Growing High Performers in Tech

By Lauren Linzenberg (Guest Author) & Cristina LaBoy (HR Generalist, Sulzer US)

As if measuring job performance and providing appropriate professional development wasn’t already hard to keep up with in the tech industry, let’s add a pandemic and an unexpected remote, distributed workforce. Take that in for a moment.

On the surface, professional development sounds straightforward: You have a professional goal and you, your manager, and/or HR take the necessary educational steps to help you get there. These steps could be taken in a classroom setting, conference, or through real-world exposure.  

But it is never that easy.  Now, with the COVID pandemic pushing many workforces into remote work and distributed models come concerns about maintaining culture, perks and benefits, and, yes, professional development.  While there are many types of professional development, the most effective are mentoring and on the job training. So, with Zoom fatigue creeping in and no longer being able to walk to a colleague’s desk, how do you make sure that your team is continuing to stay on top of continuously shifting business demands and client needs?

Let’s take a deeper look. What really goes into professional development plans, and how is the outcome (job performance) defined and measured to ensure effectiveness and ROI?

Each organization has its own set of measurement tools when it comes to job performance, but what they all have in common is starting with baseline performance measurements for each employee and looking for behaviors that contribute to the organization’s goals and productivity (Campbell, 1990).  

At Sulzer US, we ensure that expectations and performance are communicated from Day 1.  Job descriptions are written with clear timelines so that candidates know what they will be responsible for within their first month, quarter, and year.  Upon joining our team, managers meet with employees to craft custom development plans that lay out a clear course of action during the first 30, 60, and 90 days of a new role. These custom plans accompany peer-led trainings, self-service documentation, and virtual classes to satisfy all learning styles. Employees meet regularly with their manager to scale and adjust the plans, as needed. As projects shift, this flexibility is important.

We believe in taking a blended approach towards job performance. Employees are given SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time bound) goals on a regular basis. These goals are determined jointly to ensure there is a clear understanding of what is expected while also keeping employees motivated. We also take part in 360° feedback for our review process where we obtain feedback on an employee’s performance from the circle of colleagues with whom they work. This is important so that we can focus on behaviors, communication, and the process of getting work done, rather than just the tasks that were completed.  

Why measure behavior and performance over objective criteria? Because employees typically have more control over performance than they do over effectiveness or productivity. How many times has your development team worked to get a project out on time, just to have the specs change days before deployment? Or perhaps your Technical Account Manager has a sales quota to hit with their client and the client experiences budget cuts? These are just two scenarios where studying the objective criteria alone for job performance may lead to false conclusions.

Employees, whether new or those on a professional development plan, will experience the determinants such as declarative and procedural knowledge, or motivation (required if either type of knowledge is to be maximized).  

By breaking their knowledge and capabilities down this way, our leadership team can monitor performance and see what additional support someone may need. Let’s use an example:

A developer learning about Amazon Web Services (AWS). For a developer to build a foundation on AWS, they must learn the facts of what it is and how it is used. Within a formal development plan, we outline what courses and resources the employee should refer to so they may build that knowledge. Next, developers learn how to apply what they learned while also adhering to best practices. Through hands-on training with peers or through online labs, developers can attain procedural knowledge. Motivation is then determined largely by why we do the things we do. Everyone has a different idea of what motivates them; therefore, we find it important to understand the motivating factors of each individual and build it into their development plan.

We find that when our team is empowered and motivated through and by their work, they continue to be a high-performing team and anyone new who joins our team quickly adapts to this transparent process where the mutual fit is prioritized for at least the first 90 days, and beyond.

Sources:

Campbell, J.P. (1990). Modeling the performance prediction problem in industrial and organizational psychology. In M. D. Dunnette & L. M. Hough (Eds.), Handbook of industrial and organizational psychology (2nd ed., Vol. 1, pp. 687-732). Palo Alto, CA: Consulting Psychologists Press.

Miller, J. S. (2003). High tech and high performance: Managing appraisal in the information age. Journal of Labor Research, 24(3), 409-424. doi:10.1007/s12122-003-1004-3

About the authors: Lauren Linzenberg is an HR consultant specializing in I/O Psychology. She has supported Sulzer US tech recruitment efforts and has previously helped develop some of the HR policies still utilized by our team. Cristina LaBoy is an HR Generalist at Sulzer US, working across all HR and recruiting functions.  She works in collaboration with the executive team to recruit, hire, and support employees throughout their careers while helping make Sulzer a great place to work.

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