HR Maturity Stage 2: How to increase adoption and professional development

When you’re rushing into your next meeting to put out yet another fire, it’s easy to forget you’re not the only HR team wondering how you’re possibly going to finish that new salary matrix before the next review cycle.

But taking a step back to recognize that others in your role are facing similar challenges can be energising – especially when you can learn how they overcame these obstacles and successfully tackled the next hurdle in their path.

Our latest article outlined the 3 Stages of HR Maturity, and how HR teams can evolve to better support the needs of their organization as they grow.

This time, we’re taking a deeper dive into what it’s like to be in Stage 2. Specifically as it relates to the main challenges faced, the most common goals for teams in this stage, and the processes we’ve seen work best to help to achieve your goals as a team – so you can take one step closer to becoming a strategic business partner.

Stage 1: Establish fundamental HR processes

Stage 2: Increase adoption and data gathering

Stage 3: Become strategic business partners


It helps to understand where you sit on this spectrum to create a roadmap for success within your team and focus on how you will go about solving the challenges at each stage. When you have a clear plan, it also helps to get buy-in from important stakeholders throughout the business – paving the way for more support in the future.

Jump ahead:

- Common goals and challenges
- Goal setting: Performance
- Goal setting: Professional development
- Performance reviews

- Leadership reviews

- 1:1s

- Real-time feedback

- Engagement Surveys


Not sure which stage you’re in? Take this 5 question quiz to find out!

Introduction to Stage 2: Increase adoption and data gathering

As described in our overview of the maturity stages, teams in this stage often include an HR Director, teamed up with an HR Manager or Admin, and perhaps a recruiter – depending on the growth of the company.

You’ve worked hard to achieve the primary goal of Stage 1, which is to build a clearly structured and automated reviews process for your people – helping to allocate rewards fairly and lay the foundations for a healthy feedback culture. Of course, this is going to be an ever evolving process, but once the structure is in place, you should begin shifting attention. The focus for this stage is on increasing adoption and engagement through professional development, alignment through goal setting, and making sure you are gathering the right data to support future decision making.

There are of course many things you could focus on to achieve this, but below we will describe the main processes we’ve found to work best to achieve the desired results for teams in Stage 2.

Common challenges:

Reviews support performance, but not development

It might be that your reviews are designed to generate feedback that supports performance but not professional development, which is crucial if you want to drive further adoption and fuel employee engagement. If you need reasons beyond adoption, 91% of Generation Z employees see professional development and employee engagement as leading factors when selecting a place to work. It’s no longer a nice-to-have to support professional development if you want to attract and retain top talent.

Inexperienced or first-time managers

This is common across many teams, and will be an ongoing challenge. Managers account for 70% of the variance in team engagement, so if you’re not providing opportunities for them to learn to be an effective manager or coach, it can have a strong ripple effect across the engagement and overall performance of your organization. This should become a priority now, as it’s too late to react when you notice the trend from your exit interviews.

Unsure if you’re gathering the right data

You may already be gathering plenty of data, but feel overwhelmed by what to do with it. Utilizing data and analytics to offer insights for informed business decisions is the goal for Stage 3, but a large part of this comes from collecting the right data now, so you can begin to identify trends over time. Collecting the right data, and having a place to store it is one of the best ways to set yourself up for success in the future.

Common goals:

Now we’ve covered some ways to help identify if this is where you sit currently, we will discuss the processes available to achieve goals at this stage, and some considerations to keep in mind for implementation.

Best practices:

This section is intended to describe the options available to teams in Stage 2 and some considerations for implementation. You might decide some should be introduced sooner or later in the journey to becoming a strategic business partner, but needs vary a lot per team or company, so you should evaluate your options based on your current priorities.

Goal setting: performance goals

In order to measure how you’re performing against your (company) objectives, you should be setting goals and tracking progress towards them over time. Depending on how established your processes are already, this could be done at a company, team or individual level – but ideally across each, with a clear relationship from one to the next. Common ways to do this is through Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) or SMART goals.

Your priority as an HR team (in collaboration with leadership), should be to ensure visibility and alignment, so each person has a clear idea of how their work is contributing to the overall goals of their team and the company. According to McKinsey, 91% of companies who have effective performance management systems say that employees' goals are linked to business priorities. They understand that employees will be more effective if they can see how their individual goals fit into the bigger picture.

It’s likely you already have some level of goal-setting occurring within your company, or perhaps some teams are doing it but it hasn’t yet been executed at a company-wide level. Depending on the current level of experience, we often recommend teams at this stage begin by creating two formal goal setting periods each year. You should plan these to fall out of sync with your reviews, depending when you run these cycles at your company.

If you’re concerned about adoption or you want to test the process before rolling it out across the entire company, consider a pilot program with teams who are already tracking and measuring goals. That way other teams and departments can witness and learn from their success as you educate people about what it will look like for them.

Most resistance comes from lack of understanding, so make sure to educate people on the “why” of OKRs, as well as the “how” before expecting them to jump right in. Here at Impraise, we ran company-wide sessions before launching the new process, and organise drop-in sessions each quarter for new team members, or anyone who wants a refresher on how to set more effective goals.

Impraise provides a holistic overview of goal progress by team, helping you identify where to direct or shift focus towards teams who might need more support.

Goal setting: professional development

While performance goals are important for alignment and execution – facilitating career development through professional development goals is one of the best ways to drive employee engagement. This is one of the first major shifts in focus we try to encourage for teams looking to make the transition into this stage.

The intention here is to create measurable incentives for improving knowledge and skills aligned with their current role – or even better, a role that they would like to grow into as the next step in their career. Committing to employee development not only improves role effectiveness due to the newly acquired skills, but it can significantly increase job satisfaction and motivation.

Depending how you manage goals as a company, it helps to create a separate space for individuals to create and track progress on their own professional development goals. This can be within the same tool, as long as there is a clear way to differentiate between performance and development based goals. You should also make this distinction clear amongst your teams and their managers, as there is a big difference between the two.

As with performance goals, one of the best ways to drive adoption is by educating managers on how to create and support effective development goals for each of their team members. Running training sessions like this within your chosen platform can help drive even further adoption so they’re familiar with it when they introduce it to their team.

Drive more alignment and accountability by visualising how company, team, and individual goals work together, while also linking goals to feedback, public recognition, 1:1 conversations and more. Learn more.

Performance reviews

Performance reviews (or appraisals) have had a lot of bad press over the years – often because they’re underutilized and done poorly as an afterthought by a lot of managers. As described by a former product lead at Airbnb – ”Done well, performance reviews improve performance, align expectations and accelerate your people’s career. Done poorly, they accelerate their departure.”

The truth is, there is a lot to gain from performance appraisals if set up to align with the needs of your people and people understand how to provide constructive feedback. Most HR teams re-evaluating their review processes today, are doing so with the goal of moving towards a more continuous approach. The idea is to track progress against objectives and offer more regular moments for conversations throughout the year (with check-ins or 1:1s) – rather than saving it all up for one (often heavyweight) review each year.

While aligned goals and regular feedback is great for keeping people on track, the performance review is still a powerful tool for people to take a step back to reflect on the bigger picture and where they’re heading professionally. This is especially effective if feedback and progress is being stored in the form of goals set, 360 feedback, check-in or 1:1 topics discussed throughout the year, and other feedback from peers – as it can remove a lot of the headache of traditional reviews, and provide a more subjective basis for discussion. Even with these being captured, you should also include a self-assessment and 360 feedback into your appraisals to help form a full picture of performance.

All of the above allows your managers and their reports to focus instead on reviewing performance together, and looking forward to how they can work to improve throughout the next review cycle – rather than spending half the time (and most of their energy) painfully straining to remember what happened 9 months prior. With everything stored in one place, you are already setting them up for a much more productive conversation – no matter how often you run reviews.

A lot of teams are still using tools like Google Docs or Sheets to gather feedback, which is time consuming and frustrating for managers and your team to coordinate. More importantly for HR teams looking to level up though, you are extremely limited in the analytics available to track or review progress over time. If you want to move closer to the Stage 3 goal of becoming a strategic business partner, you need to be tracking progress over time in order to know what is working and what isn’t. This will allow you to begin identifying trends and suggest new initiatives using data, rather than just guessing or using anecdotal evidence for decision making.

Finally, how regularly you should be running reviews? Of course, traditionally reviews were held once a year, but as you move into Stage 2 and you’re beginning to support more regular conversations through check-ins and 1:1s (covered in more detail later in this article), then you should be looking to doing them more often throughout the year.

Quarterly reviews

These should be used more to get a lightweight snapshot of performance and development, to assess if things are on track, or if support is needed in order to achieve their goals. This should only be considered when your teams have truly adopted a continuous feedback culture.

Bi-annual reviews

Dividing your year into one lightweight mid-year assessment and one at the end, means you have an opportunity to show progress – particularly if you use ratings against competencies – and to check in to realign on bigger picture performance.

Annual reviews

Most people are familiar with this approach, which amounts to a more in-depth and formal process, which takes longer to prepare for and to complete for almost everyone involved.


We recommend teams in this stage run bi-annual reviews, as it relieves a lot of pressure from the end-of-year, and introduces more opportunity for realignment if not everyone has adopted the regular 1:1 or check-in conversations. If you’re not already using a purpose built reviews platform, then we highly recommend implementing one before increasing your cadence using manual tools like Sheets or Docs.

Finally, unless there seasonal variations for your business to consider, we often recommend running the first cycle in Q2, followed by the second cycle in Q4 for a year-end review, so they follow your goal-setting moments described above.


All Impraise customers receive full onboarding and a dedicated Customer Success Manager to help build and execute your own customized strategy, so you've got support every step of the way. Learn more.

The Impraise review builder helps you easily set up reviews of all types using templates, duplicate and edit from past reviews, or customize from scratch, depending on your preference.

Leadership reviews

While it is common practice to have a performance review cycles in place for teams in Stage 1, this is not often the case for leadership reviews. One of the most effective ways to increase adoption and engagement is by supporting the developing your leaders, as it can have one of the largest cascading effects across your company.

We all know it can be difficult to provide upward feedback to your manager for fear of retribution, but this is a missed opportunity given the impact leadership has on the performance and overall engagement of your people.

Creating an opportunity for your managers to receive upward feedback from their team members can be one of the best ways for them to learn and grow, as they may never get this opportunity otherwise. It also allows team members to provide feedback on behaviours that may have been causing issues or stress amongst the team.

If you haven’t run leadership reviews before, you will need to decide on a time of the year that is distant enough from other review cycles so not to overload people with feedback requests. If your regular performance reviews are in Q2 and Q4, then consider running your first round of reviews in Q3.

The questions should focus on managerial behaviours and qualities you would like to see more of in your company, and how effectively they are managing the team. The self-assessment is always a great option to include here as well, to provide opportunity for reflection. Following up conversations could be stressful for team members, so it might be best for the manager to discuss the feedback with their own manager or an internal coach.

1:1s

Too many managers see reviews as the end of their performance or developmental duties, whereas your responsibility is to educate and support them to understand that this is really just the beginning. Regular conversations with their team members, whether it’s an hour a week or half an hour each month, provides managers with an opportunity to clarify and discuss the goals of the individual or the organization.

It also allows you to remain aligned on performance expectations, and to generally build a stronger and more trusting relationship. If your managers can’t find a dozen hours to focus on their report’s career throughout the year, that probably means they have too many reports — or they shouldn’t be a manager.

To drive adoption, make sure you educate them on the value of 1:1s, offer guidance on how to run them effectively and consider providing a dedicated space for your managers to coordinate regular 1:1s. This way when reviews come around, the conversation can be more about discussing professional development, progress towards their goals, and the year ahead – instead of constructive feedback from the past.

Impraise offers a shared space for 1:1s, including dynamic topic selection for things like current goal progress – all in one place, so managers know exactly where to look when it comes to the next review cycle.

There’s no one-structure-fits-all when it comes to finding a framework for these conversations. It’s a personal thing. Therefore it’s important that managers don’t take a cookie-cutter approach by applying the same structure to each meeting. With this in mind, we’ve identified 3 types of 1:1 conversations that managers should be having with their employees.

(Bi-)weekly 1:1s

These recurring moments are for building trust and staying aligned. Managers should use this opportunity to clear roadblocks, make sure milestones are hit, realign on goals and ensure they feel heard and valued.

Career Development 1:1s

This should be centered around the report’s development, ambitions and wishes in terms of career advancement. This allows you to both take a step back from your day-to-day work to reflect on the bigger picture of where they would like to go in their career, and how you can support them in achieving it.

Performance Review follow-up 1:1s

Following a performance review, it is important managers schedule time with their reports to reflect on the feedback together and to set actionable goals to improve for next time. This should then inform a lot of the conversations in the (bi-)weekly 1:1s.


This is a great opportunity for managers to establish a stronger relationship with their team members, and be more hands on in supporting their professional development. With regular 1:1s in place, the next review cycle will be less of a surprise and people will have a much more positive relationship with receiving feedback.

Establish a shared place for regular 1:1 conversations between managers and reports, including helpful admin reports so you can check if conversations are happening, or if further support is needed. Learn more.

Real-time feedback

One of the most common complaints about the annual performance review, is that they’re too time-consuming. Introducing ways for your people to share (and request) regular feedback is great for not only creating professional development opportunities between scheduled reviews, but it also helps to paint a more accurate picture of performance and reduce the strain on managers when it comes to review time.

You’ll want to start by selecting a platform where people can easily give and receive real-time feedback. Ideally this should be in the same place as your performance reviews – making it easier for your managers to access everything that has been said about their reports.

Some platforms simply offer the ability to provide praise or constructive feedback, whereas there are more in-depth options available if you want to make this more robust. Impraise for instance, offers the ability for people to request feedback from the people they work with most, based on current performance or development goals, skills and competencies, recent projects, or of course custom questions they would like to ask co-workers. No matter your goals for real-time feedback, this provides your people with all the options they need to take their development into their own hands.

Beyond sharing a quick praise or tip, Impraise also allows people to dynamically request feedback based on skills and competencies, current goals, or custom questions they create.

Unfortunately, this type of feedback doesn’t happen overnight unless you’ve already got a strong culture of feedback and there is visibly adoption amongst leadership (which you will need to ensure before launch). We often recommend training people on how to provide effective feedback – with the best results arising if you provide this training with the tool you select, as they’re already familiar with the functionality.

Asking managers and your leadership team to share feedback through the tool when you roll this out is a great way to demonstrate this as something you want to adopt across your company. If their manager or the CEO thinks it’s valuable enough to take time to share feedback, then they’re much more likely to think maybe they can (and should!) too. You can’t simply make this available and expect people to adopt it straight away – but if there is social proof that it is a valued behaviour, then the chances of adoption and finding value will be much greater as a result.


Real-time feedback sits at the heart of Impraise, and remains an industry leader when it comes to offering continuous feedback opportunities for your people. Learn more.

Engagement surveys

Unsurprisingly, one of the best ways to better understand the engagement and needs of your people is, you guessed it – to ask! If you aren’t already running engagement surveys or lightweight pulse check-ins, there are a number of benefits that will help you understand engagement as it stands currently, but also into the future as you begin to track improvements over time.

Not only are surveys great predictors of behaviour (for instance, people who don’t fill out either of our two annual surveys are 2.6 times more likely to leave in the next six months), but most importantly, they provide employees the opportunity to feel heard.

The one thing we can’t stress enough, however, is you need to be willing to commit time and resources to make the changes when requests come through. If you ask for feedback on ways to improve the culture or benefits, but nothing happens – this can almost have more negative effect than not listening to them at all.

Depending on your experience with running these already, we often recommend running these twice a year – ideally out of sync with your performance reviews, to help spread things out and allow you to act on the information you have extracted. If you’re running reviews in Q2 and Q4 for instance, consider running your employee surveys in Q1 and Q3. This should provide you with plenty of ideas to improve the culture, as well as giving you data points to see if you’re tracking up or down on the score of the questions you ask.

Putting it into practice

Below is a possible annual timeline of how you might spread these activities throughout the year once it is prepared. Do not expect everything to introduce everything straight away, as it is better to make sure people are prepared and understand why before before introducing another process in place.

Every Impraise customer received a dedicated Customer Success Manager to help build and execute their own customized strategy. Contact us today to learn more.

Conclusion

So here you have a number of areas on which you and your team can focus on the short and long term – depending on your priorities. Start by evaluating what is most important to your team and organization, and then use this to plan out how you would like to execute this over time.

Once you have a clearer idea of what lies ahead for your team, you can begin allocating time and resources, but also building alignment with stakeholders throughout the company.

You may be rolling these out over a period of time, but the goal should always be to ensure each of these processes align and work together in the end. One of the best ways to do this is to select a platform that is designed to support you with each of these processes and gather data – all in one place.

If you think you might be ready for a platform that can support you to build out a strategy to support the activities described above, contact us today for a free consultation and demo of Impraise to see how it could set you up for success now, but also in the future as you level up to Stage 3 – the final stage in HR maturity. All Impraise customers receive a dedicated Customer Success Manager to help with implementation and adoption strategies, so you know you will have the know-how to support you every step of the journey.

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