….because I wanted to!

nz mapSo something really important happened to me yesterday evening – I became a Kiwi!

“What’s so good about that?” you might ask…

The Back-story:

I was born and raised in the UK which (for the avoidance of doubt) I still love.

However, I have happily been a permanent resident of New Zealand for 8 awesome years. There was no pressure on me to go further and apply for citizenship. Indeed, to do so would require a bit of effort on my part and some money to pay the Ministry of Internal Affair’s administration costs.

The Citizenship Ceremony:

There were about 180 candidates for citizenship, representing over 30 different countries.

The ceremony kicked off with an excellent performance from a Kapa Haka1 group.

The Mayor of our city, ably assisted by a linguistically impressive2 MC, presided over the ceremony and did a brilliant job of welcoming us, making us feel at ease, running a tight ship for oaths/ affirmations, certificates, photos (and trees!3) and finally congratulating us.

The National Anthem was sung.

But, just before the National Anthem, we watched a short video….

The insight:

…and within that video was a welcome from the Hon. Peter Dunne, Minister of Internal Affairs.

He nicely put into words that, as New Zealand residents, we are already entitled:

  • to stay indefinitely, to work and to study;
  • to healthcare, education and social security, as citizens are; and
  • to vote

and that this is not the case for all countries around the world4.

…and as such, we’re not becoming citizens in exchange for such rights – it isn’t for personal gain (in a ‘do this to get that’ kinda way), it is because we want to!

Indeed, some people will be choosing to surrender citizenship5 from their country of birth.

Now, I hadn’t formalised it as such…but, yes, Mr Dunne had ‘hit the nail on the head’. There was no need to become a citizen, but we feel part of this community and want to belong to it.

Now, for those of you reading the above thinking “that’s very nice and all that…but you usually write about organisations – what’s gone wrong this time?”…here goes:

The analogy:

Yep, you can see where this is going: Many an organisation uses the ‘do this to get that’ logic on its people throughout its management system:

  • meet these targets to get this reward;
  • put yourself forward to win this competition;
  • act in this way to win this quarterly/ annual award
  • search out, and apply for external awards to gain hierarchical kudos
  • ….etc.

In fact, they do so as if this is all rather obvious, and the only way to go about running an organisation.

But all of these things are extrinsic. They aren’t because you want to, they are because you want the prize available for complying with their wishes. This reminds me of a very early post I wrote titled ‘Don’t feed the animals’ which sets out and explains the point.

The reverse logic is to provide the people with what they need to thrive (with no strings attached)…and they will blossom…and they will want to belong. This is all about the environment:

…which will create:

People will come to love such an organisation, will want to belong, and will want to give of their all. How many organisations can honestly claim that?!

For you skeptics out there, such a transformation is:

  • possible, desirable, worthwhile and (as a side effect) profitable; and yet
  • impossible without a fundamental change in thinking.

Where would you choose to work (or live)?

Post script:

I texted a very good friend just after the ceremony: “All Blacks supporter now!”

ABs vs LionsHis response was:“All Blacks over the Lions?”

Damn, I hadn’t thought about next year’s Test series. This might take a little bit of time and emotional baggage to work through!

Footnotes:

1. Kapa haka is the term for Māori performing arts and literally means to form a line (kapa) and dance (haka).

2. 30+ different countries results in amazingly different names to be read out!

3. Every family grouping is presented with a native ‘baby tree’, to plant at home. We’ve got a spot in our garden already sorted.

4. Where this is a particular bone of contention for Kiwis living in Australia.

5. Some countries forbid multiple citizenships, and therefore require you to renounce your citizenship if you want to change to another.

6. You may not think they are random…but if they don’t take proper account of variation, then they are.

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Profit sharing vs. Incentives

sharing-is-caringSo I was in a meeting. A colleague spoke up and said that she felt that incentives weren’t a good thing, that they caused much damage and that it would be better to remove their use and replace them with something better.

This was followed by the usual conversation that ‘bad’ objective setting is clearly the actual problem…and implied that the (obvious and only) answer was to continually strive to set ‘good’ objectives (incl. targets and linked incentives).

Finally, it led to a discussion as to how different organisations handle the issue of pay. Two particular comments made of interest to me were that:

  • “most organisations have incentive schemes”, with the implication that therefore this must be right; and
  • some organisations use a ‘profit sharing’ concept and, “really, this is incentives just by a different name… isn’t it?”.

Now, there are (what I believe to be) some important points that I’d like to put out there regarding each of these two comments. Here goes…

Part 1 – The problem being the quality of the objectives

To run a ‘performance related’ incentive scheme, an organisation needs to do four things:

  • set out meaningful (?) personal objectives (which are ‘cascaded’ down from above, hopefully derived from some customer related purpose);
  • set criteria from which to measure a person’s performance against these objectives (i.e. targets);
  • judge a person’s performance against these criteria; and
  • lay out a financial methodology to convert this judgement of performance into a (contingent) monetary reward.

I have already written posts that are highly relevant to each of these points. In particular:

and perhaps most importantly:

  • I have written about the science showing the harm caused by using extrinsic motivators in The chasm and Money as pay. I used the analogy of Don’t feed the animals.
  • …and on the related matter of purpose (from which those cascaded personal objectives theoretically originate), I have written about why this shouldn’t be seen simply as ‘to make profit’. I wrote about this in Oxygen isn’t what life is about

I hope that this gives you plenty of thought to explain my contention that, in Ackoff’s words, we shouldn’t be “trying to make a wrong thing righter”.

The issue is NOT with poorly set personal objectives, criteria, judgements and financials methodology. You can fiddle with these all day long but you won’t remove the fundamental flaw within.

Part 2 – Is Profit sharing the same as incentives?

Firstly, what do I mean by profit sharing as opposed to incentives? Here are definitions for each:

Definition of Profit sharing: All employees share in the success of the organisation.

“Employees receive a variable amount each year (or some other increment of time) where this variable reflects the pre-tax prosperity of the company.” (Scholtes)

Note that such profit sharing can be carried out in a myriad of ways. Some of these are:

  • Same percentage of salary per employee (this is probably the most common method)
  • Same absolute amount per employee i.e. shared equally, from the Contact Centre Agent through to the General Manager. Promoters of this method argue that:
    • People’s salary already caters for the market rate of their skills and experience;
    • We shouldn’t be implying that some people contribute more to a company’s prosperity than others…indeed some would argue that the most important people are the front line staff and they spend much of their time protecting the customer from the decisions made by command and control managers!
  • The use of some seniority factor: i.e. profit share based around tenure – promoters of this method suggest it encourage long-term thinking*
  • some hybrid of the above

* Note: A key consideration for anyone designing a profit share method is to avoid short-termism. Alternative thinking on how to achieve this might be to consider payment in shares that can’t be sold for a certain period, or payments into a person’s pension scheme, or [some other way of thinking outside the box]

Definition of Incentives: Extrinsic motivators – the offering of something (usually money) on a contingent basis in order to control how someone acts. ‘Do this to get that’.

At work, such incentives link to the idea of ‘paying for performance/ merit’ i.e. the setting of a challenge and then the judgement as to whether/ how well it has been met and the subsequent release of the contingent reward.

A comparison:

So, with these two definitions, I can now explain, via the following table, why profit sharing (however done) and incentives are very different:

Comparison: Incentives: Profit Sharing:

Purpose

Optimising the parts of the system, at the expense of the whole: ‘Meet personal objectives’ usurps overall purpose, with departments, and people within, pulling in competing directions.

Personal objectives create:

  • silo’d thinking and competition;
  • barriers to collaboration

Effort: massive time and effort spent in cascading, wording and ‘agreeing’ objectives

Static: Once ‘locked in’ each year, people are constrained by this thinking.

Optimising the system: Encourages collaboration since everyone (horizontally and vertically) is joined together towards the same purpose.

Encourage people to think about the ‘customer’ and their horizontal flow of value.

Effort: Little effort required. The purpose remains as ‘True North’

Dynamic: People can continually move in new innovative directions towards the one purpose, liberated from personal objectives.

Targets Required as ‘criteria’ for the objectives.

People are only truly interested in their own targets.

Not required.

People are now interested in measures (NOT targets) in how the system works and whether it is improving.

Judgement Required to ‘score’ people against.

Much time and emotional effort to run the judgement process, and deal with the de-motivating fall out…

…which occurs due to the impossibility of making a fair judgement.

Not required. 

Can now move to coaching conversations that are divorced from judgements and rewards…likely leading to open-ness, learning and self-development

Motivation Extrinsic People collaborating towards a combined purpose which they now believe in, leading to/ enabling intrinsic motivation

…and for anyone who holds that incentives must be right because everyone else seems to be doing it, you might be interested in my earlier post on Benchmarking.

To end with some thoughts for the way forward:

After very skilfully dealing with the subject of pay and performance in his book ‘The Leaders Handbook’, Scholtes puts forward (what I consider to be) some very useful guidelines when it comes to pay:

  • Employee compensation should be a completely separate process from the employee feedback system;
  • performance issues are one thing. Pay issues are another. Keep them separate. Don’t try to solve performance problems with pay solutions;
  • There should be no merit pay, because it is virtually impossible to differentiate on the basis of merit; (Note: My post titled Outstanding discusses this)
  • All employees should benefit from the success of the company through profit sharing;
  • The greatest sources of motivation are intrinsic. Pay cannot motivate, but pay that is perceived to be unfair can de-motivate.

Yellow polka-dot belts

Yellow polka dot beltThis is a short and simple post that merely shares a most excellent quote that I have on my wall – it says so much to me:

“To break down silos and look at work cross-functionally, an organization has to confront how it approaches incentives, bonuses, performance reviews, and the like.

Without a senior leader in place who understands the nature of flow and likely has experienced the benefits of holistic work systems, middle managers’ hands are tied.

Without a clear vision from the top, the most motivated middle manager who “gets it” can do very little to experiment with cells.

So here we are again – back to leadership. Instead of junior-level people getting black belts, green belts, and yellow polka-dot belts, leaders have to learn about these principles. We have a long way to go.” (Karen Martin)

 

“So, tell me about yourself”

InterviewA good friend of mine got talking to me about interview questions the other day.

She was having a laugh at the ‘creative’ questions that many interviewers can dream up such as “tell me what makes you special!”

I replied that I think the worst interview question is the “what are your greatest weaknesses”…and then I got thinking about why this is so.

Now, an interviewer can dream up all sorts of weird and wonderful questions that will allow you the space to sell yourself (if you are willing and able to) but this ‘weakness question’ is different. I suspect that it makes us all squirm because it causes a huge moral dilemma:

  • you want to be yourself, to be genuine, to be open and honest….

BUT

  • you also want the job!

So you’ve been put in a rather tight spot!

I’ve read all sorts of ‘clever’ (cheesy) responses. There’s plenty of advice on the web to answer this tricky conundrum, but they all try to do the same thing: get around the question rather than being brutally honest.

So, why am I bringing up this dastardly interview ‘weakness’ question?

Well, because I realised that this is an excellent parallel to the (ir)regular performance management meeting.

How so?

If you are part of a ‘set personal objectives – rate performance against – provide contingent reward’ Performance Management system then you too are in a rather tight spot.

Let’s imagine that you are in your annual performance review meeting:

  • on the one hand, you have a manager before you who has the job of developing you and, to do this, needs to truly know about how things are for you. They need genuine, open and honest ‘warts and all’ feedback;
  • on the other hand, this same manager has to judge you, which requires an interrogation of the available evidence and the scoring of it, as compared to your peers. You need to sell yourself.

What’s wrong with this?

These two ‘management’ roles are diametrically opposed. A manager cannot be judge and counsellor/coach at the same time.

If you were to lie down in a psychiatrist’s chair, you can expect that he/she will go to great lengths to put you at your ease, make clear that everything spoken is private and that no judgement of you will take place….and even then I suspect that it would take multiple visits before you truly opened yourself up….and in so doing, you provide the knowledge and insights required for you to develop.

Now, I know you won’t lie on a reclining chair in a performance review meeting (at least I don’t) but a similar environment of trust is required for a manager to truly help you (and, by extension, the organisation).

“When the person to whom you report decides how much money you will make (or what other goodies will be awarded to you) you have a temptation to conceal any problems you might be having. Rather than asking for help, which is a pre-requisite for optimal performance, you will be apt to spend your energies trying to flatter that person and convince him [or her] that you have everything under control. Moreover…you will be less likely to challenge poor decisions and engage in the kind of conflict that is beneficial for the organisation if you are concerned about losing out on a reward. Very few things are as dangerous as a bunch of incentive-driven individuals trying to play it safe.” (Alfie Kohn)

If you know that you are being judged (with a carrot or stick at the end of this) then you are going to be extremely careful (and selective) about what you do and say. You will likely:

  • seek, sift through and provide only positive evidence (choosing feedback wisely and carefully omitting what doesn’t fit your wishes);
  • talk up what has occurred, and you role within (it was all ‘because of me’!);
  • defend your position when it is challenged (presenting a strong case as to why something or someone else was to blame);
  • keep quiet about areas you have struggled with;
  • …[and so on – no doubt you can expand]

None of this is to call you a ‘bad person’…you would be merely playing your part in the game of survival that has been put before you.

You might get your carrot, but your organisation will miss out on what it really needed to know…and the game will continue on to its next round.

A better way

Wouldn’t it be just fantastic if you were willing to ‘share it all’ with your manager, and to do so without any salesperson’s spin. How about: where you got it wrong; where you didn’t understand; where you don’t agree, where you feel weak and exposed, where you’d really like some help… where it was actually a joint team effort (not just ‘me’)…basically what is really going on!

Even better, how about being willing to have these conversations as and when the need arises (and not, say, 6 months later in some staged meeting).

This is possible….but only with a different way of thinking.

Here’s where I repeat Alfie Kohn’s 3-step approach that I have already shared in an earlier post (The Chasm):

  1. abolish incentives: remove extrinsic motivators (incentives, competitive awards….);

“pay people well and fairly…then put money out of their minds.” (Kohn)

  1. then re-evaluate ‘evaluations’: move from formal time-batched judgement events to continual 2-way conversations divorced from the issue of compensation;
  1. then create the conditions for authentic motivation:
    • Collaboration: across the horizontal value stream
    • Work content: make it interesting
    • Choice: allow people to experiment and learn

There’s a reason for the order of these steps: True organisational success is unleashed by point 3…but, most importantly, is held back (even quashed) without first attending to point’s 1 and 2.

Irony

There are some people who are willing and able to say exactly what they think in a performance management review*, which they do because they have a desire to make their organisation a better place to work (for them, and everyone else)….and then risk the consequences of low(er) ratings and a poor ‘reputation’ with their manager (as in “s/he’s a trouble maker that one!”)…which may even then go on to be ‘shared’ with others in the hierarchy.

This is ironic madness. I favour any management system that encourages and supports open-ness and honesty that is devoid of personal agendas.

* I’m not suggesting that there is anything particularly great about such people. Such willingness and ability may come down to personality and economic circumstance allowing…which is not so for most.

 

Getting Away from Pyramid Selling

Mgmt pyramidSo I wrote my recent ‘Farmers and Facilitation’ post on who should be promoted and why…but that wasn’t the end of it. Here’s ‘Part 2’:

Rethinking the ‘Promotion’ idea

Not everyone can ‘get to the top’. In fact hardly anyone can! Yet many (most?) of us spend our working lives striving to reach the next rung of the ladder…and then find ourselves eyeing the next one. It’s a bit like a pyramid selling scam!

As ever, Alfie Kohn has some interesting things to say:

“In thinking about promotion, we take for granted that an organisation must be shaped like a pyramid, with many people clamouring for a very few desirable and lucrative jobs at the top, as if this arrangement had been decreed by God. In fact, both how many such positions are available and how many people want them are the result of institutional decisions.

We create a climate in which employees are made to feel like failures if they are not upwardly mobile, and we arrange the majority of jobs so that those who hold them are given very little money and responsibility. Were these things to change, the competitive scramble for promotions might be eased and we would be obliged to rethink the whole issue of who does what in an organisation.”

Kohn is challenging us to think differently…so let’s have a go at this by winding back to what’s happening in our brains:

‘Threat and Reward’ response

One of the core areas of research on the brain has understandably been about threat vs. reward. The Neuroscientist Evian Gordon refers to this “minimise danger, maximise reward response” as “the fundamental organising principle of the brain.”

The ‘Neuro-Leadership’ scientist David Rock explains that the threat response “is mentally taxing and deadly to the productivity of a person…[the threat response] impairs analytical thinking, creative insight and problem solving.” …and so it would be a very good idea to understand and avoid triggering our threat response1..

Rock explains a set of five social qualities that enable employees and executives alike to minimise the threat response and instead enable the [intrinsic] reward response.

These five qualities are: status, certainty, autonomy, relatedness, and fairness. I expect you will understand, and concur with these basic human desires.

Status

For the purposes of this post, I’m looking at the status social quality:

“As humans, we are constantly assessing how social encounters either enhance or diminish our status. Research shows that when people realise that they might compare unfavourably to someone else, the threat response kicks in…we are biologically programmed to care about status because it favours our survival.”

David Rock goes on to observe that “organisations often assume that the only way to raise an employee’s status is to award a promotion.”

Here’s the punch line: it isn’t that we want promotion as such – we want what we think promotion implies – we want a feeling of status.

Personally, I couldn’t care less what title you give me* or how many people ‘report to me’ or how long I’ve been in my current position…but I understand and accept that (as a human being) I care about status just like the next person.

(* as long as it is logical and isn’t derogatory!)

So, if the number of management positions is (and always will be) limited AND it isn’t actually about promotion…then what can we do/ how can we act to look after everyone’s feeling of status?

I don’t (and shouldn’t) have a perfect answer for this…but some starters for ten are that our perceptions of status increase when:

  • We have meaningful work to perform (because it aligns to a purpose that we care about2.);
  • The organisation demonstrably values the role we play (which implies that the work we are doing is fully understood and that we feel valued, included and listened to by those put in place to manage us);
  • We constantly master new skills3. (where we have a degree of freedom as to what these might be, and where they take us)
  • …and these new skills are then used in yet more meaningful work….and back round the virtuous circle.

If I am doing meaningful work (to me and the organisation), I am constantly growing as a person and I am being suitably valued then I’ll be fully engaged and pretty damn happy with things.

This now links nicely back to ‘part 1’ : If I am able to self-develop then perhaps I have achieved the first step of eligibility for promotion.

Some final comments from David Rock to close:

Value has a strong impact on status. An organisation that appears to value money and rank more than a basic sense of respect for all employees will stimulate threat responses among employees who aren’t at the top of the heap.

Similarly, organisations that try to pit people against one another on the theory that it will make them work harder reinforce the idea that there are only winners and losers, which undermines the standing of people below the top 10 percent.”

In short: The practises of judging people and making them compete with each other aren’t going to help!

To conclude:

If ‘status’ in an organisation is all about your position within a hierarchy then this creates a limited and circular line of thinking, within management and employees, whereby promotion is the aim (rather than a responsibility).

Rather than spending our time talking to everyone about transparent promotion paths and career development “so you too can get to the top”, let’s spend it ensuring that everyone has a feeling of status.

A healthy feeling of status should be attainable by everybody in every position. Whether this is the case will depend upon the management system in place, and the resultant environment that it produces.

“Um, okay Steve…but I still want promotion to look good’

A personal thought: For those of you comparing yourself to those around you (at work, family, friends, and connections), here are a few lines from one of my favourite song lyrics:

“Sometimes you’re ahead, sometimes you’re behind
The race is long and in the end, it’s only with yourself”

(Baz Luhrmann – Sunscreen)

Notes:

  1. It is worth noting that ‘Performance reviews’ provoke the threat response because the person ‘passing judgement over us’ puts us on the defensive and appears, to us, to be claiming superiority over us. We find ourselves fighting for survival.
  2. I suspect that a really good ‘test’ of the meaningfulness of work to you is how you feel when someone outside of your working life (say your partner, children, family or friends) asks you what you do. Is it painful or easy to respond?!
  3. David Rock notes that “paying employees for the skills they have acquired, rather than for their seniority, is a status booster in itself. This is a very different logic to ‘incentive pay’.

A breakthrough!…but is it all that it seems?

The word Breakthrough breaking through glass to symbolize discovSo, over the last few days a number of people have sent me links to this recent business article on Stuff: Accenture ditches annual performance reviews. Thanks for that, you know who you are 🙂

In summary:

  • Accenture, one of the largest professional services organisations in the world has decided to radically change its people processes: getting rid of the annual performance review
  • They aren’t the first ‘big beast’ to do something like this:
    • Deloitte (THE biggest professional services organisation in the world) went public in a similar vein last March. An April 2015 HBR article called Reinventing performance management explains where they are going;
    • I understand that the likes of Microsoft, Expedia and Adobe dropped most or all of the performance review process a couple of years ago;
    • Our very own NZ organisation, Telecom (or is that Spark?!), appeared to be heading down a similar path back in 2013 , though this would appear to me to have been driven by cost rather than the science of psychology:

Telecom [will] stop using online forms to appraise staff performance, reverting to a “far lighter” system of one-on-ones and “adult-to-adult conversations” on regular four-to-eight week cycles, he [Simon Moutter, CEO] said.

The “forms and processes” associated with performance appraisal had impeded Telecom, he said.”When we hit ‘appraisal season’, the company nearly grinds to a halt with the bureaucracy.”

Caveat: Looking at this 2015 Spark site, I’m not sure whether they successfully ‘broke away’ from the past…the picture at the bottom looks remarkably familiar!

A reminder: I have written quite a bit on the subject of performance review. In particular see An exercise in futility.

Ironic

What I find highly ironic about professional services firms eulogising about their new found wisdom is that they have large ‘human capital’ consulting arms that have been selling their wares for decades (I know, I used to work alongside them)…and what have they been earning millions of $ on? Yep, advising on implementing supposedly highly researched incentives schemes and performance review programmes….you know, the ones that they have now decided aren’t so great.

Taking a look, for example, at Deloitte’s website, I can deduce that they see a huge opportunity in presenting themselves as (what professional service organisations love to call themselves) ‘thought leaders’ to sell their new-found performance management brilliance (the next Silver Bullet) to all the other organisations out there.

A Fudge?

I have read the Deloitte HBR article (referenced above) and I see their ‘answer’ as a likely fudge.

They talk a lot about the wasteful time and effort expended in the current annual appraisal system. They talk about it not actually deriving valid results (being hugely biased by who is making the judgement). Yet their answer (when boiled down to its essence) is to merely make it simpler – a sort of ‘reboot’. It would appear that they are still asking questions about a person to rate them, which will determine a reward.

You could point to their strap line of “Replace ‘rank and yank’ with coaching and development” and, yes, I can get behind that BUT:

  • they haven’t once talked about the system and its monumental effect on what a person can (or cannot) achieve; and
  • they appear to be clinging to the idea of motivating an individual’s performance through contingent rewards, and judging them accordingly.

I can see that the games people understandably play will simply mutate, yet remain.

“Tell me how you will measure me and I will [show] you how I will behave” (Goldratt).

Going back to Alfie Kohn’s work:

  • First you need to remove contingent rewards;
  • Second, you need to re-evaluate the performance review process (change from judgement to feedback);and
  • Then you can create the conditions for authentic motivation.

A reminder of why judgement and rewards do not belong anywhere near helping people develop:

“If your parent or teacher or manager is sitting in judgement of what you do, and if that judgement will determine whether good things or bad things happen to you, this cannot help but warp your relationship with that person.

You will not be working collaboratively in order to learn or grow; you will be trying to get him or her to approve of what you are doing so that you can get the goodies.

A powerful inducement has been created to conceal problems, to present yourself as infinitely competent, and to spend your energies trying to impress (or flatter) the person with power.” (Kohn)

“Mind the gap”

Many an organisation might read about* what the likes of Accenture are doing and conclude that, clearly, they need to copy them.

But a reminder of the dangers of copying: Yes, look at what others are doing and, yes, be curious as to why…BUT you need to work it out for yourselves – you need to ‘get’ why it is the right thing to do and then adapt it accordingly. Otherwise you can expect one great big mess.

(* A particular quote from the Accenture article which I found of interest: “Employees that do best in performance management systems tend to be the employees that are the most narcissistic and self-promoting” We should be seriously questioning if this is actually what we want.)

“Nothing to see here”

Whilst a part of me is very pleased to see the big beasts ‘coming out’ (more or less) against the performance review process:

  • I’m unmoved (being polite) by their commissioning/ invoking of seemingly new and brilliant research that arrived at their ‘new insights’.

Why? Well, there’s nothing new here. Go back to Alfie Kohn’s brilliant book ‘Punished by Rewards’ to see the body of research from many decades ago. Go back to Deming’s 4 day lectures that he gave to thousands between 1981 and 1993 (that’s more than 30 years ago!!):

Deming’s Deadly disease number 3: Evaluation of performance, merit rating, or annual review

“In practise, annual ratings are a disease, annihilating long term planning, demolishing teamwork, nourishing rivalry and politics, leaving people bitter, crushed, bruised, battered, desolate, despondent, unfit for work for weeks after receipt of rating, unable to comprehend why they are inferior…sending companies down the tube.”

…go back even further to what Deming and the Japanese were doing from the 1950s.

During this time, the majority of large corporations have been pushing in, and constantly justifying, the exact opposite of where they have arrived at now.

Now, to be clear, I think it is really great that there appears to be a movement against the ridiculous performance review process BUT:

  • I’m not convinced that they fully ‘get it’ in respect of human psychology; and
  • I think it is disingenuous, arrogant (or maybe ignorant) of any organisation that does not (outwardly) recognise that what they have just ‘discovered’ has been there, loud and clear, in front of their eyes all the time.

People and relationships

!cid_image003_png@01D0AE76Relax, don’t worry about the title: I will be limiting this post to ‘work relationships’…and I don’t mean ‘relationships at work’.

Peter Scholtes wrote that, to understand people, we need to understand relationships. In particular, leading people requires the establishment and nurturing of personal relationships on a daily basis and the encouragement of others to do the same.

He sets out some characteristics of what he calls a good, old-fashioned one-to-one, face-to-face, first name to first name personal relationship”:

  • You listen to each other. You are able to talk to each other;
  • Each respects the other and knows how to show this respect; and
  • Each knows the other well enough to know their vulnerabilities and cares enough to avoid them.

Now, relationships are hugely important between manager and employee. Unfortunately, these relationships in most organisations are patronising and paternalistic.

The psychiatrist Dr Eric Berne (1910 – 1970) set out three ‘ego states’ – postures that we assume in relation to each other. These are:

  • Parent: from nurturing and supportive through to judgmental and controlling;
  • Adult: from realistic, logical, rationale through to affectless; and
  • Child: from playful and creative through to rebellious and spiteful.

Command and Control management systems necessitate ‘management’ to assume a parent ego state, which often ends up causing the employee to adopt a child-like ego state in reaction. The words ‘boss’ and ‘subordinate’ (both of which I dislike) fit this parent – child relationship narrative.

In reality, we are all adults at work. It just happens that we are employed to play different roles – from helping customers through to running a business division.

It is each leader’s choice as to the ego state they adopt…and therefore the likely ego state that their employees will take in response.

As an example: I find it odd when a manager verbalises to ‘their’ employee that what they are about to say to them is a ‘coaching moment’ (i.e. “…so listen up and take note!”) – how much closer could you get to a parent – child presumption by the manager? It’s akin to what my youngest son refers to as “getting a lecture” from me.

To be clear, I am most certainly NOT saying that I can’t be coached (I clearly can)….but:

  • A coachee needs to a) have a personal goal and b) a desire to be coached towards it. You can’t ‘coach’ without these two requisites;
  • A leader can equally (and often) be coached by employees, but only if they have their mind opened to be so; and
  • Pointing out to someone that ‘this is a coaching moment’ is patronising and presumptuous and demonstrates an (often sub-conscious) intent to enforce a superior (‘alpha’)/ inferior relationship signal…and it generally breaks point 1, so it isn’t actually coaching.

Right, coaching rant over, back to it….

Leaders need to recognise that we are all people (organistic systems), with our own separate purposes (just like them). The need is to establish adult-adult relationships, in which no one sets themselves out as being ‘above’ or ‘better’ than anyone else. If an organisation’s leaders succeed in this then they will have created a hugely powerful environment.

So, moving on to trust:

Healthy relationships require trust. Here’s an interesting figure from Scholtes showing the two converging beliefs that need to coexist for one person to trust another:

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I find this figure illuminating. It makes me see that (and understand why) I have had some managers that I have respected and some that I have had (professional) affection for…but trust is much rarer.

Scholtes writes that “When I believe you are competent and that you care about me, I will trust you. Competency alone or caring by itself will not engender trust. Both are necessary.”

A couple of comments on trust:

  • I doubt it can be over emphasised that trust is in the eye of the beholder! ‘You’ can say that you care about me and that you know what you are doing but only ‘I’ decide whether I believe this…and I will be looking closely (and constantly) at your actions, not taking your word for it;
  • Some command and control managers have the view that employees need to earn their trust…this is the wrong way round! If someone wants to lead, they have to earn the trust of those that they would like to follow them.

KITA management (aka the picture at the top):

Now, onto the idea of KITA management: the term ‘KITA’ was coined by the psychologist and Professor of management, Frederick Herzberg (1923 – 2000)*. It stands for Kick-in-the-(pants)…he was too polite to write what the A actually stood for.

Herzberg wrote about positive KITA (carrots) and negative KITA (sticks)…and here’s why it isn’t motivation:

“If I kick my dog (from the front or the back), he will move. And when I want him to move again, what must I do? I must kick him again…” (Herzberg)

The related problem with KITA thinking is that it locks manager and employee in a highly unhealthy parent-child relationship. Further, when rewards are competitive (which they usually are in some way) KITA thinking creates winners and losers and adversarial relationships among those who should be colleagues.

* Note: Herzberg wrote the classic 1968 article “One More Time, How Do You Motivate Employees?” This is one of the most requested HBR articles of all time and has sold well over 1 million copies.

…and finally:

I’d like to share with you some wise words written by Alfie Kohn under the self-explanatory title ‘Rewards rupture relationships’

“We need to understand what the process of rewarding does to the interaction between the giver and receiver:

If your parent or teacher or manager is sitting in judgement of what you do, and if that judgement will determine whether good things or bad things happen to you, this cannot help but warp your relationship with that person.

You will not be working collaboratively in order to learn or grow; you will be trying to get him or her to approve of what you are doing so that you can get the goodies.

A powerful inducement has been created [through the regular judgement and resulting outcomes] to conceal problems, to present yourself as infinitely competent, and to spend your energies trying to impress (or flatter) the person with power….

… people are less likely to ask for help when the person to whom they would normally turn wields carrots and sticks. Needless to say, if people do not ask for help when they need it, performance suffers on virtually any kind of task.”

…and, in so writing, Alfie eloquently uncovers the damage caused by rewards and the stunting effect they have on the ability of an organisation, and its people, to improve.

The positive bit: It would be great if all of us worked really hard to attain an adult-adult relationship footing…realised when this had been broken by our words and deeds …and, through humility and dialogue, worked even harder to bring it back again.

An apology: I have a rule that a post should only cover one thing…and this one doesn’t appear to! It’s a bit of a journey from relationships, through leadership, coaching, trust, motivation and ending at rewards, which brings it full circle back to what rewards do to relationships.

In fact the topics in this journey do all belong together, under the competency of ‘Understanding people and why they behave as they do’. My intent was to show how they are all so tied up together so I hope you don’t mind me bending my rules 🙂