Sarah Green: Welcome to the HBR IdeaCast. From Harvard Business Review, I'm Sarah Green. I'm here today with Miriam Ort, co-author of One Page Talent Management: Elimination Complexity, Adding Value. Miriam is also a senior manager of human resources at PepsiCo. Thanks so much for joining us today.
Miriam Ort: Thank you for having me.
Sarah Green: Let's start with the problem. I think it will be a familiar problem to many managers. The processes that HR often creates for managers for talent management are very complex. Why does that get so out of control?
Miriam Ort: It's a really interesting question, Sarah. Because as an HR practitioner I would say I don't think there's any HR professional that comes to work and thinks oh, today I'm going to create this performance management process, and I'm going to make it really difficult to understand. It's going to involve a 20 page form and we're going to have to create a three hours training program to help people understand how to fill out the 20-page form. That doesn't happen. But I think there are a couple things that drive that complexity.
First of all, a lot of talent practices are developed through benchmarking. So what it is sometimes is an HR professional saying well, let me look at what the other organizations are doing around said practices, performance management, 360, and then taking all the components of that practice and putting it together. Instead of really going back to the research and saying what does the science say about motivation? Or what does the science say about feedback? What's really important and what maybe is not really important.
And I think the other thing that drives the complexity is that as HR professionals we want to build great practices. We want them to be pretty. We want them to be academically correct. We want best in class. And sometimes you really don't need all those bells and whistles. And in fact, sometimes if you have all those bells and whistles, the manager gets a practice that is academically perfect, and you might be able to present an HR conference as a best in class practice, but they look at it and they either don't understand it, or they find that it's going to take them so long it's not worth it.
Sarah Green: So I take it one page talent management is a process to sort of help eliminate some of this spiraling complexity. What is one-page talent management?
Miriam Ort: Well, I think of one-page talent management both as a philosophy and also as a very structured approach to talent management practices. So when you think about talent management practices and the processes that come out of them, the one page philosophy says what's the shortest way to get from what the core science tells us, to the outcome that we desire, right? That outcome is talent depth, it's talent quality, it's optimal performance. So the one page philosophy really drives an approach where you're looking at doing that in the simplest way possible. In a way that requires not too much time from the manager or the organization, but still gets you the outcome that you want.
Sarah Green: So is it possible though that in trying to be simpler you run the risk of being simplistic?
Miriam Ort: I think that definitely is a kind of an immediate reaction people have, right? Is if you make the process simpler you're in some way giving something up. But the approach that we have to design is all about making sure that you're including the right things, and that you're not including the wrong things. And then that way you can have a process that is simple but, in fact, more effective. One thing that I always remind people is a perfect process that doesn't get done is actually not perfect at all. So if you can hit that optimal place where the process is actually usable and you get you 100% participation in your performance review process. Or 100% of your managers actually taking actions on your employee survey, that is not going to be necessarily simplistic, but it's going to work.
Sarah Green: So what exactly are the steps of this process and why are they so effective?
Miriam Ort: So we lay out a three-step process in the book for designing processes. And we actually go through all the core talent processes, like performance management, succession planning, 360 review, and look at using that model, what a process might look at. But at a high level there's three steps. The first step is you start with the science, right? Like we talked about, there's a lot of research. Organizational research, behavioral research, that looks at how you motivate people. It looks at what drives employee commitment.
So it's really important to think about the business objective. Not how do you build a 360 degree program, but for trying to give people feedback so that they become better leaders, right? That's a business subject. What is the science have to say? And am I really grounded in fact? That's step one. Step two is eliminating the complexity and adding value. And what that really means is thinking about the trade-off between the value that a component in a process might add, and the effort of the work and the complexity that it adds to the process.
So for example, if I'm building out a performance management program, I might say setting goals at the beginning of the year takes some work, take some effort. But the research shows us that that's actually a really important step and it's actually going to drive improved performance. So you've got something you definitely want to leave in. When you go along the process though and you say something like let's say goal weightings, right? Some companies have very complex goal weightings where you weigh each goal according to how important it is.
The research doesn't actually indicate that having or not, having those goal weightings really makes a difference, but it does make the process more complicated. And that's where you get along to curve and say this really isn't worth it. It's not going to add much value. The third step in the process is taking the process that you just designed and then saying how do we build transparency and accountability into this process. Because even with a very effective practices in place, it's very opaque in the organization. People don't understand what it is or how it's used. And managers don't feel like they're actually accountable to deliver on it, you're not going to get the benefit that you would expect.
Sarah Green: So let's take an example that is familiar I think to so many people, and often feels unpleasant to a lot of people, which is the performance review. Using this process, how would the performance review feel difference?
Miriam Ort: That's a great example. Because I actually saw both on hbr.com and in the Wall Street Journal recently article saying should we just stop doing a performance review? It's so painful. It's so difficult. Maybe it's time to just let it go. And I think that would be real shame. Because when you go back to the one-page talent management approach, you look at the science, you can really drive tremendous gains in performance if you manage it effectively.
So I think abandoning it would certainly be a shame. But let's take that example and walk through what it could look like in the one-page approach. Let's see, first of all, starting with the science. Science tells us a couple interesting things. One is, like I mentioned, with goals setting. Having a few goals is very effective in driving motivation and driving employees to achieve them. Having many goals, much less effective. And yet in many organizations people work on drafting in great detail and maybe seven or eight goals and all the kind of components that fall underneath.
So in a one-page approach, we'd have a very simple goal setting form. You would be constrained. Maybe two to four goals, max. Like we talked about, there really isn't a need for goal weighting or complicated competency models to be built in. It is really about setting the goals. And then the research also tells us that people need a what's in it for me, right? So it's when the goals are laid out having the managers set the expectation of what happens if the goals are achieved. What happens if the goals are not achieved.
And sometimes in organizations this is done very well, with a strong link either to compensation or career progression. And in other organizations it's a form that gets filled out without really much of a repercussion. So that link is very important. Kind of going along in this typical process. I'd say where there's a big mess then is on the feedback. So, again, starting with the science the research tells us that giving employees regular feedback is really important if they're going to be motivated to achieve their goals.
So making sure that there's some kind of formal midyear check in that's actually tracked, that everyone's participating in, is much more important than having managers write out information in great detail. So I think again the OPTM, or one page type process, would really be simple goal setting form, making sure that there's conversation happening as some kind of midpoint. Doesn't need to be a complicated form that's filled out. And then when you get to the year-end process, I think there's also a lot of room to maximize this approach. Your interviews, this is kind of the worst part, right? And this is what every manager dreads.
A lot of times all the emphasis is about this rating scale. And how to use the rating scale. And all these like terminologies around it. Highly valued. Solid contributor. The research tells us that people need candid feedback. So it's having a simple structure that tells person you met your goals, you didn't meet your goals, you met some of your goals.
HR professionals tend to spend a lot of time getting very excited about the scale. Three point scale, five point scale, seven point scale. There's a lot of debates on this. The research says it doesn't really matter. So I would say in a one-page type approach what's much more important is consistent say. Because it makes it difficult for managers and employees if you're changing the scale every two or three years now do the best practice scale. And finally it's the conversation, again. It's making sure that the manager is giving feedback, and giving coaching and tracking that the conversation happened, more than tracking again that there is a long or detailed review.
Sarah Green: How has your experience at PepsiCo helped shape these ideas?
Miriam Ort: One thing I would definitely say is Pepsi embodies a lot of this concept. And I would love to share an example. They recently rolled out a program called the manager quality performance index. And what this is it's a 12 questions survey. It's given to any manager that has to direct reports. And it looks to assess basic manager capability. Does the manager give feedback? Does the manager work well with different kinds of people? Does the manager set of clear vision? And because this is such an easy process, I mean It's 12 questions, right?
Everyone can pretty much participate. It's also not very expensive. It can actually be done every year. And I think this is kind of like a classic one-page type approach. Because short, simple, it certainly has teeth, right? There's accountability in it. In fact, the results of this are transparent. Management sees it. HR sees it. And they are input into the year-end performance rating. So this actually does impact, for example, what somebody's bonus look like.
Sarah Green: Well, Miriam, thanks much for join us today.
Miriam Ort: Thank you. It's a pleasure.
Sarah Green: That's Miriam Ort, co-author of One Page Talent Management. For more, go to hbr.org.