The market is volatile when it comes to people strategy. The disruption and dynamic transformation of businesses, and the temperament of people have constantly evolved into what is now the current work culture. Every day, new concepts keep popping up in the marketplace. What to choose, what to adopt and what to ignore is a hustle by itself. It is a vital sign of health, no doubt, but this uncertainty is leading us to a curious space in many industries. This uncertainty is making many age-old practices redundant and shaking some founding beliefs; one that I foresee would go passé is the legendary performance management practice. There is a lot of noise around the bell curve in many offices and this is the first sign.
Firstly, it is very selfish of an organization to approach performance as the grand deciding factor and to make it a paramount exercise in the system. There is very minimal emphasis on learning, engagement, and other driving factors of an organization. The learning here is not in training measures. It is waking up to a new realm of reality and seeing the unseen factors. In current organizations, engagement is how actively connected employees are at work. Don’t we box these important capabilities of employees and induce a fear of losing out on performance?
Let’s take an example of an employee who had taken the narrow risk of doing something and loses openly. He, despite being good in the first three-quarters of the year, is rated poor due to this loud loss in the fourth quarter. We believe that we have done justice theoretically by restricting his rating. But have we not stopped the other teammates from making innovative choices by sending a wrong signal of ‘No Risk Taking allowed’ to other employees? How willing would be the same employee to take a risk the next time? Is risk not a driving factor? If we blind our people to risk, how can we, as an organization thrive? Is risk-taking not a sign of a competent organization?
If I ask you how much 2+2 is, you will confidently respond with the answer – 4. Now my question is how much is 50 + 60? Yes, you have got the answer as easily as before. How much is 220+230? It now takes you a little longer than the first two attempts, but you’ve got the answer. Your success at the first three attempts would give you earned the confidence and it also shows that you are capable. If the next question is 643 – 569, how much time would you take to get the number? Can this delay be connected to your capability? The reduction of speed can create a ‘blur’ in you, but you eventually will still get the answer. Now you have learnt to deal with the next level of complexity. Should I reward your learning or penalize your blur?
Performance is the hypotenuse side of the triangle with the other two sides being learning and engagement. Performance is the outcome of learning and engagement.
Talent is, unfortunately, simply seen as the ability to perform in various contexts and momentary successes are paramount to the final verdict of performance. I don’t disregard the context of momentary successes or short wins, but I propose that the current perspective of performance is at fault. The lack of evidence of ‘talent’ in how we measure ‘success’ makes the authenticity of performance metrics outdated.
The deliberation in my mind is whether performance by itself is the end state of achievement or is learning to be institutionalized itself as a journey towards greater realization. Thinking hypothetically, I believe that we always tend to align ourselves to one of the two perpendicular axes viz., either the axis of ‘Talent – Performance’ or the axis of ‘Understanding – Effort’. I’m convinced that there is an end state if we must chase ‘Talent -Performance’. We take it for granted that Performance is paramount.
The challenge is that poor performance has been seen as evidence of a lack of talent, creating a spurious certainty about one’s inability and therefore learning is reduced to a limiting either of ‘successes’ or ‘failure’.
When will a team member of an organization perform optimally? When they are being constantly judged or when there is active engagement and ample space to learn? When we create silos and separate them with initiatives based on performance, we divide the organization into two – one that is judged as good in performance even though there were other people issues, and another who could meet up the expectation irrespective of other contributing factors.
Don’t we create an unnecessary end state with our own expectations? Revenue and Growth should be the by-product of Engagement and Learning and not the other way round. The Bell Curve method of performance appraisal has served us enough and it is high time we retire it, as right now, it is creating noise in the system. When we categorize more than 40% of the organization as average performers, don’t we ignore and put off a major chunk of the organization? This forced judgment acquits many people who are good at intentions but have failed somehow due to circumstances.
We should courageously create non-judgmental environments and convert shop floors and bays into non-judgmental ecosystems where we don’t judge people for their hits and misses but value them for effort and intentions. This doesn’t create end states and unfold growth in many folds and in all directions. In the ‘Understanding – Effort’ index, my journey is how much I’m on an ‘engagement’ frame of mind with my peers or with the organization. The ‘Understanding -Effort’ axis thus breaks out of this ‘stickiness’ by recognising that learning is a dynamic, never-ending process, joyous and valuable without any gain attached to it.
I know I’m again reinforcing my earlier statement, but I firmly believe that Talent is a false God.
So, if both supervisor and the person being supervised are on an engaged mind which is set for the growth of an organization, there is learning and exploration. I believe this leads to transformation and to a superior organization that can dominate the market. We must therefore move away from fixed ideas of talent, reinforced by poor performance in assessments, to a more engaging frame of mind. It is important to use space to experiment and discover newer ways to engage with content, competencies, skills, wisdom, and even passion or purpose. In the ‘Talent-Performance’ axis, feedback becomes merely a reinforcement of the static idea of oneself whereas in the ‘Understanding-Effort’ axis, feedback becomes a reflection of a critical ingredient of learning.
When surgeons can operate in the presence of other doctors and lawyers can argue their cases in public view, why should learning or feedback in an organizational set-up seek the security of closed a conversation? In fact, we must move towards a garage concept of public engagement. The performance/competency enhancement automatically happens if one is engaged with each other and with the organisation. In the longer run, engagement leads to greater collaboration for innovation as well.
So, the question in mind is should I keep categorizing people based on their performance (again end state) as Performer, Medium Performer or Non-Performer, and create a biased system based on performance and reserve few privileges to a handful of people? Rather than going beyond this static state of performance and moving towards a fulfilling process of learning and engagement? Can we start identifying people for who are: Actively Engaged, Engaged, Partially Engaged and Not Engaged, and bring them all under an engaging vision and towards a goal worth striving?
One day, my daughter and I finished collecting information about 300 types of insects on her campus and it was a fun-filled, engaging, and learning experience for both of us. Next, we are planning our exploration of the Himalayas – another eventful, engaging and learning experience we can look forward to. By making learning engaging, we are ensuring that it is never-ending, and doesn’t have much to do with her inherent or so-called ‘talent’.
Computer Age Management Services Ltd