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Enabling staff performance and development at Puppet

At Puppet, our mission is to help our customers deliver better software, faster. This mission reminds me of of a blog post from my esteemed colleagues at Zugata who build performance management software for performance reviews and employee performance development. The quote begins: “Keeping up with today’s rapid speed of business has been no easy feat for organizations. This changing paradigm has required them to adapt in a way never seen before—calling into question stale processes and lagging systems that no longer match the pace of change. This holds especially true for a company’s key resource, its people, and the skills they leverage over the course of their careers. Unlike in previous eras, employees’ skills and competencies can no longer afford to remain static. Instead, they must constantly respond and grow in accordance with the shifting landscape.” (emphasis mine)

Enter performance management

For at least the last five years performance management has been a topic of conversation within and outside of the four walls of every company I have been a part of, have peers at, or have been a customer reference for. These conversations were taking shape as employees and their managers became increasingly frustrated with the lack of reliable, real-time performance and development data to learn from or grow with. Employees weren’t just stagnating as a result of ineffective performance management — they were less productive because of the onerous and poorly designed process.

Frustrations with the annual approach sounded like this:

“The manager I started the performance year with is not the manager I ended the year with. How can performance be assessed without a full understanding of my contributions, results, and developmental opportunities?”

“What did I do well and how so I can keep doing it?” or “What didn’t I do well and how so I can decide to do something different next time? And gee, it would be best if I could know this now and not have to wait until a year from now during the next annual performance process.”

“I have spent hours preparing for my annual review only to walk out of the 20 minute meeting with no clear direction, feedback or support. That’s it??”

In addition to the vocal and warranted angst, well-known companies like Deloitte, Microsoft, Adobe, and Accenture were publicly discarding their more tried and true annual performance management approaches in favor of a lighter more continuous approach. For many of the “rest of us” we found ourselves grappling between:

  • Our head: “It is no longer an effective tool for our pace of business, let’s discard our current process too!”
  • Our heart: “It doesn’t help our employees’ development, let’s discard our current process too!”
  • Time, budget, & other critical priorities: “You recommend we do what?!”

Enter performance management at Puppet

At Puppet, enabling our employees to achieve our company mission — helping customers deliver better software, faster — is the critical priority. For four years and counting, performance management at Puppet has not been about a tried and true annual review just because “it’s that time of year” or HR told you that you need to get it done… for compliance reasons.

In fact, our leadership team believes that employee development begets individual performance begets company results each and every time. To get us there as a company every manager has a mandate to enable their employees and teams to get better by actively providing feedback, coaching, and understanding performance against goals on an ongoing basis. Our performance and development conversations happen in what we call quarterly "check-ins": four conversations each year on performance and development topics where the quality of the conversation gets top billing, not the process, ratings, reams of documentation, inflexible deadlines, or the dreaded compliance justification.

Each quarter, employees and managers prepare to come together to have a meaningful conversation about what people really want to know -how they are doing and how they can develop and continue to get better in their current role or in preparation for their next role. Conversations cover topics like:

  • Performance & peer/customer feedback as it relates to the prior quarter’s goals and commitments.
  • Setting the stage for the next quarter’s goals and commitments.
  • Career Development: What are one or more longer-term career objectives and what has the employee been working on to get there? What career development goals or activities should be set for the upcoming quarter?
  • Current blockers: What things are preventing the employee from performing at their best? Then, together, brainstorming any actions that could be taken to help remove these blockers.
  • Puppet values: How is the employee demonstrating Puppet’s values in what he/she achieves?

After the rich conversation, the manager is then responsible for documenting what was discussed in a few short pages of notes (a pamphlet, not a novel of notes!) and then uploading the notes to a tool where the employee and any future manager can access at any time. Gone are the days when performance notes only lasted as long as your manager was your manager. This approach allows managers and employees to stay in sync quarter over quarter even when one of the players change.

Responding, learning & growing in kind

By now, we’ve all seen the quote on LinkedIn to the likes of:

A CFO says to a CEO “What happens if we invest in developing our people and then they leave us?” The CEO responds “What happens if we don’t and they stay?”

The investment in our people and their personal and professional development does not end when the check-in is over — it has actually just begun. Our collective commitment at Puppet is to enable and empower our team to develop and grow. Nowhere does this collective effort shine brighter than the investment Puppet makes with its Learning & Development offerings.

With our growing list of facilitated classes across our offices and on-demand learning platforms, our employees have access to resources that will help our teams develop skills, knowledge and expertise across the globe. Since April 2017, when the facilitated classes officially launched, Puppet has had 502 employees (nearly every Puppet employee!) attend classes like Emotional Intelligence, Interviewing, Crucial Conversations, Unconscious Bias, and Project Management for Non-Project Managers.

This is truly phenomenal and it was one of the things that excited me about being a part of an organization that walks the walk, even when the performance cycle is done.

At Puppet, we help our customers deliver better software faster by supporting employees to develop themselves to the drumbeat and cadence of our business. When all 500+ employees are even just 1% better quarter after quarter, our customers win. And when our our customers win, our employees win by creating better work, experiencing bigger and better challenges, which of course create more opportunities to learn and grow.

That’s our commitment. That’s performance at Puppet.

Amy Dobler is director of HR business partners at Puppet.

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