Spirit’s guide to designing your own HR management tools

Off-the-peg performance management tools might seem like a quick-fix, but Alex Blyth reports on one company which discovered the benefits of going it alone.

“You don’t really get a second shot at performance management,” said Penny Wallace, director of learning and development at pub chain, Spirit Group. “When we acquired 1,413 pubs from Scottish & Newcastle Retail in March 2004, we knew we had just one chance to introduce a single performance management tool that would bring together two organisations that had traditionally taken very different approaches to the issue.”

There was already a team working on the issue of performance management and this gave them a clear focus over the summer of 2004 as they developed a tool called Spirit Explorer. The company did not even consider off-the-peg solutions. Wallace said: “In my experience they always involve extra hidden costs. We wanted full control over the development of a tool that was specifically tailored to our needs.”

The company trialled Spirit Explorer with randomly selected groups of employees. Project manager, Nick Bird said: “Apart from anything else, we wanted to overcome the cynicism prevalent amongst some more long-serving members of staff by showing them that we were listening to their views and acting on them.”

Phase one was launched in August 2004 and involved 19 coaches working with 300 pub managers and central support staff over a nine-week period. Each one-to-one session was made up of two components. The first part was a review of performance against pre-agreed key performance indicators.

Bird was keen to stress that this involved more than just presenting managers with a set of figures. “We also looked at behaviour, and did everything possible to ensure that the review became the start of an open discussion,” he said.

The second part focused on the future. Managers agreed individual performance targets, outlined related actions, defined blockages and drivers, and then linked this into personal development and career progression. On average each session lased three to four hours, but since each was individually tailored, the length and content varied greatly.

According to Wallace, the entire process has cost the business just £55,000 so far. She even believes that, despite the length of those one-to-ones, it has required a relatively low amount of management time.

“Coaches went out to see managers, so each one only had to commit about half a day, rather than the full day plus travel which group training sessions typically take up,” she said. “Also, the time has been more productive, with managers engaged in the discussions rather than checking their mobiles every 20 minutes.”

Although it is too early to see any concrete benefits emerge, Wallace and Bird are encouraged by the fact that 97% of the sessions were completed by the deadline of the end of November. They identify tight timescales and finding storage for 3,000 electronic documents as their greatest obstacles on this project. Both believe that the support they received from the board was crucial in making it a success. Many board members went through the process themselves, setting an important example to the rest of the organisation.

Wallace said: “It has been a huge investment from the company, but the managers have responded really well to it, and it has been fantastic to see the extent to which many of them opened up.

“As we roll it out to chefs and assistant managers this autumn and begin to link the whole process into our talent development and succession planning we will really start to see the benefits throughout the organisation.”

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