The 3 stages of HR maturity: How HR must evolve to support business growth

Sitting between departments may be one of the best parts of working in HR, as you get to work alongside so many different smart and thoughtful people – but it can also result in more requests and expectations to manage than anyone else. Or maybe it just feels that way?

This might explain why when we speak to HR teams, they often describe feeling more reactive than proactive – no matter how hard they try to break the pattern. Finding the balance between short-term tasks versus spending time building valuable processes that allow you and your people to work smarter and grow, can feel almost impossible – especially when it can be difficult to know what these processes should look like.

The good news is, you’re not alone – and we’re going to try to make sure it doesn’t stay this way!

In this article, we will help you understand the different stages of HR maturity, and how to identify where you sit on the scale. This should help to determine what your priorities should be today, while also providing a roadmap for what to focus on next. With this in place, you can begin laying the groundwork with stakeholders to get support for the future, as well as being seen as a valuable leader within your organization.

Introducing the 3 stages of HR Maturity

People often say “success is a journey, not a destination”, and this couldn’t be more true for HR. As your business grows your goals change, and once you establish the fundamentals you must move on to the next step – providing more value to the company. Josh Bersin found that the benefit a company receives from HR often depends on the maturity level of the team and the processes in place. In our experience, performance management maturity for most HR teams can be broken down into three clear stages – starting with the fundamentals, moving towards a more integrated business partner as they evolve over time.

Stage 1: Establish fundamental HR processes

Stage 2: Increase adoption and data gathering

Stage 3: Become a strategic business partner


Below, we will define what it feels like to be in each stage so you can identify where you might sit, and introduce processes that can be adopted to help you achieve success.

Stage 1: Establish fundamental HR processes

Companies in this stage typically have a single HR manager in an operations style role – or they’ve often come from an operations role into this position. In some cases there might be a performance review process in place, but it likely feels inconsistent or chaotic. And often it’s a manual process that’s managed with something like Google Docs.

One thing is for sure however – people in these roles are often a total powerhouse, and run most HR functions by themselves, from onboarding to payroll, right through to organizing stationery. If you had to define the ultimate multi-tasker – look no further.

Main challenges:

There is often no real structure to the processes at this stage, but more frustratingly, there’s no time to spend establishing them. This is particularly true for performance reviews, which is why it can often be such a time-consuming and draining process for everyone involved. Without a process in place, the possibility of end-of-year surprises increases greatly. There is also a lot of pressure on this role, as you have the pressure of delivering something that impacts everyone across the company is real.

Main goals:

Of course it’s impossible to please everyone, but you want to balance interests. Ideally, you should have this all in a single platform where you can easily search and recall the feedback received to settle any disputes, as well as track and measure participation.

Best practices:

Performance Reviews

If you don’t have a consistent review process in place, or you do but it's a huge administrative burden for you, your managers, and people, then this is a good place to start. Your focus should be on establishing a bi-annual performance review, including a peer (or 360) review from those they work with closely, and a self-review for reflection. The peer review is an important step here, as this helps to provide a more well rounded picture of performance, and it reduces the chance of biased results from managers. Additions like a peer and self-assessment can easily be added to reviews when using a purpose-built platform.

You’ll want to make sure that all feedback is automatically collected and distributed to the right people, as to reduce the chance for human error. With the information captured in one place, you can help managers quickly and objectively identify hidden strengths, potential blind spots, and personal development opportunities across their team. Tools like Impraise can package and deliver highly visual Review Reports to the manager, direct reports, and other selected individuals including coaches or mentors to keep the conversation going beyond the review.

Post-review 1:1s

1:1s are a great way to not only prompt development conversations following a review but also to know that these types of conversations are happening regularly. If you are just getting started with this process, a good place to begin is by asking all managers and mentors to schedule a 1:1 to discuss the strengths and development areas following the review. As an HR leader, it’s valuable to understand who has and hasn’t set up 1:1s to review reports and monitor if the follow up conversations happen.

Engagement surveys

If you’re not running engagement surveys already, this is a great way to establish a baseline for how people are feeling across your organization, and how you might better support their needs. If you’re new to engagement surveys, consider capturing a company pulse twice a year, as you may find that it surfaces enough things to focus on.

Putting it into action

Can you relate to these challenges? Understand how Impraise can help you develop further and master Stage 1 before leveling up to Stage 2. If you're not sure this is the right stage for you, take our short five question quiz to identify where on the scale you sit.

A possible annual timeline for teams in Stage 1. Receive a customized plan after close consultation with your dedicated Impraise Customer Success Manager.

Stage 2: Increase adoption and data gathering

At stage 2, teams are often small but resourceful. There’s typically an HR director, HR Manager or HR admin, and perhaps a recruiter depending on company growth.

This team has worked tirelessly to get a trusted reviews process in place and is looking to build on this foundation by delivering clear developmental value for participants and improving alignment across the organization.

Main challenges:

You’ve already implemented a performance review process and it’s far less manual and people are starting to get value out of it. But engagement comes from also supporting the development of people. While supporting performance is important for people’s role, supporting their development is critical for their career. When 70% of learning happens on the job what can you do to make it easier and make it happen?

With good managers in place, things like goal setting and regular coaching and development conversations might be happening, but in reality managers are busy and they need the right skills and tools to support them. You are looking to create clear goal setting processes and feedback opportunities for both managers and direct reports that are easy enough to complete despite busy work schedules. Throw new managers into the mix, and you’re in for an interesting ride!

Main goals:

Best practices:

Here’s a brief outline of the areas available for you to focus on to tackle the challenges listed above.

Goals: Business and Professional Development

Companies, teams, and individuals need goals to measure how they’re performing against their objectives. Your role is to help ensure visibility and alignment of these goals across the entire company. Most organizations, aim to set goals at least twice a year at this stage. Keeping in mind that by providing a clear link between company objectives, team objectives and personal goals people can better see the impact of their efforts. The leading performance management tools have built goal setting into their platform, so you can support goal management alongside reviews and facilitating feedback.

Reviews: 360 and Leadership Reviews

Reviews are an immensely valuable developmental tool. By pairing a self-assessment with feedback from peers and managers you can give an individual a holistic view of their strengths and development areas. Most review platforms allow team members to self select those they work with, which can be approved by their manager before the review begins.

Often with fast growing companies there are quite a few first time managers in the mix, so leadership reviews are an easy way to ensure that they get enough upward feedback.

Regular 1:1s

One of the best ways to ensure your performance and development processes becomes a reality, is through regular 1-on-1s between managers and their direct reports. Supporting regular moments to catch up on progress offers more frequent coaching opportunities and of course, alignment. You can also support effective 1-on-1s between coaches, mentors, or peers by providing a dedicated shared space for people to collaborate on agendas, offer topics for discussion, and track follow-up conversations.

Real-time feedback

Offering the ability for people to exchange real-time feedback anytime can help create learning opportunities between structured reviews. Allowing people to easily send a praise or a constructive tip can reinforce good behavior or drive change, which can go a long way over time. In select platforms, like Impraise, individuals can also proactively ask for feedback after a project, sprints, presentations, etc. If people are already comfortable with feedback, you can customize a collection of skills and competencies by role so that individuals know what areas they need to develop in and can proactively start collecting feedback. These can be customized based on desired skills, behaviors or even company values you would like to encourage more.

Putting it into action

If this seems familiar, and you want to learn how Impraise could help support your current performance management cycle while also supporting your future growth, check out Stage 2: Increase adoption and data gathering.

A possible annual timeline for teams in Stage 2. Receive a customized plan after close consultation with your dedicated Impraise Customer Success Manager.

Stage 3: Become a strategic business partner

Teams at this stage may vary in size but the leader of this team is often in a strategic role and maintains close relationships with other executives. This team acts in cross-functional way and is focused on optimizing the workforce to meet business needs, and aims to offer insights that will inform business goals and directions.

The team has worked hard to ensure the right HR systems and processes are in place but what they are looking for is accessing acting on relevant people data and help make better business decisions.

Main challenges:

The challenge here is ensuring you continue building the momentum created in the previous stages. It’s tempting to sit back and admire your good work, but improving communication, adoption of your processes, and alignment is an ongoing journey. At this stage you are expected to have the data gathered to make people related decisions and support business initiatives. With great power comes great responsibility!

Main goals:

Best practices:

Goals & Check-ins

Your priority is to support alignment from the company objectives, down to the team and individual level. As everyone becomes more comfortable with setting these together, you can aim to set these up to four times a year. Beyond just setting them, encourage managers to generate more data by conducting light-weight check-ins to see how their teams are progressing on their goals.

Reviews

This should now be a well oiled machine, but you are searching for meaning in the data. Do you have one team that is out performing another? Or is one team better at having follow up conversations than another? These are just some of the insights you can use to further refine your initiatives to drive adoption or provide manager training.

Regular 1:1s

Nothing changes here from the previous stage, except perhaps the level of adoption. It takes time for 1:1s to become a staple between all managers and their direct reports, but by now they should be fully accepted as standard across your entire company.One-on-one meetings don't have to be just between managers and employees. Encourage people to set up 1:1s with other people, including mentors, coachings and even peers or members from other teams. Not only can this facilitate more cross-team collaboration but can give the individual a more holistic perspective.

Real-time feedback

As you reach this stage of maturity, people should be more comfortable with sharing feedback, so it is now a matter of supporting these behaviors more often. Public praise through integrations with tools like slack can help make this more visible – particularly if this is displayed by managers and senior members of the company.

Engagement surveys

Consider running engagement surveys quarterly, so you can maintain a clear pulse on the health of your processes and programs and how you might improve them. This is a valuable data source to help shape future business decisions.

A possible annual timeline for teams in Stage 3. Receive a customized plan after close consultation with your dedicated Impraise Customer Success Manager.

Conclusion

Hopefully you should now have a clear understanding of the 3 stages of HR maturity and how you can evolve through each these to support business growth. It’s important to know where you sit on this spectrum so you can better focus on your current priorities, but also so you can be ready and prepare others for what is coming next. This helps create clarity for you and your team, but also for your stakeholders, so everyone is on the same page about current expectations, but also into the future.

If you want help identify where you business is at today take our short five question quiz, or explore the customizable packages available for you today to understand how Impraise can enhance your current performance management cycle with your future growth in mind.

Share on

Always be learning.

Sign up to our newsletter and join a community of like-minded professionals accelerating their career with the latest industry trends and insights.

Success!

Check your email for confirmation and keep an eye out for our next newsletter.