Harnessing AI for best-in-class performance management

Entrepreneur and HR expert Stuart Hearn built a successful business from scratch by focusing on continuous employee feedback and putting people first. He explains to Marianne Curphey how harnessing the enthusiasm of your staff can lead to stand-out performance and a highly creative workplace.

Image of AI robot

This article is taken from the Turbocharging Performance supplement in the Spring 2024 issue of

Think Global People magazine

Click on the cover to access the digital edition.
View your copy of the Spring 2024 issue of Think Global People magazine.
What will the future of work look like? HR tech entrepreneur, board advisor and startup mentor Stuart Hearn believes that technology and AI will have a significant impact on organisations and human performance.Stuart founded Clear Review, a performance management company that enables more meaningful and continuous employee feedback. He is a performance management specialist with 20 years' HR experience, both as an HR director and consultant. He highlights the need to adapt to rapid changes and shift towards valuing skills over qualifications.“AI is going to make huge changes in the future of work, for good or bad,” he says. “As organisations and employees, we need to be able to get to grips with what that means. A key implication will be that skills will become more important than qualifications. The idea of going to university and studying one subject that sets you up for life will be less relevant.”He points to the generation of workers who have now retired and who may have had one or two careers. Yet today’s school leavers are forecast to have 18 different jobs and six different careers. “That is a fundamental shift. So how do we continually deal with reskilling people and understanding what people's skills are?”Another key change will be the impact on wellbeing and mental overload. As information grows at a faster and faster rate, how do we deal with that? How can we stay healthy when many of us have an “always on” mentality?“We can't rely on promises about tech being able to solve that information overload,” he says. “When email came out, we thought it would make our work life simpler and more manageable, and yet now we have never worked this hard before in terms of the number of hours we devote to our jobs.”Turbocharging-performance-event-intext

How can AI positively impact our working lives?

Stuart acknowledges the transformative potential of AI in shaping the future of work. What is important, he says, is asking fundamental questions about why and how AI is used, advocating for ethical considerations and being careful about how we measure its effects.“If we are going to measure the impact, positive or negative, of AI then we need to go and ask some fundamental questions. What is the ‘why’ behind it; why do we want it; and what do we expect that to achieve?” he says. “At the moment, there is a danger that not enough people are asking those questions. Are we asking why we want it? Is it effective? Is it making our lives better?“That is a really important question that people need to bear in mind. As human resources leaders, we need to have that in mind when we make decisions for the future. From an ethical point of view, do we want to reduce workload so we can get rid of people's jobs? Or do we want to get AI to do the things that we actually find impossible or very difficult or too tedious to do so that we can focus on the more creative things?”Stuart believes AI can be leveraged positively if we can use it to enhance organisational processes while being mindful of the ethical implications it presents.“As humans, we are going to have to be stronger about demanding what we do and don't want AI to do. We are in charge of AI. When you listen to AI leaders, they talk about it being inevitable as though we have to just accept that this is going to happen. I don't actually agree with that. I think we need regulation and thankfully regulation is starting to happen.”He argues that as buyers and consumers of AI, we need to be clear to the vendors and product creators about what we expect from their products, including the ethical use of AI and putting up guardrails to limit the damage it might do.“AI does have the ability to do some fantastic things that we as human beings simply can't do,” he says. “Or to do things that we find too overwhelming to do. For example, we have so much information and data and there is some really exciting new technology in the HR space coming through that utilises AI. I'm lucky enough to be involved with a venture capital fund that invests specifically in technologies in the future of work, so I get to see some of these things very early on.”One such technology is designed to help senior leaders cut through the noise and truly understand what is going on in their organisation. It enables them to make more informed decisions around strategy and planning. “Where that gets really interesting is if we take that beyond senior leaders and open up the technology to everyone,” he says. “That way, AI could decipher and summarise the meeting notes, read all the emails, analyse the chat and succinctly tell us what is going on and what we really need to focus our time and energy on.“In other words, technology is not replacing us as human beings. It is enabling us to be more effective and have better human interactions. We spend less time reading meeting notes and more time actually talking to people, making decisions, adding ideas and coming up with strategies.”

Read related articles

Better performance management metrics

When it comes to performance management, Stuart advocates for continuous and open feedback, highlighting its importance in driving improvement and employee engagement. “I created Clear Review based around managing performance in a way that actually improves people's performance, rather than just getting data to work out what we should pay people. It focuses on objectives that are shorter term, rather than 12-month objectives, which go out of date by the time we get to the end of them.”Stuart argues that the model where employees meet with a manager to discuss their progress once or twice a year is outdated and ineffectual, leaving the employee without a sense of direction or focus.“Now I think continuous feedback is becoming the de facto way of managing performance, which is good. It is nice to know that we had an influence in actually changing organisations. Everybody needs to know how they are doing. If you do not know how to improve, or if you are told how you could improve several months later, then that is a wasted opportunity.“Whereas if you are getting feedback as you go along, you can actually do something about it. Generally, people perform well, but if feedback is saved up for a meeting once or twice a year, that meeting tends to focus just on the things that could be improved. If I'm getting regular feedback, eight out of ten of those pieces of feedback are probably quite good. I'm much more likely to take negative feedback on board and take it less personally because I've had lots of good feedback in-between.”

Creating a successful people-centric organisation

Stuart emphasises the need for organisations to regularly assess their processes and align them with core values to foster innovation and success.“As things speed up, what works one day won't necessarily work two years later, or as the business changes,” he says. “One of the things that we applied really well at Clear Review was making sure we were values focused. So, the things that never changed were our values. We set those up quite early on and were clear about what we were going to live by.“The result is a truly values-based organisation. Over the five to six years before we were acquired almost nobody left. We had a huge number of people who wanted to come and work for us because of how we treated people and the way we lived those values was so different and refreshing to people coming into the workplace, especially the younger people coming in.”He says that it was a kind of experiment to see if you create a people-first organisation, which genuinely values people, does it make you more successful?“The answer is yes, it does,” he explains. “We grew incredibly quickly, and we were acquired very successfully at the end of it, so it felt like we proved our thesis around what it is like to run a company in that way.“A lot of organisations think it's going to be too expensive or that it is too tricky, but we proved this approach to business leads to higher performance and people end up being a lot happier. We describe it as a ‘call to action organisation’ because everyone was so passionate about the work that we did. Our staff told us they had never worked in a company like it where everyone is super engaged in what they do.”Overall, Stuart paints a picture of the dynamic nature of work in the face of technological advancements and the importance of ethical considerations, continuous learning and adaptability in performance management in order to create a positive workplace culture. Putting people first yields results and businesses can benefit from harnessing their enthusiasm.

Read the latest issue of Think Global People/Relocate magazine. Read your copy here.

Find out about becoming a Member of our Think Global People community and keep up with our latest events, webinars and podcasts.

Leadership-podcast-intextSubscribe to Relocate Extra, our monthly newsletter, to get all the latest international assignments and global mobility news.Mini-Factsheet-banner-intextRelocate’s new Global Mobility Toolkit provides free information, practical advice and support for HR, global mobility managers and global teams operating overseas.Podcast-banner-intext

Related Articles