Active Performance: A Q&A with Anika Gakovic, VP of Organizational Effectiveness, OppenheimerFunds


When Anika Gakovic discusses her role as Vice President of Organizational Effectiveness at OppenheimerFunds, the alignment of her own beliefs with the company’s high-conviction culture quickly becomes apparent.

"My personal philosophy on organizational effectiveness is rooted in wanting to create meaningful work experiences for people," said Gakovic. "Work is important to people living engaged lives. We thrive when we make progress and accomplish goals."
As Gakovic explains it, such focus on employee learning and engagement is the talent framework based on which OppenheimerFunds achieves its mission of creating value for investors.
"Especially in an active asset management business like ours, where the work we do is critically dependent on our people, it’s up to us to optimize talent and help employees grow with the company. It’s a privilege to be able to contribute to the performance management, which enables that to happen."
How do you integrate development planning and performance management to address organizational capabilities?
Business capabilities create value for clients and competitive differentiation in the marketplace.
Performance management and talent development bring that company strategy to life by ensuring that people have the accountability and alignment that enable them to execute business objectives.
In terms of how we ensure this happens, our senior leadership team sets the company strategy and is quite engaged in explaining both business direction as well as alignment across departments. This direction cascades through the performance management to goal setting that clarifies how each employee contributes to executing that strategy and, through development conversations throughout the year, what kind of learning individuals need in order to grow with the firm.
What are some of the challenges in performance management processes and systems?
Challenges include leader sponsorship, employee ownership, systems integration and progress tracking.
At OppenheimerFunds, one of the ways we ensure that performance management systems are integrated with other HR initiatives and efforts in the firm is by facilitating year-end calibration dialog that ensures differentiation for compensation and promotion decisions, and is based on the same performance benchmarks used for the quarterly performance dialog. We’ve defined these department benchmarks as behavioral definitions of success. To ensure consistency, these benchmarks are integrated into interview guides so that sourcing new talent is aligned to the performance model we have been building. Further, new hires are introduced to this performance model and receive learning and tools that enable them to understand how performance management works at our firm.
Additionally, our leadership development and management development frameworks are consistent in addressing the kinds of skills necessary to have the constructive dialog that enables performance management.
This is one way we ensure leader support. Here at OppenheimerFunds, we are lucky to have leaders who are quite engaged. Our department heads personally send out quarterly messaging, which sets expectations around performance management - whether setting goals at the beginning of the year or having development conversations later on. We, on the organizational effectiveness team with our HR business partners, provide leaders with the templates and reminders necessary to make that messaging happen. It’s a high-touch approach that ensures consistency and coherence.
Let me also address the issue of employee ownership, which can dilute any change effort. We, in organizational effectiveness, are accountable to HR to own the design of performance management and the consistency of the implementation. Our HR business partners, who work closely with each of our clients, are critical to our efforts by following up on the implementation of performance management and informing customization efforts on our end, which are necessary to fit business needs. Additionally, our data and systems people help us with solutions to document these performance management conversations and track progress.
Another issue is the belief that performance management is an annual, oftentimes end-of-year process. This is a fear-based approach that leaves employees in agony awaiting their verdict and managers struggling to make a case for their employees. To address this, we’ve created a quarterly approach that involves balanced conversations around performance management to reduce year-end surprises. In fact, some of our departments engage in monthly conversations. Through training and tools, we remind managers to be prepared to have sometimes difficult conversations. We remind employees that they own the performance dialog as they initiate the entry of progress notes and facilitate the conversation, which is followed by managers’ feedback.
Employees are also expected to schedule their performance management conversations and come prepared with examples of accomplishments, challenges and questions for their managers. Ultimately, this kind of ongoing dialog is meant to create a feedback culture that enables innovation and change.

How do you develop the right mindset within managers and their employees about performance?
There is a lot of evidence that mindset is what drives outcomes. For us, elements of developing the right mindset are the training sessions and communications we do around each of the quarterly performance management milestones. For example, we’ll use banners on our company website to remind employees and managers that it’s time to enter goals. Or, in training sessions, we’ll show videos with employees and managers role-playing the performance conversation to illustrate what works or what doesn’t work.
As I mentioned, we have this high-touch approach, which is driven by the partnership between the organizational effectiveness team and our HR business partners so that we remind employees and their managers about the expectations around their conversations. For example, if I’m facilitating a program with business leaders, I’ll remind them about implications of their offsite agreements for performance goal setting. Or, during a team-building session, we’ll remind people about the development goals that relate back to what they agreed upon in teamwork-operating principles.
What and how do you measure to maximize new habits in managers?
Creating useful new habits of any kind is a very human challenge and even more so in the busy world of work.
First, the organizational effectiveness team, as the owners of training, communications and the overall performance management philosophy, rely on our partners in HR to help us create habits through ongoing conversations with managers and employees about the kinds of challenges they face. This kind of real-time feedback helps us keep a pulse on the types of problems that might be coming up and is what informs our training, communication efforts and performance tools we design.
Second, we created an advisory committee this year to help us continue to evolve our performance management design and so our HR business partners who are part of that committee are helping us create improved relevance for the business and sustainability of our approach.
Third, our annual employee engagement survey includes questions about manager feedback, so that’s a way, at departmental and larger team levels, to have a progress check on forming constructive habits.
How do culture and context shape performance management strategy?
They are critical. Performance management is the bridge between the legacy of existing corporate values and culture with the evolutionary change we seek in order to meet business growth goals.
One example of how we built cultural buy-in for shaping performance management is a pilot program we started two years ago to remove performance ratings and forced rankings in order to shift to a more balanced and transparent approach. After piloting this initiative in several business groups and receiving positive feedback, we were able
to build on that success. For example, in our training, we brought in business leaders from the pilot program to participate on panels to explain how they had new kind of performance dialogue. This year, we launched the no-ratings performance approach throughout the company by clarifying the continuity in culture and values
we appreciate. Further, we based this call to action around business growth and company
objectives we all need to accomplish.
How do you determine which components of performance management work?
Metrics and feedback inform our performance management approach. One example is that the feedback we received in our employee engagement survey spurred us to move away from a rating and forced-ranking approach to one that provides a better employee experience through balanced and transparent dialog. After implementing this new approach, our most recent annual employee engagement survey showed a 4 to 5 percent improvement in several items relating to performance management: clarity of job expectations, accountability, recognition and seeing the performance system as being more fair. This is an early indicator of our success.
A second approach to metrics is a performance management dashboard, which my team in organizational effectiveness produces each month. This dashboard shows, by department, the progress in attending training and completing the performance system tasks such as setting goals, tracking performance progress or development planning. We also collect informal feedback through ongoing dialog with our HR business partners
and clients to ensure relevance and sustainability of our performance management approach.
Ultimately, we are contributing to building an even better culture and business success.