Suvi Aaltonen of Swiss Post Solutions on people management in times of great change.

Author Delband Tamjidi
May 25, 2021

Suvi Aaltonen is a Talent Management and Learning & Development specialist with experience working at country, regional and global level in large multinational, matrix companies. She is currently Global Lead Talent& Learning at Swiss Post Solutions

Here, Frazer Jones’ Delband Tamjidi talks to her about managing performance reviews, employee engagement, and learning and development in times of great change.

1. With most people working remotely these days, managers must find new ways of evaluating performance. How do you think companies should manage performance reviews in a pandemic?

Pandemic or no pandemic, performance management is about setting clear expectations for specific roles and ensuring the people in them can, and will, be successful with their deliverables. Sure, the pandemic has made that a little bit trickier, and forced us to re-evaluate and adjust our own thinking and approaches. I think a lot more managers now for example can agree that working from home can work, and that maybe we need to let go of some of the old “performance indicators” we’ve used before? I mean, if there ever was a time for SMART goals and output focused performance management, it’s certainly now. Especially with knowledge workers – what matters more: them delivering excellent results and exceeding your expectations, or you seeing them online on Skype or Teams for 8 hours a day, from 9 to 5?

So let’s say we want our people to deliver excellent results and exceed, or at least meet, our expectations. We need two things for that; clearly formed, communicated, and mutually understood expectations, and an understanding of what our people need to be successful in meeting them – especially given the COVID situation. And instead of just talking through them with system formulated online forms once or twice a year, we need to make them part of everyday life in our teams. You’ll get extra points for creating a team climate around openness and trust; where these topics can be freely discussed in a constructive manner, people support each other and aren’t afraid to ask for help, and can raise issues proactively already before they become bigger problems regardless of whether it’s a problem with a supplier or their own personal situation. Here’s a bit more on that:

All of the above will need some extra effort, and flexibility – they will require more time and communication, and enhance the importance of really knowing and supporting our people – not merely assigning tasks but also understanding their private situations and how all of the factors are impacting their performance.

2. Employee engagement is crucial to increasing organisational performance. Do you have any tips for creating and maintaining employee engagement during times of uncertainty?

Covid-19 brought on a lot of physical, and mental, distance to our teams, colleagues and organizations through remote working, and flooded our minds with millions of questions no-one really had answers to – and still don’t – like when is this going to end. Unfortunately with employee engagement the distance does not make the heart grow fonder, and the question marks in people’s head, in any given time of uncertainty, only result in bigger and heavier burdens to carry if not addressed. On top of that all of this makes it difficult to make any long or short term plans, and that can result in feeling hopeless and losing sense of control and trust in our organisations, leaders, and even our own capabilities and future. But there’s a lot we can do to help with that:

3. We have faced a year unlike any other. The Covid-19 crisis forced us into working and meeting online. Many companies shifted to a digital L&D approach, which brought a lot of advantages. Could you describe what post-pandemic learning & development should/will look like in the long term?

One of the benefits of online learning is that it enables on-demand learning, and flexibility – employees can easily choose the topic they want to learn about and select the timing for it – when they want it and how – a full 2-hour set of content in one sitting, or multiple bite-size videos along the week – whatever suits them best. It’s great! But while digital methods are an efficient way of distributing information, they do lack in helping people process their learnings efficiently and making it stick – it’s easy to skip those quick tests to check your knowledge, or the reflective questions or action plans and suggestions in the courses. And building rapport, ensuring safe environments to discuss challenges and pain points? Not easy to manage virtually, nor do fully virtual courses allow for those informal networking sessions and relationship building you do after the training over a drink and dinner.

And here’s the thing: having access to information or gaining knowledge is not a problem anymore. The information is out there, and while organization might still want to curate some of that, and/or drive focus to topics that are important for specific tasks, roles or functions, more and more the L&D focus should be on helping employees process all the information and put that into action. 

So while more and more courses and content are offered through online sources, AI is helping in targeting topics to specific needs and specific employees, gamification will keep engagement levels up and you can even find and schedule coaching sessions on different topics any time of the day on your mobile, we will still need the human interaction to make it all work. More importantly, we will also need to focus on creating a true learning culture that’s built on psychological safety in learning – allowing and enabling risk taking, failing, discussing, reflecting, learning, getting continuous feedback from multiple diverse sources, and changing the perception of terms like “development area” from something negative to something to celebrate.

If you’d like to talk about how to adapt and develop your People strategy, hiring in to your team, or your career, please get in touch with Delband: delbandtamjidi@frazerjones.com | +49 211 2479 1145