Q&A: The Art of Performance Management by Rabi Agrawal

Learnings for HR


Question: How did you get into HR? What's your experience been like? And can you share your journey?

I began my journey into HR sixteen years ago after earning my MBA, starting at Careernet where I focused on talent acquisition for various startups, from emerging ventures to prominent companies.

This experience paved the way for my role at Zivame, an e-commerce startup, where I joined as the first HR professional and eventually headed the Talent Acquisition department for over four years.

My next move was to ClearTax, a fintech startup, where I led the TA function for three years. Two years ago, I took on the role of Head of HR at FloBiz, where I am currently responsible for guiding the people function, continuing to support and expand the company's workforce.

Question: What are some key things that most HR professionals overlook when scaling up an organization from a startup to a mid-size company?

When scaling a startup to a mid-sized company, HR professionals face unique challenges that are often overlooked in the rush of growth. Here are two critical areas to focus on:

  1. Formalizing HR Processes: Transitioning from informal to structured HR systems, policies, and processes is essential as a company grows. This helps to ensure that the organization can scale effectively without losing operational efficiency.

  2. Preserving Company Culture: While implementing new structures is necessary, maintaining the company's original DNA is equally important. Striking the right balance between new systems and core values is key to maintaining a unique identity during growth.

Addressing these aspects thoughtfully can significantly smooth the transition and set the foundation for sustained success.

Question: How would you define performance management?

Performance management is often misunderstood as just the annual appraisal process, but it's much broader and encompasses several key elements to enhance team performance and development:

  • Goal-Setting: It's crucial for team members to understand their roles and have clear goals aligned with the organization’s objectives.

  • Review and Feedback Process: Along with yearly reviews, there should be ongoing, real-time feedback which can help team members identify strengths and areas for improvement. Also, annual reviews should include peer feedbacks as well.

  • Development Opportunities: Providing training and development helps team members grow skills and increase their contributions to the organization.

  • Rewards and Recognition: Effective recognition and rewards motivate team members and promote a positive work culture.

Overall, performance management is about creating a framework that supports continuous improvement and high performance across the organization.

Question: What crucial aspect of performance management do many organizations in India often overlook?

Many organizations in India tend to neglect two key aspects of performance management.

First, there's often a failure to set clear, achievable goals that align with the company's strategic objectives, leading to confusion among team members about expectations.

Second, the feedback process is often treated as an annual activity. Along with annual reviews, regular one-on-one sessions should be conducted to discuss improvements and support skill development, ensuring employees receive timely guidance and opportunities for growth. 

These oversight can significantly impact the effectiveness of performance management systems.

Question: How can performance improvement strategies be effectively implemented in remote work environments?

In remote work environments, well-defined performance management strategies are crucial. Here are two key strategies:

  1. Clear KPIs: Setting clear and well-defined Key Performance Indicators is vital. This ensures everyone knows their responsibilities and what metrics they are evaluated against, promoting transparency and accountability, which is especially important when teams are not physically together.

  2. Regular One-on-Ones: It's essential for managers to conduct regular one-on-one meetings with remote team members. These discussions about progress, challenges, and areas needing improvement help maintain a clear understanding of performance and support continuous development, preventing any sense of isolation or disconnection from the team’s goals.

Question: Can you explain why rewards and recognition are crucial in performance management?

Rewards and recognition are essential in performance management because they acknowledge and appreciate the hard work of team members, going beyond their regular tasks and pay.

In our company, we have established a rewards system that reflects our values—not just focusing on sales figures but also recognizing behaviors that demonstrate empathy, creativity, and a commitment to learning.

For example, if someone shows exceptional support to a colleague or customer, we make sure to celebrate that effort. This approach not only values different types of contributions but also creates a positive and motivating workplace environment.

This comprehensive recognition helps in building a motivated team where everyone feels valued. By consistently implementing such rewards and recognition initiatives, we foster a culture of motivation and appreciation among our team members.

Question: How does a good Performance Improvement Plan(PIP) fit in a performance management system?

A good Performance Improvement Plan (PIP) is an integral part of a performance management system, aimed not at dismissing an employee but giving them a fair opportunity to improve.

It starts with a manager clearly defining areas of improvement for the underperforming team member, setting realistic goals, providing a clear timeline for achieving the goals and also mentioning the potential outcomes of not achieving the goals.

Documentation of each step is crucial for transparency.

Throughout the PIP, the manager should actively support the employee by monitoring progress, offering feedback, and providing the necessary resources to aid improvement. This process should be fair and transparent, offering the team member a fair chance to improve.

At the end of the PIP, a final review determines the next steps based on the employee’s performance improvement.

Question: How will AI integration transform performance management systems?

The integration of AI is set to significantly change performance management systems. Here are a few ways it might happen:

  1. Data Analysis and Insights: AI can analyze large amounts of data to provide real-time insights into team performance, helping to refine management strategies.

  2. Automated Check-ins: AI tools can automate routine interactions, collecting data on employee satisfaction, challenges faced, and project progress, thus simplifying the traditional review process.

  3. Skill Gap Analysis: AI can assess job descriptions against actual performance to identify skill gaps, guiding tailored training and development plans.

  4. Identifying High-Potential Team Members: AI can detect high-performing team members, assisting in the development of specific retention strategies to keep key talent.

These innovations can make performance management more efficient and focused on fostering development and proactive engagement.

Question: What elements of performance management are timeless and unlikely to change?

Despite technological advances, certain core aspects of performance management remain constant:

  1. Performance and Potential Evaluation: Continuously assessing team members ensures growth, fairness, and productivity.

  2. Training and Development: Investing in team member development is crucial for skill enhancement and organizational growth.

  3. Regular Reviews: Ongoing feedback is essential for team members to understand their progress and areas for improvement.

  4. Recognition and Rewards: Appreciating outstanding performance and behavior is vital, as recognition fosters motivation and satisfaction.

These fundamentals are grounded in human behavior, emotions, and motivations, which are consistent regardless of changes in technology.

Do you work in HR?

Email [email protected] and let’s talk :)

Note: All views expressed in this interview are personal and not linked to any organization.

Join the conversation

or to participate.