The title of this post was inspired by Grant Beckett, Globoforce EVP of Global Product Strategy, who actually said he was conducting, “a conversation about conversations about Conversations,” during a talk about performance development at Globoforce’s annual Workhuman convention.

I was interested in Conversations, their new performance development tool, not just because of Brandon Hall Group’s forthcoming research updates on the topic, but because it pertains to a matter of great importance: how to make our workplaces more human.

Making a more human workplace has long been a goal of Workhuman — and Globoforce by extension — but what does that mean for performance management, one of the least-loved aspects of human resource management? How do we take a practice that turns people into numbers (when done poorly) and make it something to connect us and engender greater empathy?

Would it be crazy to say that machines are part of the answer?

Machines are part of the answer!

Seriously, Conversations looks at performance feedback and recognition (Grant Beckett reminds us that “recognition is feedback”) and shows us how connected (or not) we are to each other, even to the point of revealing variations between gender and ethnicity. Natural Language Processing (NLP) can be used to examine the tone of feedback from men vs. women using semantic analysis to find microaggressions and other signs of unconscious bias that divide us, then identify better language to build a more inclusive culture.

With network analysis tools you can even get a sense of how comfortable people are speaking up or giving honest performance feedback as a whole, for use when there are discrepancies between the amount of feedback from men and women in your workplace. That can serve as a metaphorical canary in the coalmine to take action before a toxic culture sets in that can cause actual harm.

I’ll be the first to admit I didn’t see performance management as a possible catalyst for workplace equity, greater diversity and inclusion; PM had long seemed like something that deserved fixing, not championing. But maybe in a few years we’ll be spared monthly variations of the “Why Performance Management Stinks” article — or maybe that’s just wishful thinking.

Cliff Stevenson, (Twitter: @CliffordDarrell) Principal Analyst, Talent Management and Workforce Management, Brandon Hall Group

For more information on Brandon Hall Group’s research, please visit www.brandonhall.com.

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