Many of us have experienced system implementation projects where the end result has failed to live up to expectations. Often the software supplier or the software itself is blamed. Whilst this might sometimes be justified, the most common causes of system implementation failures are insufficient planning, selecting inappropriate software and poor implementation.

So here is our 10 step guide to getting things right when it comes to implementing a new performance management system:

Step 1 – Establish a project team and prepare a plan

Performance management impacts every person in the organisation, so any change in this area should be planned carefully and treated as a formal project with a dedicated project team. In additional to HR, your project team should include some line managers and employees as they will make up the majority of system users so it’s vital to get their input.

Prepare a project plan and allocate dates and responsibilities for each task in the plan. Make sure the plan covers the whole period of the project, from planning and software selection, through to go live and ongoing success measurement.

Step 2 – Define the business need for the system

For any project to succeed, you need to be clear on your ‘why’. So run a session with your project team to define what problems you want the software to solve. What will the goals for the system be? Then establish what the success criteria will be for each of these goals – i.e. how will you know if the goals have been successfully achieved?

An example goal might be “Make it easier for employees and managers to complete and sign-off their performance review paperwork”, and the success measure could be: “at least 75% of staff agree that it has made the process easier”, which you could measure via a post-implementation survey of a sample of people from across the business.

Step 3 – Document your requirements

Before you start formally choosing your software, document your requirements for the system. Again, it’s best to do this with your project team so you capture the perspectives of different types of users. Split your requirements into essentials and desirables as it is unlikely that any single system will meet every one of your ideal requirements. It is important to consider both ‘functional requirements’ (what you want the system to actually do) and ‘non-functional requirements’ (how it should do it). Non-functional requirements might include ease of use, intuitiveness, look and feel, cloud-based etc.

Step 4 – Choose your software

Once you have defined your requirements, it’s time to start looking at software. You’ll obviously want to assess potential software against your requirements list, but you’ll also want to consider other important factors such as:

  • The culture of the system – is it centred around scoring and assessment, or does it encourage more qualitative feedback and discussion?
  • Is it mobile responsive? A mobile responsive system will adjust itself automatically to suit the size of the user’s screen, making for a good user experience on tablets and smartphones as well as computers.
  • Support and expertise – is the support based in this country or overseas? Does the supplier genuinely understand best practice when it comes to performance management, or are they just a software sales operation?
  • Simplicity – less is often more when it comes to performance management as you don’t want the system to detract from meaningful performance discussions. So beware of systems that have too many features and options as these can be confusing for users.
  • Security – is the system securely encrypted and is the data hosted in an ISO27001 compliant data centre?

Step 5 – Get internal buy-in

To get internal buy-in for your chosen software, it’s helpful to prepare a business case for senior management. This will also help to secure funding if a budget hasn’t already been agreed. Here is a template business case document that you can use. You also want to get key stakeholders and influencers within the business bought into the software as early as possible, so arrange for them to have a demo of your preferred system. They will be more likely to support it if they are involved at an early stage.

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Step 6 – Configure and test your system

How involved you are in the configuration and setup of your system will depend on your chosen supplier’s approach to implementation. Either way, it’s essential that you carry out your own thorough testing after the system has been configured. Test a full end-to-end process starting with setting up a new user and assigning their approver, then go through the whole performance management cycle, completing all the online forms in full. Check things like approval emails, mandatory field validation, error messages, printing and reports. You’ll also want to test any data integration processes that you have set up to transfer employee data from your HR system. When doing this, test that new joiners, changes in line managers and leavers are all being successfully transferred to the performance management system.

Step 7 – Plan your communications

Research into change management has found that a message needs to be communicated between 3 and 6 times before it is completely taken on board. Therefore, in the run up to the launch of your software, you should release several different communications to introduce the new system and how it should be used. Because different people respond better to different forms of communication, consider using a range of methods such as videos, emails, briefings, webinars, newsletters, fact sheets and your company intranet.

Step 8 – Setup support arrangements

If you have chosen easy-to-use, intuitive software, then you should not need to train employees in how to use it. However, you should still put in place support arrangements to help people who are not particularly computer literate, or for users who have specific queries or concerns about the software. Creating a video that shows the system in action and which answers the key questions that are likely to arise is a good solution. Whilst making a video might seem like a daunting prospect, software such as Camtasia makes it surprisingly easy. It can also be helpful to train a ‘super-user’ in each department who people can go to if they need help with the system. This will minimise the number of queries that land on HR’s doors!

Step 9 – Carry out a pilot

Before you launch the software to the whole business, it is advisable to carry out a pilot test with one or two different departments. Get them to go through part of the performance management cycle using the system and gather their feedback on how easy it was to use and whether they experienced any difficulties. You can then use this feedback to improve your communication and support arrangements and adjust the system configuration if necessary.

Step 10 – Launch the software

After all the hard work, it’s time to launch the software! But before you push the button, run a final check on your employee data and reporting lines in the system. Nothing undermines confidence in a new system like incorrect user data. Also check that your IT department has whitelisted the email address that the software uses to send emails, otherwise emails from the system could end up in employees’ junk email folders. Not the best start!

Once the system has launched, take time to go back to your original goals and success criteria that you defined in Step 1. Put in place the necessary processes to measure progress against these on an ongoing basis. On top of these measures, regularly seek qualitative feedback from employees about how they have found using the software, what features they have and have not used, and if there is anything that could be added to improve their experience.

Considering new performance management software for your organisation?

Why not check out our own Clear Review performance management software. It’s used by thousands of employees across 15 countries in well-known organisations like HarperCollins Publishers and Centaur Media Plc.