How Whereby’s People Team Built Remote-first HR Processes from Scratch
Looking to build your own remote-first performance review? Keep reading to find out how our team set up a framework to help all team members around the world.
It isn’t always easy to know how people are performing on a remote team, especially one that is growing rapidly.
Many of the established ways of gauging employee performance no longer apply: You can’t see who’s the first one to the office. You won’t always know who’s taking leadership in the project brainstorming session unless you’re on the video meeting invite. It can be hard to attribute work when it’s happening on collaborative online platforms.
For that reason, organizational tools, including performance metrics and reviews, need to evolve to meet the needs of remote-first companies and global teams. At Whereby, the People Team built our Human Resource systems and tools specifically for a distributed team, with a vision for all hires to be able to work from anywhere, independently, and do their best work. This includes our performance review system: Performance Calibration. The Performance Calibration ensures every person on our team knows where they stand, where they can improve, and equips them with a plan and strategy to get to the next step.
Why Performance Reviews Matter
Performance reviews are an important ongoing resource for employees to monitor their progress. Having a company-wide assessment tool helps inform company strategy, organizational growth, and budgets. Combining performance reviews with a forward-looking approach to organizational design ensures every team has the resources and talent they need to meet their goals. This helps define accurate targets for budget and workforce planning.
It also allows leadership to see where the organization’s strengths are, where additional learning and development resources would be best used, and where new talent pipelines could be explored. As a result, it enables clear communication across levels and departments and makes it easier to understand where the team is on (and off) track to reach key business goals.
Building Performance Assessments for Remote Teams
To build a great performance review, you are ultimately trying to answer one question: Who is doing great work?
But you’ll need to ask a few other questions first to get to that answer with confidence…
What are their roles?
Have you mapped out all role levels in your organization and how team member’s can progress their careers? If not, the first step is to clarify every team member’s roles and responsibilities. From there you can build out tracks people can take to develop their skills further.
We built our Progression Framework to define this. It outlines seven role levels in the organization and clarifies every team member’s roles and responsibilities. It also includes specific details about performance at the different levels, making expectations transparent across functions and roles. By identifying different tracks people can take, we’ve added career planning tools as well. It varies depending on what they’d like to do, such as managing a team, focusing on innovation, or honing their skills.
How do we determine pay?
Compensation is a big piece of work that guides costs and gives transparency to the team on the outcomes of the calibration process. As a global remote team, there is a lot to consider including inflation, international adjustments and location. Take time to thoroughly research and build your compensation framework and start sooner rather than later. Our Chief Operations Officer, Jessica Zwaan, shared a three-part Compensation Philosophy that offers a step-by-step guide for other People teams and details the equations and considerations that go into salary calculations.
Our approach is led by principles and includes a uniform, step-by-step process with managers to ensure objectivity and enhance fairness. It’s a useful way to be transparent with the team and ensure bias is removed from the decision making process as much as possible.
“We lead with the philosophy first, rather than looking at our team’s salaries and then coming up with rules based on our current rates of pay. This is an important distinction because it enables us to be as fair and objective as possible, as well as create a philosophy which is not driven by past decisions or baked in confirmation bias." says Jessica.
How do we speak the same language about performance?
Effective performance reviews are easy to understand and put into action. Shared language is important for that to work across levels and departments. To support conversations about performance and test what resonates in advance of launching the full process, we introduced self-reflection and assessment tools. This two-way assessment helps avoid miscommunications and establishes an ongoing dialogue about performance expectations. The Performance Snapshot provides shared language to talk about performance and, since it was developed based on input from our team, helps us understand the key questions, concerns, and desires of team members.
It’s important that managers also have a shared way of delivering feedback. This harmonizes expectations and processes for compensation, promotions, and feedback across departments. It’s also valuable for executives to quickly assess performance of the whole company knowing that all managers have the same frame of reference. To that end, we developed the Empowering Leaders course to align team leaders. This mandatory course equips managers with the skills and resources they need to give useful feedback, foster psychological safety, talk about performance, and identify their own biases. Consider building your own leadership course to connect company values with your organizational design and develop a cohesive culture.
Rolling Out Performance Reviews with an Asynchronous Workforce
After collecting feedback, the review process boiled down to three key qualities: Is this person working effectively, independently, and consistently?
When we launched our performance review at Whereby, managers had flexibility on how to offer feedback and from whom - some asked for direct feedback on their position as well as teammate feedback. Managers had one month to gather feedback and place each individual into two ratings: one for performance, and one for growth to prepare for the actual calibration sessions.
Four Steps for Great Remote Performance Calibrations
Level Set: Ask, what could be hindering us from making valid decisions? What unconscious bias is present?
Realign: What are we looking for? These answers came readily by reviewing the Progression Framework for each department and level.
Discuss: We held full day, cross-functional sessions with managers to assess their teams’ performance and calibrate assessments across the organization. We started the day with a review of the common biases. We returned to the Progression Framework with managers to make sure the role they hired for still had the same responsibilities, completed performance evaluations, and ensured compensation was matching up to what team leaders were seeing. From there, we reviewed all employees within the same level and started to dig into each of their active growth behaviours.
Review: A full performance review that reflects individual contributions and how their performance stacks up to the broader team is completed. An example of the outcome would be:
Ivette proactively seeks feedback from her peers and managers. She does this without prompting from her manager (independent), and at the completion of every project or key milestone (consistent). The way she does this is adjusted to the type of feedback, so that she gets useful comments which she always includes in her 1:1 and growth goals (effective).
This would be one strong demonstration of a teammate actively striving to improve herself and her work.
Regular Performance Reviews
Having regular, company-wide performance assessments are useful, but we also pride ourselves on being flexible and trusting our people to know what’s best for them. The Progression Framework helped everyone develop confidence in communicating feedback in a way that’s unbiased, concrete, timely, and specific. To that end, from June to December, employees can launch a self-directed performance calibration with their manager. Whether they want feedback on a big deliverable or are just looking for a status check, this self-directed option helps keep communication flowing in both directions and ensures transparency remains at the core of how we work.
Interested in more purpose-built HR tools for a remote workforce? Check out our posts on virtual onboarding and why trust matters more for distributed teams.
Join the Whereby team: Apply to one of our open roles!