| By Micah Fairchild
An Independent Performance Management Software Vendor Solution Brief
Headquartered in New Zealand and founded in 2006, Sonar6 is just one of the many disruptive HR software vendors that have entered the space over the past several years. Often used in the same breath as similarly-situated solutions such as Rypple, the Sonar6 solution is laser-focused performance management software; delivering, as their tag line suggests: "at last, performance reviews that don't suck". Covering the geographies of Asia, Australia, Europe, India, the UK, and the U.S. (and delivering their HR software solution to 5100+ customers), Sonar6 is certainly one of the more globally-dispersed performance management point solutions on the market (though English is the only supported language).
Interestingly enough (and perhaps as a testament to the organizational void that this type of software fills), in a relatively short amount of time, Sonar6 has been able to rack up a healthy amount of critical praise; including: (2) Deloitte Fast 50 growth awards (in the New Zealand and Asia Pacific markets); the CIO MIS Strategic 100 Rising Star award; the Bayer Innovators Award; a spot as one of the top 10 HR Products by HR Examiner; and the distinction of being one of Gartner's identified Cool Vendors.
Sonar6 Performance Management Application Purpose
A Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) HR solution that allows for rapid profile build-outs and near-immediate evaluation, Sonar6 revolves around an organizational chart illustration for setting up managerial structures, assigning roles, and creating performance reviews. However, Sonar6 as a company makes clear that their product does not exist as simply an alternative automated HR processing application. Rather, Sonar6 takes the idea of performance reviews to another best-practice driven level; offering organizations the capability to: manage goals and discuss performance throughout the year (making reviews part of everyday working life); combine traditional manager-level feedback with self-assessments and 360° multi-rater feedback; create detailed career development plans with action points for the next round of reviews (updatable on the fly); and get up to the minute visual feedback on performance trends, as well as expert advice (from Sonar6) on developing teams' weaknesses and leveraging skills.
The employee performance review process is further augmented by rolling up the information from everyone's individual reviews into a graphical overview of the whole organization. Managers and executives can then have the capability to view teams and individuals on a 9-box grid; filter those results by division, pay band or location; and then zoom in on individual-level details to analyze performance trends over time. Sonar6 also provides limited succession management functionality by allowing the identification of employees with whatever specific competencies have deemed necessary for critical role filling—all done through leveraging Sonar6's distribution graphs to identify top performers.
For the application itself, Sonar6 offers interested organizations two implementation options: "Quick Start" (ideal for companies with under 100 employees which need few to no unique system configurations) and "Fully Configured" (ideally positioned for larger enterprises with deeper configuration requirements). While "Quick Start" does not ship with HRMS and/or Payroll integration, and requires that users set up and maintain the system on their own; it should be noted that both implementation schemes include: self-assessments, 360 reviews, Sonar6 Analytics, the Bendelta Competency Library, and system support. The "Fully Configured" option also allows organizations to customize forms, competencies, weighting, reports, coaching and communications to suit their needs, but comes in with a sizeable difference in price tag (including a $17K one-off implementation charge not applicable to the "Quick Start" standard package).
Sonar6's Customer Target Market & Perfect Prospect Profile (PPP)
The software company boasts over 5,100 active customers, and although no specific organizational size was dictated as targeted by Sonar6, the company does provide pre-configured performance management capabilities for select vertical markets, including: Distribution, Transport & Logistics; Financial Services; Government; Education & NFP; Healthcare; Science & Medical Technology; Information Tech & Communication; Manufacturing; Construction; Engineering; Media; Professional Services; Retail; Hospitality; and Utilities.
Sonar6 Technical Specs
Sonar6 is a thin-client (browser-based) application deployed using the Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) delivery model; and hosted in a secure data center environment at Rackspace. While Flash 7 or above is needed, the only other requirement is browser with internet connection. Security-wise, Sonar6 utilizes traditional SSL technology that leverages both server authentication as well as data encryption for data in transit.
Configuration options for Sonar6 include the capabilities for organizations to change: Factors (the elements employees will be reviewed on—split by performance and competencies); Details (the number of items of evidence—i.e. goals, questionnaires, comments—that are used to calculate a final rating for the factor); and Processes & Documentation (including menus, steps, axis labels, and analysis text).
Additionally, Sonar6 provides a method for automatically importing changes of people information and organizational structure from an organization's HR system-of-record (through a flat file data export function in SFTP format). The specifics of this process are simple and essentially equate to Sonar6 processing the imported file and sending an email summary back. Further, credentialing is provided as part of the integration process and data processing can happen on a nightly basis. However, it should be noted that, while the process is straightforward, creating parsed and delimited files may be error prone and will require some IT expertise.
Sonar6 Primary Competitors
The market for employee performance management (EPM) software is fairly saturated and (with few exceptions) most HR software vendors who focus on either "core" HR or talent management have an integrated EPM offering in place. Essentially what this means is that Sonar6 has an incredible amount of stiff competition for enterprise dollars (e.g. Oracle, SAP, Infor, Lumesse, etc.). From an innovation perspective though, fewer companies directly compete with Sonar6. These vendors include Halogen, SilkRoad Technology, SumTotal Systems, and Saba. As evidenced by analyst remarks though, the most direct competitor to Sonar6 is Rypple (now owned by Salesforce.com).
Strengths of the Sonar6 Performance Management System
- As The HR Capitalist's Kris Dunn references, "Sonar6 has done a great job of attempting to redefine how smaller companies can view the performance process...and…they've taken a very fresh approach that can redefine how you look at the review game".
- Sonar6's simple, intuitive, and innovative user interface is one of the HCM industry's best. In fact, even Gartner research praises this vendor's innovation; citing that "customers wanting a leading-edge user experience should consider Sonar6".
- The Sonar6 solution is one of the closest approximations available to how best practice performance management should be conducted.
- Sonar6 is very well-suited to small and creativity-driven organizations.
Weaknesses of the Sonar6 Performance Management System
- The system has been criticized as being too simplistic, a fact that affects wide-scale applicability of the HR software, and could likely cause broad adoption to be unattainable.
- Unfortunately, while the user interface is simple and straightforward, configuring the system to match your organization's needs is not, and will generally require IT expertise.
- While steeped in best practices for how organizations should conduct performance management, the counter-culture alternative that Sonar6 provides could be seen as too radical for companies with entrenched entitlement climates.
- With only 2 implementation options available, significant differences exist in terms of both functionality and cost. As such, the system could well benefit from a middle tier option that allows for some increase in functionality without such a massive jump in price.
Bottom-line for Sonar6 Performance Management Software
While almost strategically situated to appeal to the interests of younger generations, creativity-driven smaller enterprises, and companies absent a formal performance review process; make no mistake about the fact that Sonar6's disruptive take on performance management could well make some major waves in the HCM industry. This company, along with very few others are attempting to change a performance management pattern that most within the HR industry would readily admit hasn't effectively worked for decades. That fact alone could well affect the drive for Sonar6 adoption; especially for organizations looking to really overhaul the process by which performance management is conducted. The challenge for Sonar6 though is convincing organizations that this new method will work better than the old one. After all, billions of dollars have gone into traditional performance management systems that haven't worked—why should companies believe Sonar6 would be any different?
Categories: Employee Performance Management
Tags: Performance Management Review
Author: Micah Fairchild