I told a little story last week to a group of senior HR leaders about ditching the old Rank and Yank performance management systems and try something fresh. How about talking to people instead? You know, simply asking people how they think they are doing, and what they can do to improve. Maybe you might ask them what would be a stretch for them, or even how they might overcome barriers. You could ask them if they were enjoying themselves, and what would make work more fun? Just talk, listen, learn, in the pursuit of forward focused performance improvement.
However, even in this talk I managed to bring it back down to shoes. I love shoes. I mean, love a nice pair of killer heels.
I have always lived in a world where everything is measured, compared and rationalised. Measuring makes us feel safe and secure. I remember having my feet measured at school and getting a gorgeous new pair of shoes for school. In the playground, of course my shoes were the envy of my friends. Black, shiny, patent leather with a pretty butterfly pattern on them.. sorry I digress. After the shoe envy died down, the conversation quickly shifted towards comparing shoe sizes. We worked on the assumption that shoe size directly correlated to maturity and coolness levels.
If your feet were too small, then you were still a baby. If they were too big then you were… well… a freak. Yet I was upper average. I still fitted in, phew, but I was obviously a little bit more mature than the others. I was in exactly the right place.
Now I look back and realise the stupidity. The conclusion that my genetics make up and my ability to grow feet at the right pace had any impact what so ever on my “coolness” or maturity was clearly flawed. Yet we measured, we applied normal distribution, and we created our own assumptions based on the results. Had I had lower average feet, I would have probably felt a bit rubbish, there was no way I could increase my feet growing performance, but I was sure to feel “less than” compared to others.
The performance management I see I the workplace is no different. It still forces people to compete and compare, to attach their own value and assumptions based on cold measures. And yes, in many cases, those measurements neither engage, motivate or drive performance. So why do we do it?
Next time you are looking to apply a measure on someone at work, stop, pause and think. Is this measure really going to increase performance? What do I really believe? If you can’t answer, then stop measuring and have a conversation instead.