Transitioning to Performance Enablement: Empowering success in hybrid work & beyond

Adam Berke

“May you live in interesting times” as the saying (or curse depending on your perspective) goes. 

With level headed folks like Bill Gates calling this moment in AI development “as revolutionary as mobile phones and the internet,” it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that there are still several other “once in a lifetime” shifts happening that haven’t relented in their impact just because headlines are drawn elsewhere.

Bill Gates notwithstanding, the CEOs and executives that I talk with on a regular basis are still grappling with the shift to hybrid work, and in many cases, still navigating the basics of digital transformation. In fact, as recently as Q4 2022, Gartner found that only 35% of Boards of Directors have achieved or are on track to achieving digital transformation goals.

If many companies are still struggling with the fundamentals of the shift to hybrid work, then why are we hanging on to the old ways of managing the effectiveness of our teams… Performance Management.

For companies to succeed in the digital/cloud/hybrid/AI era, they’ll need to leave behind the idea of Performance Management where people need to be managed like cogs in a static machine, and move to a mindset of Performance Enablement where the focus is on continuous coaching that adapts to the dynamic nature of people, markets, and organizations.

What do we mean by traditional Performance Management?

It’s the water we’ve all swam in and complained about. The traditional model of Performance Management is characterized by infrequent, heavy-weight performance reviews and rigid goal-setting cycles.

Performance reviews are commonly on a bi-annual cycle and grind the normal course of business to a halt for weeks between calibrations, writing reviews, delivering them, then grappling with the inevitable fallout that’s to be expected when people only get feedback once or twice a year.

OKRs and other goal setting methodologies can be helpful to align teams across a broader organization, but it’s an all too common pitfall to mistake the process for the purpose. People spend precious weeks out of every quarter meticulously creating OKRs that connect and cascade perfectly with specific metrics, and spend hours entering them into a complex system that ensures that they’re all tagged and visualized perfectly. 

Then what happens?

No one checks in on the goals until the next quarter’s goal setting cycle when dozens of things have changed and the goals or OKRs set months ago aren’t even relevant anymore. 

Treating individuals as mere components of a machine stifles their unique talents, hampers engagement, and inhibits innovation, ultimately impeding organizational progress.

Even if priorities haven’t changed, setting goals in a system far removed from day to day work doesn’t help to drive focus or prioritization. The real decisions in an organization are made in meetings that the goal setting systems of yester-year aren’t invited to.

So what is Performance Enablement?

Performance Enablement requires both a shift in mindset and a shift in process. 

Performance Enablement mindset

Performance Enablement starts with a view that the pace of change in the real world is too fast to rely on a “command and control” management style that postpones key decisions and conversations to rigid quarterly cycles. 

Instead, it recognizes that the only way to keep up with the pace of the real world is to empower people to make decisions, and utilizes a more continuous cadence of feedback and course correction to ensure focus and accountability.

Performance Enablement process

Performance Enablement is a progressive approach that emphasizes continuous feedback, dynamic goal setting, and coaching conversations. It’s critical for leadership to establish a clear vision and priorities, but then rely on more decentralized decision making and execution.

With this approach, it’s critical to have a culture that prioritizes a weekly cadence of one-on-one’s. Coaching and feedback can of course happen more frequently, but one-on-one’s create a forcing function to calibrate and course correct.

This is especially important with hybrid work where serendipitous encounters in the hallway aren’t happening, so one-on-one’s create a backstop against people spinning off in the wrong direction either in their work or their well-being.

Some may criticize these frequent check-ins as micromanagement. However, the purpose of these one-on-ones isn’t to nitpick an employee’s work, it’s for the employee to bring up blockers, and for the manager to give feedback and guidance. Unlike micromanagement, Performance Enablement unlocks the potential of individuals by cultivating a culture of growth and development.

How are Performance Enablement and Performance Management functionally different?

Performance Enablement and Performance Management differ in a few key ways.

Focus and purpose

Performance management traditionally involves the evaluation and assessment of employee performance based on predetermined goals and objectives. It emphasizes monitoring and rating individual performance, often for the purpose of making administrative decisions such as promotions, compensation, and terminations.

Performance enablement, on the other hand, shifts the focus from evaluating past performance to empowering and developing employees to reach their full potential. It aims to enable employees to succeed by providing them with the necessary tools, resources, and support to enhance their skills, achieve their goals, and contribute to the overall success of the organization.

Approach and process

Performance management typically follows a formal, periodic evaluation process, often conducted annually or biannually. It involves setting specific performance objectives, tracking progress, and providing feedback during performance reviews. It can be more hierarchical and top-down in nature, with managers primarily responsible for assessing and rating employee performance.

Performance enablement takes a more continuous and ongoing approach to performance improvement. It focuses on fostering a culture of ongoing feedback, coaching, and development. It encourages regular conversations between managers and employees to identify strengths, address weaknesses, and collaboratively set goals. It emphasizes employee growth, learning, and skill development through various means such as training, mentoring, and personalized development plans.

Employee engagement and development

Traditional performance management may sometimes create a sense of anxiety and pressure for employees due to its focus on rating and ranking. It can be demotivating and hinder employee engagement and growth.

Performance enablement promotes a more positive and empowering employee experience. It fosters a growth mindset and encourages employees to take ownership of their development. By providing support, guidance, and opportunities for learning and advancement, it enhances employee engagement, satisfaction, and overall performance.

Organizational impact

While performance management serves important administrative purposes, it may not always contribute to significant organizational improvement. Its primary focus is often on individual performance rather than broader organizational goals and outcomes.

Performance enablement aligns individual performance with organizational objectives. By empowering employees to maximize their potential, it can drive overall organizational effectiveness, innovation, and success. It recognizes the value of employee contributions and seeks to optimize talent to achieve collective goals.

Chart comparing the differences between Performance Management and Performance Enablement
Comparison table summarizing the differences between Performance Enablement and Performance Management

Roles and responsibilities for key stakeholders in Performance Enablement

Shifting to a culture of Performance Enablement is an organization-wide effort. Let’s take a quick look at the mindset and habits key constituents should adopt to make the transition successful.

CEO and executives

Perhaps the best way to think of the role of an executive is as chief communicator. As the ambiguously attributed quote goes, “just when you get sick of repeating yourself is when people start to retain your message.”

Since decision making is pushed out more to the edges, it’s critical for leadership to set a clear mission and vision, and continually reinforce top priorities. This provides the north star for people to refer back to when making key decisions.

“The foundation of performance enablement is setting the context—providing the guidance and direction on what is most important for the company and why it is important. The why part is especially important as it sets the context for purpose. With this information, individuals and teams can set challenging, yet attainable, goals.”

Repetition often won’t be enough. You need to continuously adapt your message to different audiences and formats. If you just say the same thing over and over again, the people who already get it will get bored, and the people who aren’t tracking will never get on board. 

Chart showing how Performance Enablement can lead to Alignment, Motivation, Progress, and Increased Capability
Colquitt & Goldberg, 2021

Some tactics executives can use include:

  • Weekly video addresses
  • All hands meetings 
  • Open and transparent Q&A sessions
  • A cadence of calibration meetings with exec teams
  • Writing public blog posts and “manifestos” (sort of like this one)
  • Sharing the thought process around key decisions through private Slack/Teams channels

Obviously, the ideal solution will include a combination of channels and the most adept executives will adapt their communication style for the audience. 


Managers play a critical role in Performance Enablement as coaches and mentors. They must transition from a command and control mindset to one of guidance and support, focusing on helping employees overcome barriers and reach their full potential. 

Some of habits that become increasingly important are

  • Weekly one-on-ones to help course correct, clear blockers, and give guidance (these are especially important in an hybrid setting where serendipitous encounters don’t occur)
  • Frequent, lightweight feedback. This isn’t the book report-style performance reviews of yore, it can be quick and informal.
  • Clear communication and documentation of objectives. Even though you’re staying nimble, it’s important for people to have clear goals. They just don’t need to be belabored and over-engineered.

HR and People Teams

HR and People Teams play a crucial role in the transition to Performance Enablement. They are responsible for driving cultural change, implementing new processes and tools, and providing support and resources to enable the success of the organization and its employees.

One of the key tasks for HR and People Teams is to educate and train managers and employees on the principles and practices of Performance Enablement. This includes helping them understand the shift in mindset from traditional performance management to continuous coaching and feedback. HR can provide training sessions, workshops, and resources that empower managers to become effective coaches and mentors.

HR can also play a role in redesigning performance evaluation processes. Instead of relying solely on annual or bi-annual performance reviews, HR can introduce more frequent and lightweight feedback mechanisms, such as real-time feedback platforms or peer recognition programs.

Benefits of Performance Enablement

You may be wary of shifting to another “doctrine” when you likely already know and dread Performance Management rituals. But there are extensive tangible benefits in transitioning to Performance Enablement and making it part of your organization’s culture. 

  1. Continuous improvement: Performance Enablement shifts the focus from periodic reviews to a continuous feedback loop. By providing ongoing coaching and guidance, managers can address issues in real-time and help employees improve their performance on an ongoing basis. This approach allows for immediate course correction, leading to faster growth and development.
  2. Agility and adaptability: In today's fast-paced and ever-changing business environment, organizations need to be agile and adaptable. Performance Enablement aligns with this need by embracing a more flexible goal-setting process. Instead of rigid annual or quarterly goals, teams can set dynamic objectives that can be adjusted as market conditions and priorities evolve. This flexibility enables organizations to respond quickly to changing circumstances and seize new opportunities.
  3. Employee engagement and motivation: Performance Enablement fosters a culture of continuous learning and development, which can significantly boost employee engagement and motivation. When employees receive regular feedback, coaching, and recognition, they feel valued and supported in their growth. This leads to higher levels of job satisfaction, increased productivity, and a stronger commitment to achieving organizational goals.
  4. Individualized development: Traditional Performance Management often follows a one-size-fits-all approach, treating all employees the same. In contrast, Performance Enablement recognizes that each individual is unique and has different strengths, aspirations, and development needs. Managers can tailor their coaching and support to individual employees, helping them maximize their potential and drive their own professional growth.
  5. Collaboration and team alignment: Performance Enablement encourages collaboration and teamwork. By focusing on regular communication and alignment, managers can ensure that individuals and teams are working towards shared objectives. This fosters a sense of collective ownership and accountability, driving better collaboration and cooperation across the organization.
  6. Employee retention and talent development: In a competitive job market, organizations must prioritize employee retention and talent development. Performance Enablement demonstrates a commitment to employees' growth and success, making them more likely to stay with the organization and contribute their best work. By providing continuous feedback and opportunities for development, organizations can attract and retain top talent and build a high-performing workforce.
  7. Improved organizational performance: Ultimately, Performance Enablement contributes to improved organizational performance. When individuals are empowered, engaged, and continuously supported, they are more likely to achieve their goals and contribute to the overall success of the organization. Performance Enablement creates a culture of high performance, innovation, and adaptability, enabling organizations to thrive in a rapidly changing business landscape.

By embracing Performance Enablement, organizations can unlock the full potential of their employees, foster a culture of continuous improvement, and achieve sustainable success in the hybrid work era and beyond. It's time to leave behind the outdated practices of Performance Management and embrace a new approach that empowers individuals and drives organizational excellence.

Why shifting to Performance Enablement is vital

Transitioning to Performance Enablement is a strategic imperative for organizations in the digital age. It requires a shift in mindset and the adoption of new processes that prioritize continuous coaching, feedback, and dynamic goal setting. By empowering employees and fostering a culture of growth and development, organizations can unlock the full potential of their workforce and drive innovation and success.

While the transition to Performance Enablement may require changes at all levels of the organization, including the CEO, executives, managers, and HR teams, the benefits are worth the effort. Companies that embrace Performance Enablement are better equipped to adapt to the rapid pace of change, attract and retain top talent, and achieve their digital transformation goals.

In the end, it's about recognizing that people are not static components of a machine but dynamic individuals with unique talents and potential. By enabling their performance and providing the necessary support and guidance, organizations can create an environment where success thrives in the era of hybrid work and beyond.

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