 offices and we still needed to connect with one another. A silver lining of COVID is it made our workforce much more comfortable engaging in meaningful conversations over video. 

In April, we ran the Coronavirus Sentiment Survey and earned a 91% favorability among our employees. The survey offered us timely data points on what’s going well, what employees needed to be successful, and deeper insight into their challenges. The key themes that emerged were: 

  • Space restrictions at home: Not being as productive at home due to lack of suitable space for a temporary home office 
  • Technology: The inconvenience of not being able to print or scan and having internet that is not as fast or reliable as in the office
  • Childcare: Productivity affected due to caregiving responsibilities
  • Team Meetings: Some managers are not having team meetings, which hinders feelings of connectedness
  • Missing the office environment: A lack of connectedness due to missing in-person interaction with colleagues or just the normal way of office life

We’ve fed the responses back to the employees, followed up with several individuals, took action to provide more information on childcare and shared the data with business leaders so they can continue to follow up with managers who may not be doing such a good job of staying connected to their people.  

Reflektive: As we look ahead to 2021, what are your priorities?

Jackie: My priority will be around what the future of our workforce will look like. We learned from engagement surveys that employees crave connectedness and relationship-building. Our company will likely stay remote for most of 2021, but we’re starting to have a lot of conversations around the reality of what it’s going to look like as employees are able to return to the office.