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A better way to hold employees accountable

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Managers can hope for high-performing organizations only when they understand what makes people want to perform. Employees love to be challenged, and team members thrive when given the opportunity to achieve and when rewarded for their accomplishments.

However, it can be difficult for managers to know the best methods for fostering accountability in employees to ensure they are attaining the specific goals set for and with them.

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Credential Financial Inc. wanted to revamp its methods of evaluating staff performance to achieve better outcomes.


Credential offers business-to-business wealth management solutions, products and services – think mutual funds, brokerage services and insurance – to Canada's credit unions. It has 240 employees, 190 of them at the main office in Vancouver.

The company already had a performance evaluation management system in place. While a good start, it didn't capture all primary responsibilities and outcomes, nor inspire commitment from managers and employees.

When Matt Brown, vice-president of human resources, joined Credential a year and a half ago, he set out to uncover why people didn't submit their goals for approval until six months after the fiscal year opened.

As well, yearly performance evaluations were not on an appropriate track. Instead of discussions about goal achievement, development and overall performance, the focus was on bargaining over the magnitude of employees' bonuses.

Mr. Brown knew that in order to make the most of Credential's talent, he and the executive team needed a better picture of how team members added value to the organization, how they could progress and continue to contribute, and whether they were exhibiting the core values of the company.

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Decision makers put the focus on laying out objectives and clearly communicating the new performance evaluation management system.

Their first move was to adopt "line-of-sight" goal setting, something that seems intuitively obvious, yet is shockingly under-practised in organizations.

Chief executive officer Doce Tomic and chief financial officer Rod Ancrum made the company's strategic plan very clear, explaining to teams just how the organization expected them to deliver outstanding wealth management solutions. From there flowed specific corporate goals, departmental goals and individual goals for the year.

Adjustments were also made to performance definitions. As well, overall ratings were separated from bonus calculations, which became based solely on how well each employee accomplshed goals.

To get the message out initially, Credential's executives chose face-to-face communication, including town halls and divisional team meetings, followed by training.

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The strategy showed immediate benefits. All employees had goals set and signed off within one month of the overhauled process opening, there was a more effective distribution of overall ratings, more consistent bonus scores across departments, and more meaningful discussions between managers and employees.

Special to The Globe and Mail

Tracey Gurton is a management consultant and long-time lecturer of organizational behaviour and human resources at the Sauder School of Business and Robert H. Lee Graduate School at the University of British Columbia.

This is the latest in a regular series of case studies by a rotating group of business professors from across the country. They appear every Friday on the Your Business website.

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