HomeEmployee ExperienceUnlocking employee performance to drive business success

Unlocking employee performance to drive business success

  • 7 Min Read

In the ever-evolving landscape of modern business, one truth remains constant: the heartbeat of any successful organization is its workforce. In this age of rapid change, where adaptability and innovation reign supreme, the key to driving business success lies not just in hiring the right talent but in unlocking the full potential of every employee

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With burnout comes a dip in productivity that is a thorn in the side of carefully planned performance management schemes. During challenging times, the connection between employee engagement and productivity becomes even more significant.

Continuous performance management practices are a key part of your people function. But have you considered that whilst they may be structured to drive business growth, this could be at the expense of employee wellbeing? On Tuesday 25th April 2023, HRD Connect hosted a group of senior people leaders to discuss this topic in an in-person roundtable that was led by Kath Ennis, Chief People Officer, WPP, supported by Maura Jarvis, UK Lead Transformation, Mercer.  The session was conducted under Chatham House rules so whilst this write-up will highlight key discussion points and takeaways, all participants are anonymised.

Talent management

Kath Ennis, the roundtable moderator, began the discussion by focusing on talent management within organizations. The participants agree that organizations tend to wait until a crisis point before thinking about talent management, and when they do, they often focus on external hires rather than internal promotions. However, this approach can often backfire as external hires take time to get up to speed and often lack cultural fit. Further, when organizations hire someone who isn’t a good cultural fit, it not only affects the wellbeing of the new hire but also that of current employees, who may feel a sense of discomfort, tension, or conflict, leading to decreased job satisfaction and potentially higher turnover rates.

The conversation then delved into the challenges in identifying and promoting internal talent. One participant mentioned that managers may not participate in talent management initiatives because they feel they won’t get anything good in return. Another participant notes that there can often be a scarcity of talent mix within organizations, leading managers to hold on to their best people, which can not only hurt performance across organizations but lead to employees feeling trapped. The conversation then shifted to a discussion of how to identify internal talent. One participant shared that they have started overlaying data to identify top performers and have also looked at employee engagement and P&L performance to identify correlations.

Changing workplace culture & employee priorities

The participants then discussed how they’re seeing career aspirations take a back seat, with the focus now being on maintaining a work-life balance and overall well-being. The issue of rising inflation was raised, and the participants wondered if any company can realistically afford to pay their employees at the same level as before. The changing priorities of employees during the pandemic was mentioned, with some prioritising work from home and others eager to return to the office for face-to-face collaboration reinforcing the need for companies to strike a balance between meeting the demands of shareholders and ensuring the well-being of their employees.

Investing in the future

One participant took the opportunity to emphasise the need to invest in the future through mentoring and training younger employees. This participant used an example of a law firm where during the pandemic partners chose to forgo in-person client conversations for the sake of convenience, which had negative consequences for the next generation of trainees. The participant suggested that companies should encourage mentorship and training by assigning managers to lead training sessions on Fridays when offices are less busy and encouraging young employees to learn from their senior colleagues. Such strategies not only improve career prospects for younger employees but contributes to the long-term success of a business by ensuring the continuity of knowledge and skills transfer, as well as the cultivation of a positive and supportive workplace culture.

Navigating workplace flexibility

The conversation then shifted to remote work, with one participant highlighting the potential challenges of relying too heavily on remote work in the long term, particularly in terms of limiting mobility and reducing opportunities for collaboration and learning which are critical to driving business success. The conversation then turned to the need for flexibility in different aspects of work beyond just location, including working hours, job roles, and the reasons why people work. It was suggested that companies should be more open to providing flexibility in different dimensions to accommodate different types of workers and work environments. This includes providing flexibility for line workers in manufacturing environments, who may not have the same ability to work remotely as other types of employees.

Learning & development

The group shifted their focus to discuss the significance of employee retention and attraction, as they are crucial drivers of business success. The group recognised the challenge of short-term thinking caused by the pandemic and the need for organizations to ensure their employees are future-proofed. They highlighted the importance of Learning and Development (L&D) teams in designing training and leadership programs that align with the organization’s Employer Value Proposition (EVP) to foster retention and attraction. The group stressed the need for organizations to deliver on the promises made in the EVP to retain and attract top talent, which is vital for business success.

It was identified that a traditional L&D function needs to evolve to become more strategic, with a focus on business outcomes and not just administrative tasks. However, many find it challenging to demonstrate career paths to new hires due to the evolving nature of the business landscape. As a result, employers must focus on outcome-driven training and upskilling of employees, which may include softer aspects such as dealing with ambiguity. The conversation also touched on the challenges of dealing with different maturity levels with respect to L&D in organizations. They discussed how organizations need to be more strategic in their thinking about the skills they will need in the future, what those skills will be and how they can be developed.

Integrating ESG into organisations

The importance of embedding and integrating sustainability into the fabric of an organization was raised, with a specific focus on how organizations are struggling to make that transition. For many, the topic of ESG goes back to the importance of creating a sense of purpose for their people, especially those who are entering the workforce. As such, sustainability should not be seen as just an opportunity to be embraced, but rather professionalised and integrated into all aspects of an organization. It was acknowledged that people’s radars are massively up around greenwashing, and that organizations need to do more to show their commitment to sustainability.

The conversation also touched on the importance of social mobility, as it relates to sustainability and ESG. One participant shared their experience of not being able to hire enough skilled workers for their organization, which led them to create a program that hired unskilled workers and trained them on the job. The program was successful in helping to upskill workers and create a more diverse and inclusive workforce.

Cross-Functional collaboration

As the HR leader’s role involves being a strategic partner to their business counterparts, the conversation naturally turned towards the mindset of CEOs and CFOs. It was agreed that many CEOs and CFOs perceive the current inflationary environment as more threatening than the recessionary environment. They believe that there is still great demand for their business, but they lack the talent to deliver on that demand. The participants talked about the power of HR leadership to push against this to implement innovative ideas to attract and retain the best talent and meet the demands of the market.


In summary, the session highlighted the imperative for HR professionals to transform their industry and workforce to unlock employee potential and drive business success. Leaders must embrace change and adopt a skills-based mindset to fully realise these benefits. Despite the daunting task of upskilling employees and implementing a strategic approach, HR departments cannot afford to neglect these critical efforts. As we navigate through an ever-changing business landscape, HR’s deliberate adaptation and evolution remain non-negotiable for long-term competitiveness. 

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