Friday, 21 November 2014

In pursuit of mediocrity

Remember when, if your boss called you into her office and shouted at you then you needed to up your performance?   And if she came to your desk and patted you on your shoulder you were doing well?  This is what is now known as a Performance Management System, though it’s inevitable that it will come with a documented process, some kind of IT system with a name contrived from buzz words and the much loved appraisal cycle.  It’s rare these to find any organisation, no matter what size or what sector, that doesn’t have a Performance Management System.   


It is the ubiquitous nature of the Performance Management System that is often its downfall.  All too often organisations lose focus on what they are trying to achieve. 


How many of us have worked in organisations that operate on an annual cycle that ends up with the allocation of a score?  Twelve months of effort, summarised into a few paragraphs – graded, uploaded to the IT system – never to be looked at again as we move into the next appraisal cycle. 


And with almost every scoring system comes the “bell curve” – where the majority of the workforce sits in the middle of the scoring system.  What these organisations are saying, quite proudly, is that their Performance Management System has measured and evaluated its entire workforce, in a fair and consistent manner, and concluded that the majority of them are average performers.  We have an average workforce and therefore we are an average company.


Yet if we strip back to basics, what we’re trying to achieve is fairly simple:

  • we want our people to deliver the company strategy
  • we want them to understand their goals and what we expect of them
  • we want them to be the best that they can be
  • we want to “manage” them, to help and support them, to achieve their goals
  • we want to motivate and inspire them
  • we want to get rid of the dead wood



Why then, for something so simple, do organisations fail so often in implementing an effective Performance Management System?  The answer generally is because we focus too much on the process and too little on the individual.  In the desire to ensure consistency and fairness we focus on measurement at the expense of management.  It’s far easier to measure how many times someone has forgotten to complete their weekly report than it is to measure how their work contributes to the company strategy.  It takes far less time to cascade a generic set of objectives to the entire workforce focussed on the process tasks that everyone does, rather than setting individual objectives based on what we really want the individual to do as their “day job”.


When we focus on the individual, we understand their ability, their motivation, their needs and their ambitions.  We can tailor the goals so that we set them up to succeed.  If the individual owns their goals they are far more likely to want to achieve them than if we just cascade generic low value objectives.   Rather than cascading a ream of irrelevant objectives, the one size fits no-one approach, we agree a small number of high priority personalised goals that focus the individual’s performance. 


Having agreed these goals, the role of the manager is now to help and support the individual in achieving them.  The attainment of these goals is shared between the individual and their manager, if the individual doesn’t hit their goals, it isn’t just them who have failed – win together, fail together.  By adopting this approach it fosters a shared desire for success. 


Look at most organisation’s process and you will see a performance management cycle diagram – it starts with defining the business strategy and ends twelve months later with the annual appraisal.  This annual approach to performance management is driven by the need to measure and categorise the workforce.  It has nothing to do with managing individual performance – it is the drive to achieving the average workforce, often linked to pay raise or bonus schemes.  Performance management should be about short cycle – Plan, Manage, Review and Renew - something that is ingrained into our working day.  What am I expected to do?  What support do I need?  How am I doing?  How do I improve / How do my goals evolve?  These activities are all focussed on the individual and should happen regularly and continuously.


The organisation elements of business strategy, measurement, comparison and reward (or reprimand) should sit around performance management cycle. Feeding in and taking output from the short cycle performance management elements.





By separating these concerns it allows individuals to achieve brilliance without the constraint of the organisation needing to measure and compare across the entirety of its workforce.  We can set individual goals that are prioritised and focussed on what is important rather than cascading arbitrary collective, common tasks.  We also break the link between an annual pay review and on-going performance management.  How often and over what timescale the organisation performs its cycle does not constrain the short cycle performance management of the individual.


Through stripping back of bureaucracy by empowering the individual and their manager to continuously improve we encourage individuals to perform at their full potential.   And it is done without needing to check to see whether your goals are comparable with the goals of someone with different abilities, motivations, needs and ambitions performing a different role. 


Most importantly because it focusses on the individual, we don’t need to hit a bell curve – brilliance is embraced in the organisational culture.  The pursuit of mediocrity is driven out.

Read my other posts
Just in Case - From early adoption to maturity
I have control - Can we truly own our identity
I didn't say you could touch me - Biometric authentication and identity
You don't need to tell me - Impacts of the EU General Data Protection Regulations
Coming together on being alone - The need for a clear government digital strategy
I'm not the person I used to be - Authentication for real world identities
Distributed Identity has no clothes - Will distributed ledger technology solve identity
Bring Your Own Downfall - Why we should embrace federated identity
Unblocking Digital Identity - Identity on the Blockchain as the next big thing
Tick to Agree - Doing the right thing with customer's data
The Kids Are All Right - Convenient authentication: the minimum standard for the younger generation
The ridiculous mouse - Why identity assurance must be a rewarding experience for users
Big Brother's Protection - How Big Brother can protect our privacy
I don't know who I am anymore - How to prove your identity online
Three Little Words - What it means for your business to be agile
Defining the Business Analyst - Better job descriptions for Business Analysis
Unexpected Customer Behaviour -  The role of self-service in your customer service strategy
Rip it up and start again - The successful Business Transformation
Too Big To Fail - Keeping the heart of your business alive
The upstarts at the startups - How startups are changing big business 
One Small Step - The practice of greatness

About me

Bryn Robinson-Morgan is an independent Business Consultant with interests in Identity Assurance, Agile Organisational Design and Customer Centric Architecture.  Bryn has near 20 years experience working with some of the United Kingdom's leading brands and largest organisations.

Follow Bryn on Twitter: @No1_BA


Connect with Bryn on Linked In: Bryn Robinson-Morgan

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