The authors of Human Sigma take a pretty damning view of the evaluation process of most companies as being antithesis to productive improvement of the employees.
“First, where did the set of things to be rated come from? Did they come from a systemic study of the necessary outcomes of your job, or did they come from a committee of people who described all the things they think you should do in your role? Does the list mix hard financial and operational outcomings with fuzzier ratings that sound good but may nor may not have any bearing on how well you do your job (as compared to how others think you should do your job)?”
They also feel the way those measures are utilized during the evaluation period is flawed.
“Once your manager has identified your “deficiencies,” how much of your review is spent discussing them and how to fix them? Now compare that with the amount of time you both spend discussing the ways in which you most naturally and powerfully think, feel and behave, and how better to capitalize on that.”
Their feeling is that “most workgroups and managers can be optimally measured with only two classes of metrics: the critical financial and operational outcomes that are the purpose of that business unit and the HumanSigma level of that unit.” In their mind, the aim of the evaluation process is to forge a productive and trusting relationship between supervisors and subordinates rather than a primarily corrective one.
As mentioned in my earlier entry, the focus of an evaluation should be on what the employee is expected to accomplish, not how they are supposed to do it. It isn’t about if they are working hard toward a goal or following every prescribed step, but rather if they reach the goal. (As a cog in an bureaucracy with an often inane attention to detail, I am all for that!)
Achieving a situation where such an approach will be successful starts with the hiring process. The authors urge focusing the interview and hiring process on inherent talent plus willingness to pursue new skills and mastery as a measure of performance. They counter the argument that it is difficult to identify and measure talent by noting that there are instruments out there, that while not perfect, are accurate enough to be useful in assessing an individual’s talent. Even with talent, hard work is necessary. Even someone as talented as Mozart was pushed to practice early in life by his father.
They cite the necessity of 10,000 hours of practice to achieve mastery for everyone, regardless of talent. Without effort, even a great talent atrophies. This is not to say that hard work allows people to achieve mastery in the absence of talent. A person receiving training which emphasizes their talent will likely progress at a much greater rate than one whose talents are unsuited for the position.
I would really love to know if there is any performing arts organization that actually pursues a hiring process that even closely approximates this approach for their non-performance employees. In an industry which subjects highly skilled and talented artists to grueling audition processes which are often resolved by attempting to discern minute differences between people, how many administrative managers, executives and general employees are subjected to a comparable detailed assessment of their talents and abilities in relation to the various dynamics of their positions? For most arts employers it is matter of experience and passion for the arts (for some, passion doesn’t seem to be a prerequisite.)
Two years ago I wrote about an article by Peter Drucker urging people to learn about how they work best and communicate that information to colleagues and supervisors. Fleming and Asplund make a similar suggestion when it comes to rewarding people in relation to how they would like to be recognized. Some people love attention and want public parties, others don’t and would prefer a private intimate acknowledgment. Rewarding people counter to their preferences may undermine their investment in the company.
I think that the company’s varying procedure for rewarding employees needs to be made very clear from the outset otherwise other employees’ investment may be undermined vicariously. Someone who has a big party thrown for them to celebrate their success may be perplexed and hurt when no overt recognition is accorded an esteemed co-worker who achieved just as much.
These same basic suggestions are applied on a larger scale to workgroups and segments of a company. Each group has its own set of traditions and symbols associated with celebration. Trying to replicate that with another group hoping to motivate them may fail because the practice has no significance to them.
Their suggestions for corrective action are more measured. You accentuate the positive quickly and publicly, but consequences for sub-standard performance, while clear, are not as enthusiastically applied. Their purpose is to remove fear as a motivator for improvement. If change does not manifest, the authors suggest mentorships and retreats as later steps for bringing about change.
Most of their suggestions are far more nuanced than I am able to present here. For example, awards where one group continually wins or everyone gets a chance at winning are equally worthless in helping to motivate improvement. Likewise, many mentor programs and retreats are ineffectual.
Obviously, if anything I have said in the last week or so of entries sparks your interest, you should pick up the book to explore further. While I have linked to Amazon’s listing in my entries, it was for convenience sake rather than to sell anything. I got my copy at the library.