It takes a lot of horsepower to transform performance management in the modern workplace, but with the right executive sponsor, the payoff is imminent and priceless.
Rob McClellan, Chief Technology Officer at SmartPak, is no stranger to transforming antiquated corporate processes. After leading technology teams at beloved brands like Coach, adidas, Fila, Staples and more, he’s now changing the game for SmartPak, an equine health company based out of Boston.
His relentless drive and dedication to improving employee success resulted in a highly successful, new quarterly check-in and real-time feedback program that he implemented with his team in just one week and carefully measured over the course of three months.
If you’re hoping to achieve early success with your new performance management programs, but you are struggling to measure results efficiently, find an executive sponsor, and find a willing technology partner to make the implementation process seamless, Rob’s success story is the perfect place to find actionable advice.
How did you, a technology executive, find yourself involved in the HR strategy at SmartPak?
As CTO, I work closely on optimizing processes. When I joined the company a year and a half ago, a lot of the HR-related processes were antiquated, unnecessarily bureaucratic, and primarily paper-based. Frankly, they added no value.
The primary example of this was the annual performance review. We ran them on Microsoft Word. The associate would prepare the self appraisal, the manager would look at it, and then they would create their own Word Document for their discussion that the associate would later sign.
For us, it was a lot of work, stress, and process that had very little output benefit for the associates. The reviews were overstated, and everyone was rated a 4 or a 5, with rare exception. Many people sort of blended together, and we had no way of knowing if meaningful conversations between employees and managers were happening. It was too retroactive.
Reviews often addressed things that happened 14 months before. That didn’t really fit into the “speed” aspect of our company values.
How did you go about changing performance management at SmartPak?
I sat down with HR and said, “Time out, this process is useless to us.” SmartPak is a company that has fully adopted lean manufacturing principles in the warehouse, so I knew the team understood the concepts of “waste” vs. “value-add.” I had encountered Reflektive at a former company, so I suggested it as a potential solution.
I sat down with HR and said, “Time out, this process is useless to us.”
Since we had a great willing partner in HR, we were able to run a Reflektive pilot in IT. We tested it out first and then rolled it out to the rest of the organization so they could move with more speed.
That has led to sort of a revolution in, not only HR issues, but in how we move to digital signatures for other kinds of processes and workflows. Much like how my team works on addressing help desk tickets, we’re helping each other out and sharing knowledge together.
Why did you decide to do a pilot with the IT department, specifically?
One big reason was I, as a business owner, wanted this. It wasn’t that I just hated the existing process, but I was willing to invest in alternatives and work on the design aspects with HR.
I don’t think everyone else in the company thinks about that. They’d love to have a simpler process, but they don’t necessarily want to put in the time and the effort into trying something new, and designing all the processes. When a pilot has the potential to fail, their effort could be wasted, or they could be embarrassed professionally.
Is there a distinct advantage for a technology leader to champion a new HR process?
I think it could be any business leader, but in IT we do have one distinct advantage: we have experience testing software, training people, and rolling out those kinds of things, and we have access to the data, too.
Typically you run into the roadblocks on any project, even with a fast service like Reflektive’s. There’s always some technical component that has to be plugged in. Can you get that prioritized?
Since the IT team is ultimately implementing the solution, we’re less likely to get stopped in our tracks.
Since the IT team is ultimately implementing the solution, we’re less likely to get stopped in our tracks by someone saying, “no, you can’t do that,” because we know that, technically, we can. The only thing holding us back is our will to make it happen.
Before implementing Reflektive, everything was so insular. We didn’t have an exportable list of employees, believe it or not. They were all in ADP. Our team found a lot of underlying weaknesses in our processes that needed to be addressed. I think if I hadn’t championed it in IT we would have run into a lot more technical roadblocks.
What advice would you have to people outside of IT who want to launch a successful performance management process?
I think the key is looking at the satisfaction that other clients [of the tool you’re considering] have had with the program. Case studies are always extraordinarily valuable.
It’s also important to measure your success. We are tracking the eNPS for our Reflektive pilot, and we can see how those scores are moving, trending, and improving.
What does your performance management process look like now?
Before, we were only setting annual goals. Now, are having four touches a year, with each of the employees going over quarterly calls and results. That leads to the “speed” and “agility” that we include in our values statement.
Instead of spending so much time and effort in questioning sprints, looking backwards, and things like that, the new process asks, “what are the benefits you can bring to SmartPak as an IT person?” As a leader, I try to appeal to their desire to bring real change to the organization.
Our new process with Reflektive generates such a tremendous positive vibe internally. It is a focus solution that encourages positive real-time feedback. It also has the ability to go into a light touch review processes, and it also enables a goals process that is real-time in nature.
As a technology leader, what benefits might stand out if someone on HR was pitching leveraging new performance management technology?
Well, for me, it’s all about motivating and engaging the team. The positive reinforcement aspect of what Reflektive is trying to do — and what they do with the real-time feedback tool — is unique. That was the main reason I put it in, in the first place. I haven’t seen anything else like it in the marketplace.
It’s all about motivating and engaging the team.
Reflektive matches so well with our culture of maniacal execution. We have a maniacal customer focus, and the team aspect, and the respect that we have for each other, it is so complementary to how we deal with things today.
How has your work day and leadership changed since implementing Reflektive? Have you been surprised by anything?
I get so much more visibility as to all the great things that are happening at SmartPak, and I can reinforce those behaviors digitally, as well as in person. Our growing ENPS reinforces that we did the right thing bringing Reflektive on, and that we’re continuing to do the right thing.
I’ve had such interesting look into who’s leaving feedback, and that includes many of the more cynical folks on the IT team. If you can get IT to use this, then just about anybody can. They clearly see the benefit of [giving real-time feedback], too. I didn’t expect them to participate at all. It feels like we’re humming right now.
Can you highlight some of the results that you’re most proud of in your short time managing a performance management process? And can you provide some key takeaways for our readers?
I think the key for me is establishing a baseline of satisfaction with the existing performance management process and the tools in which people can be recognized. According to the ENPS we sent out before the pilot, our team’s opinion of the existing process was profoundly negative.
I have never seen a number like that from a team of IT professionals to be that uniformly in favor of using any tool.
The roll out process, in terms of the interactions with the users, was literally one week. We got a rough feed together of the employee data, piped that up to Reflektive, and then trained the users. It literally took 30 minutes for us to train our employees on how to use the tools and get up and running. I wouldn’t have picked a week to try and launch the tool, but we were trying to get a pilot to correspond to the end of the calendar year so that we could potentially expand the agreement.
After three months, 94% of people wanted to keep using Reflektive. I have never seen a number like that from a team of IT professionals to be that uniformly in favor of using any tool. We started to roll out Reflektive to the rest of the company in January.
How do you use tools like Reflektive to affect the company culture at SmartPak?
The culture is so important. We spend a lot of time making sure that folks joining my team will be successful in SmartPak. We’ll screen on skills, capabilities, and experience, but also corporate fit. It’s what makes me want to stay in a company like SmartPak. The average tenure on my team is around five and a half years, which is remarkable for a 40-person IT organization that has only existed for 18 years.
I love the bringing tools and capabilities that align well with our culture, like Reflektive. There’s similarity in vision and approach on how to manage and help people perform their best. That’s what’s exciting to me about Reflektive, and that’s also what makes SmartPak a great place to work.