If You Love Productivity, Set Your Workers Free

this-box-is-too-smallI came across this post and I immediately fell in love with Liz Ryan. Well, not exactly with Liz whom I do not know in person, but with her activity as CEO of Human Work Place.

We need more people like Liz, shouting that the Emperor hasn’t got anything on. What Emperor? The emperor of corporate dullness, of the carrot and the stick, and the corporate kabuki of performance reviews.

HR departments have been weaving new clothes for their companies for years, mostly adding to bureaucracy, inefficiency and, what’s worse, alienation:

Nobody has ever walked into an annual or quarterly performance evaluation meeting feeling jazzed. Grading our employees is a made-up and counterproductive process. It doesn’t happen in nature. We react to real things. It’s not only barbaric processes like bell-curve performance reviews and stack ranking that are ready for the dustbin. Regular garden-variety performance reviews are just as pointless and mojo-crushing. It’s time for them to extinct. (“Instead Of Performance Reviews, Do This”)

Most HR people I know, know this only too well.

Performance appraisal systems are the stepchild of Taylorism: the search for the perfect assembly line made of human machines. They are all about using blinkers to drive people like driving horses, keeping them from being distracted. But now that we have machines able to perform an ever increasing number of tasks much better than us, what’s the point of trying to emulate machines?

Research has shown performance reviews to be ineffective, unreliable and unsatisfactory for seemingly everyone involved. They consume way too much time, leave most workers deflated and feel increasingly out of step with reality. You can have a look to the scary evidence collected by Deloitte on the latest issue of the Harvard Business Review, and elsewhere:

Traditional performance management —the annual process of rating employees’ performance and ranking them against their colleagues—is widely considered to be broken. (“Performance management is broken”)

The corporate leaders who force them upon us apparently aren’t big fans, either. In surveys of managers and human resource professionals, leadership advisory firm CEB found that performance reviews, well, get pretty bad reviews themselves. (“The corporate kabuki of performance reviews”)

Specifically, we tallied the number of hours the organization was spending on performance management—and found that completing the forms, holding the meetings, and creating the ratings consumed close to 2 million hours a year. (“Reinventing Performance Management”)

And then there’s the buggy software and tedious online tools that make what should be a simple process-sitting down for a cup of coffee to talk about how things are going-downright exasperating. (“The corporate kabuki of performance reviews”)

What we badly need from people is what people excel at. Engagement and a sense of belonging is what makes people’s hearts tick and do their best. What we need in modern firms is not people management but people engagement, a system that truly helps align individual contributions into a collective mission worthy of that name:

We are smarter now. We can ditch the last-century performance appraisal systems and daily, weekly and monthly yardsticks. When we tell people to hit little goals they lose track of the big goals. We lose track ourselves!

Instead of performance reviews, we can talk about our big mission in the organization and in the department and how each of us on the team supports that mission. I guarantee that the connective tissue is not a set of little goals. (Ibid, Liz Ryan)

What makes people unique is freedom. I love to work with colleagues who share a vision and are willing to impose upon themselves a shared mission. Limit people’s freedom with blinkers and you will limit their achievements. For all the pyramids slaves can build, only free people will take you above the sky.

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