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The Employee Experience Platform | Culture Amp
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Culture Amp

The employee experience platform

In professional sports, performance is everything. At Major League Baseball (MLB), that extends beyond the diamond, influencing how the league manages talent off the field.

MLB’s workforce is vast, involving not just athletes, but also hundreds of professionals in stadium operations, marketing, broadcasting, retail, and other critical areas. Consequently, when employees don’t feel heard, the ripple effect is felt far and wide.

In 2019, for example, MLB faced challenges in employee engagement, signaling a need for improved listening strategies and engagement practices. Noticing this, MLB’s leadership formed a talent management team to reshape the employee experience and drive performance.

At the helm of that team are Frank Caleca, Head of Learning and Development, and Patrick Gallagher, HR Business Partner, who set out to shift MLB to an employee-centric performance culture. At Culture First 2023, we sat down with them to explore MLB's transformational journey, which exemplifies the power of active listening and goal alignment in fostering a high-performing team.

Below, we share three ways your organization, like MLB, can step up to the plate to make every employee – regardless of their role – feel valued, heard, and inspired.

1. Leverage data to validate the case for an employee engagement strategy

Employee experience data can play a powerful role in supporting business decisions, and MLB experienced this firsthand.

Before the organization could improve engagement and drive performance, it knew it needed to operate from an informed place. So, MLB launched surveys to give employees a way to share their experiences while gathering valuable insights to understand the issues they faced. These insights, along with the information gleaned from focus groups and 1-on-1 conversations, ensured the league’s path forward was data-driven and primed for success.

The upfront work MLB did to listen to employees significantly shaped the organization’s subsequent learning and development strategy, which included targeted mentorship and leadership programs tailored to specific needs surfaced by the surveys.

The surveys helped get leadership buy-in to invest in a performance management solution and set the stage for the culture of continuous listening the league would go on to establish through the implementation of meaningful feedback and goal-setting processes. Gathering data made it easier than ever for managers to spot employees’ development areas and have critical conversations in a timely way.

MLB shared:

"Having access to features like direct feedback is extremely helpful for us in human resources. It allows us to refer back to these tools and conversations effectively, aiding us in delivering exactly what our employees need and request on a daily basis."

2. Embrace the concept of continuous performance management

MLB understood that formal reviews are just one part of performance management, not its entirety. Formal reviews are most effective as part of a continuous approach to performance management.

Formal reviews are an opportunity for managers to provide actionable feedback to their direct reports as well as guidance on growing in their roles. Done right, this creates a supportive environment for employees to thrive. Formal reviews also play a critical role in maintaining consistency and fairness in employee treatment, especially regarding promotions and compensation.

Continuous performance management – which includes tactics like holding regular 1-on-1 conversations and giving feedback in the moment – ensures performance touchpoints are baked into employees’ everyday experiences, keeping performance top of mind. Continuous performance management practices also generate performance data throughout the year, making for easy reference during the review cycle. As a result, formal reviews are less taxing, more comprehensive, and more productive.

MLB leadership realized that building a high-performance culture would require more than annual performance reviews. Many employees at the league had been there for years – in some cases, longer than a decade. One-off performance evaluations at the end of the season didn’t do justice to the work done by these individuals. The process was also tough on managers since all reviews happened simultaneously, and each one required tremendous preparation time.

So, MLB replaced that tedious and lengthy review process with Culture Amp’s user-friendly performance management tool. This spurred ongoing dialogues about growth and development, and has taken much of the work out of preparing for the annual review cycle. The tools were especially beneficial to new managers, who didn’t have the same experience as seasoned supervisors at the league.

We wanted the experience of [performance management] to feel like a lighter lift and still result in better, more frequent, and more substantive conversations about career development and learning paths. And I can say, undoubtedly, our situation today is substantially better than it was just three or four years ago, thanks to Culture Amp.

— Patrick GallagherHR Business Partner, Major League Baseball

3. Don’t underestimate the performance-driving power of goal alignment

Thoughtful employee performance goals are key to a fair and motivating review process. Plus, they play a crucial role in retaining top talent.

But for goal-setting to be effective, the goals have to be clear, established with consensus, and aligned with organizational objectives. Goal alignment creates guideposts that help employees feel motivated and confident, while ensuring that the work they put into their development ladders up to tangible business results.

At MLB, the impact of goal-setting has been game-changing. Both employees and managers have noted the effectiveness of the goal-setting process, particularly the peace of mind and clarity that comes from tracking progress. Now, they’re able to reflect more deeply on their career growth and development and feel better prepared for performance reviews.

Frank remarks, "Goals have really enabled more frequent and productive conversations, which is fantastic. People now understand what changes they need to make. It's like in baseball: for hitters in the box, making adjustments during the at-bat is easier than waiting for the next opportunity."

A winning strategy

By placing collaboration and employee experience at the core of its performance management strategy, MLB has proven that teamwork is as essential to performance off the field as it is on. Now, the league boasts widespread adoption of its performance management processes, overwhelmingly positive employee feedback on the changes the organization has implemented, and the trust and support of leadership in ongoing performance efforts.

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Learn more about Major League Baseball’s collaboration with Culture Amp

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