We are living in what just might be the most interesting time in history in terms of the workplace. Not since the industrial revolution have we had so many cultural dichotomies warring with each other right under one roof, so no wonder I am hearing from business-owners how confusing it is to navigate. There is no question that with global competition, businesses are now tasked more than ever to run as efficiently as possible. We are also hearing that workplace culture just might be more important than anyone ever really gave credence to. Add to that an incredibly dynamic generational phenomenon and it’s a veritable cauldron of….of what, exactly?
I’ve seen a lot of experts lately championing the idea that all the ‘old-school’ systems of management – performance reviews, handbooks, behavioral interviewing, vacation time, etc. – are antiquated, broken policies that treat employees like criminals or wayward children and need to be done away with. The argument is that if you treat employees like the creative, unique professionals that they are, then they will happily produce for you. I’ll be honest, that I read those things with mixed emotions. Part of me really wants that to be true, part of me has to work at not being just a little threatened because as an HR Professional I’ve spent the last 20 years championing most if not all of these processes, and all of me knows it’s just not that simple.
If you’ve ever worked for an organization that valued dollars more than their employees, you will have known it. The primary driver in these companies is fear. Managers view employees as commodities to be traded in if they don’t perform. They are miserable environments to work in, and even top performers report burnout, fatigue and disillusionment. The result is a culture of compliance, where people do the bare minimum, when you’re watching and the hallmark of these cultures is a lack of innovation, creativity, and higher than average attrition of top performers.
However, before you are tempted to throw the metrics out with the stinky bathwater, consider the extreme polar opposite – an organization that doesn’t track anything and relies on employee engagement, enthusiasm, and camaraderie to fuel performance. If you have ever worked for one of these organizations, they are definitely more enjoyable on a daily basis. Unfortunately, the result here a bunch of highly inspired and engaged people working on the wrong things! Lack of strategic direction, and understanding of what is required to hit company goals means the goals aren’t hit. And believe me, those highly engaged people are much less so when the company can’t quite make payroll because they haven’t been tracking their receivables.
And not to complicate things, but we have three distinct generations, and multiple variations of each, all potentially populating one workplace at the same time. To grossly and unfairly (but not entirely inaccurately) overgeneralize:
- The Baby Boomer generation represents long term employment stability, employer and employee loyalty, and rampant workaholism.
- The GenXers desperately want work-life balance, don’t have it, and are bitter with the Baby Boomers for creating a system they don’t want and at the Millennials for challenging it and possibly getting away with it.
- The Millennials want constant variety and more feedback and mentoring than anyone has time to provide and still get any work done.
With all that going on, we have an absolutely incredible opportunity to rework the workplace into something amazing by a simple SSCC model (Stop, Start, Continue, Change) of the current workplace. Take performance measurement for example:
Stop – using annual performance (or even semi-annual) performance reviews as your sole measure of performance.
Start – determining what ‘tracks’ good performance leaves, and collect data on that on a frequent (weekly) basis.
Continue – Handbooks – sorry, but it only makes good sense for employees and managers to know how you operate and documenting it ensures consistency and eliminates needing to hire someone just to explain your vacation policy to every single employee.
Change – Change rules that you created because of one bad apple and if you use measurements to belittle, threaten or bully people for the love of everything you hold dear change THAT!
I don’t think it’s healthy not to measure performance and given the emerging generation’s predilection for feedback we’d be foolish not to be prepared for that. In absence of performance metrics, what will you base the feedback on and how will it be received? This generation has had more information at the fingertips by the time they were in kindergarten than many of us have had for the majority of our lives. They will not be satisfied with an annual review based on a subjective sliding scale, make no bones about it.
At the end of the day, if you have employees, your largest expense IS paying them to do things for you. Does it not just make good sense to track what you’re paying for? And if you’re an employee, don’t you want to know how you can bring more value to your employer, and thus make more money? I’ll say it again – the only way people lose in a performance measurement system is if the system isn’t accurate and/or if it used to bully, demean or belittle people. I know this is a hot topic and people I greatly respect vehemently disagree with me so all I ask is respectful discourse!
Carrie Maldonado is the founder of Today’s Leadership Solutions, a Seattle-based consulting firm focused on helping organizations, leaders and job seekers to identify workplace solutions that work. As a certified executive coach, organizational development expert and resume writer, Carrie consults with small to medium sized businesses on OD, human resources and recruiting solutions in addition to providing career coaching to managers and executives in transition. Carrie can be reached for consultation at firstname.lastname@example.org