The market is volatile when it comes to people strategy. The growing unrest is due to the dynamicity of businesses and the temperament of people. 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 where this uncertainty is leading us is a curious question in everyone’s mind. This is slaying many age-old practices and shaking some founding beliefs and one I could foresee would go passé is legendary performance management practice. There is a lot of noise around the bell curve in many offices and this is the first sign.
First of all, 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 the Organization. The learning here is not the training measures. It is waking up to the new realm of reality and seeing the unseen factors. The engagement here is how actively connected employees are at work. Don’t we box these important capabilities of employees and induce fear of losing out on performance?
Let’s take an example of an employee who had taken a narrow risk of doing something and lost openly. He despite being good in the first three-quarters was 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 sent a wrong signal of ‘No Risk Taking’ to other employees? How willing would be the same employee to risk next time? Is not risk a driving factor? If we blind our people to risk, how would we as an organization thrive? Is not risk taking an organization competency?
If I ask you how much 2+2 is, you will confidently reply 4. Now my question is how much is 50 + 60. Yes, you have got the answer. How much is 220+230? took a little longer than the first two attempts but got the answer. Your success in the first three attempts would give you confidence and shows that you are capable. If the next instant is 643 – 569, how much time did you take to get the number? Can this delay be connected to your capability? It created a ‘blur’ in you, but you eventually got it. Now you have learnt about 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 as learning and engagement. Performance is the outcome of learning and engagement. Talent is unfortunately seen as the ability to perform in various contexts and momentary successes are paramount to the final verdict of performance. I don’t disregard that momentary success or short wins but propose that the current perspective of performance is a fault. The lack of evidence of talent in our measure makes the authenticity of the performance measure wrong.
The deliberation in my mind is whether performance by itself is the end state of achievement or is Learning to be institutionalized as a journey towards a greater realization. In hypothetical thinking, 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’ on the other axis. 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 is 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 one perform – when he/she is being judged or when there is active engagement and ample space to learn? When we create HiPOTs and separate them with initiatives based on performance there we divide the organization into two – one that is judged as good in performance even though there were other people’s issues, and another who could meet up the expectation irrespective of other contributing factors.
Don’t we create an end state with our expectations? Revenue and Growth should be by-products of Engagement and Learning and not the other way round. Bell Curve has served us enough and it’s high time we retire it for 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 failed 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 in 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 in an engaged mindset for the growth of an organization, there is learning, there is an exploration and I believe this leads to transformation and this leads to a superior organization. We must thus move 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 or competencies or skills or wisdom or passion or purpose. In the Talent Performance axis, feedback becomes merely a reinforcement of a static idea of oneself whereas in the Understanding Effort, feedback becomes a reflection of the critical ingredient of learning.
When surgeons can operate in the presence of other doctors, and lawyers who argue their cases in public view, why should learning or feedback seek the security of closed conversation? In fact, we must move towards the garage concept of public engagement. The performance/competency enhancement automatically happens if one is engaged with each other and with the organisation. If not also, in the longer run, engagement leads to greater collaboration for innovation as well.
So, the question in mind is should I, therefore, categorize people based on their performance (again end state) as Performer, Medium Performer or Non-Performer and create a caste system based on performance and reserve few privileges to a handful of people? Rather I go beyond this static state of performance and move towards a fulfilling process of learning and engagement? Can we, therefore, identify people who are: Actively Engaged, Engaged, Partially Engaged and Not Engaged and bring them all under an engaging vision and goal worth striving for?
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 look forward to.
CHRO, Computer Age Management Services Ltd