Cigna® Performance Management Impact Study


Cigna Performance Management


Employees and managers would adopt new behaviors focused on a growth and coaching mindset

The Context

Cigna had a classic performance management process for many years that was characterized by letter ratings, mid-year and annual performance evaluations, and lengthy multi-level documentation.

In recent years, the company experienced significant change due to a major realignment of the health insurance industry, a broader customer base, and a need for increased agility and innovation.

In parallel, Cigna was hiring increasing numbers of millennials. MTM research indicated that this generation thrives in dynamic work environments and expects in-the-moment and continuous feedback. As the pace of change accelerated, Cigna realized that the annual goal setting and performance review process no longer matched the cadence of the business.

Senior leaders acknowledged that the organization needed a flexible goal setting process with the ability to adjust quickly to new business requirements, opportunities, and challenges. The leaders agreed that the new process must enable employees to establish relevant and aligned goals and pursue development objectives while also receiving real-time manager feedback and adapting to business priorities or market demands.

In the latter part of 2014, Cigna began developing the structure, process and tools for their new performance management system. Based on extensive research and benchmarking, Cigna developed a model that was forward-looking, positive, and strength-based. They replaced their ratings with a reward-oriented structure that promoted individual and team communication. Finally, they trained managers to adopt a coaching-based management style that encourages employees to develop a growth mindset. The implementation of the new process began in full force in mid-2015.

The Challenge

Cigna had established four success indicators for the new process:

  • Employees and managers would adopt new behaviors focused on a growth and coaching mindset
  • Managers and employees would conduct formal check-in discussions at least quarterly
  • The time spent on check-in conversations with the new process would be the same or greater than with the old system
  • Employees and managers would have higher quality conversations focused on goal setting, career development, progress, and outcomes results

Cigna made a concerted effort to gather data from multiple sources to assess progress. To determine perceptions of the workforce, Cigna added several questions to their quarterly Global Insight Survey[1] to assess the adoption of the new process and the perceived quality and frequency of check-ins. In addition, they conducted polls on their social platform and gathered direct employee feedback via in-person or virtual focus groups. Finally, Cigna used MTM® to gather feedback on the quality of the training and the extent to which managers were exhibiting the new growth mindset and coaching behaviors.

While the data provided solid indicators of the strengths and opportunities for improvement, Cigna felt they needed more in-depth information. Beyond the few questions asked on their quarterly survey, Cigna required in-depth information of employee perceptions as well as:

  • The level of adoption within each business unit and geography
  • Where employee and manager perceptions of progress differed
  • Factors influencing organizational outcomes (such as manager support or degree of alignment to organizational goals)
  • Qualitative insights about employee preferences and concerns about the new process

To answer these questions, Cigna asked MTM to evaluate the success of the new performance management process and identify where improvements were warranted.

The Solution

MTM and Cigna employed a robust measurement process that assessed employee perceptions across multiple dimensions including awareness and understanding of the new process, effectiveness of communications and training, adoption of new behaviors, improved value of the process, and the achievement of business outcomes (e.g., improved engagement and employee performance)

The study team designed custom survey focused on the effectiveness of the new process and supporting programs to develop a growth mindset, thriving through change, and rewards for contribution. The team used Explorance’s proprietary tool, Metrics that Matter which Cigna has employed for over five years to measure the effectiveness of their training solutions.

The survey’s primary objective was to assess:

  • The level of adoption of new employee behaviors (e.g., seek growth opportunities, collaborate with colleagues, take informed risks)
  • The level of adoption of new manager behaviors (e.g., encourage new ways of thinking, empower independent decision-making, assist employees to identify growth opportunities),
  • The frequency, duration, and quality of check-ins
  • Enablers and barriers to adoption
  • Impact on performance and engagement.

Cigna provided relevant HR data to test specific hypotheses about outcomes. For example, were office-based employees more likely to adopt new behaviors than employees who worked from home? (Result: they weren’t.) Finally, the study considered external factors, (e.g., potential changes in the business, organizational culture, regional differences and employee expectations) that could influence outcomes and impact.


The study provided a number of insights that Cigna could directly leverage to drive action. In particular, it demonstrated that:

  • Managers and employees demonstrated a commitment to adopt the new behaviors both within and outside the US
  • Time spent with employees in formal and informal conversations increased: managers and employees reported that they met about once/month for check-in conversations, well above the goal of quarterly conversations
  • Support levels were high: 72% of employees indicated they were highly supported and that they understand how their goals were aligned to Cigna’s success
  • Performance and engagement after the first year was slightly improved based on self-reported data from both individual contributors and managers.

As with any new program, the study also identified areas for improvement, specifically:

  • Continue to communicate expectations of the new process to ensure both employees and managers understand their respective roles
  • Leverage “skip-level” discussions to enable second level managers to get feedback on their direct reports and adjust coaching based on specific needs
  • Conduct refresher training to reinforce desired behaviors
  • Review, improve, and/or supplement existing tools and resources

Based on the findings from the study, the Cigna team took specific action in three key areas:

  1. Redesigned the Community site to provide employees better access to find and use resources and content related to check-ins, goal setting and a growth mindset
  2. Created a learning series targeting key topics where employees needed additional support such as training on the fundamentals of the new performance management process, how to set meaningful goals, tips and techniques for quality conversations. Cigna will continue to release new learning modules throughout 2017
  3. Finally, the Cigna project team is working with key business units to develop personalized programs to support unique needs within specific business units

In reflecting on the joint effort, the Cigna team felt that the study provided credible data for senior leaders as well as a baseline for future measurement. As they evolve their Performance Management process and the underlying culture to support it, they now have the tools (through MTM® and the custom survey) and capabilities to measure their progress over time.

All Cigna products and services are provided exclusively by or through operating subsidiaries of Cigna Corporation, including Cigna Health and Life Insurance Company. “Cigna” is a registered service mark of Cigna Intellectual Property, Inc. As to Cigna content/properties, © 2017 Cigna. All rights reserved.


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