Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Revisiting Performance

The standard performance rating in any corporate environment is a 4 or 5 point scale. Either alphabetical, numerical or some other variation with a nomenclature. Below Par Performance, Meets Expectations, Exceeds and Outperformer. And a bell curve. The bell curve is ostensibly to reduce the Lake Wobegon effect, but in reality, it does a lot more than that. But I digress.

The entire purpose of this tenacious exercise is to identify the people who have performed well in the last rating cycle. On the one hand the management or HR wants to fit the company in the bell curve, while they are fitted in the bell curve. On the other hand, every employee wants to be on the right of the curve.

How can someone get to the right? As long as they outrun their peers, they can, in theory. How? By allowing themselves to be consumed by the inferno of performance, they fuel the company into an orgy of delivering growth. Sometimes they sell the unsaleable, fit unimaginable amount of work into a smallish time frame to fit a customers budget or expectations, make the most outlandish promises that someone has to fulfil. Once that has been done by the sales outperformers, there are the delivery outperformers. They put in long hours, put in really long hours to justify somebody elses mistake, helping other teams in distress, creating "visibility" for themselves in the organization by engaging in initiatives over 16 hour workdays and ensuring that somebodys false promises are met. They achieve the same by interacting with their family and kids over phone and meeting them once a week. After a while they get bored of this situation and quit to take up another similar position at a higher salary so they can continue to outperform their peers. There are a few other methods, but lets keep that out, please.

And on the other hand, there are the losers. Losers because thats what the performance management system makes them. They work diligently from 9 to 5 and complete the tasks assigned to them. Occassionally they stretch to make up for some gaps. These guys are good, but unlike the former, they are there to earn a living. They usually have a life outside work. Alongwith work they take care of their families, pursue a hobby or two. They earn a little lesser than the outperformers, change jobs a little less frequently and often, are the rock solid base for the company.

When the outperformers have sold the unsaleable, promised the heaven and earth and moved to the moon to get a better salary, it is these "middle of the bell curve" who rise up to the task and deliver.

But the performance management system does not always provide for them. After the sycophants, loyalists, the "too big to fail" and some real outperformers have been rated, incentivized and turbocharged to deliver yet another record busting performance, the crumbs that remain go to the middle of the bell curve. "How do we retain the outperformers", the board mulls over in yet another meeting while forgetting the role of the performers.

The real question. Is growth (driven) the only way to measure performance?

Update: Two good links from Saravan. This and this. Take a look.


purple pitara said...

speaking for my tribe (which i am not always proud of!) there have been attemtps to evaluate performance beyond what is defined as "growth" - but sadly it is spoken about and not practised.

i liked the thought on what about the middle-of-the-bell-curve guys

Rangachari Anand said...

According to one HR manager I spoke to years ago, the only reason for performance reviews (in the US at least) was to provide the basis to fire people. The stated reason (to reward the high performers) is just an eyewash.

I have yet to see this whole performance evaluation nonsense deliver any value to the company. In many companies, one whole month of manager time is lost to dealing with employee evaluations. Looks like this poison is seeping into India as well...

BharGo said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Saravan said...

Interesting stuff. You might be interested in the following articles,
http://blog.seattlepi.nwsource.com/microsoft/archives/103593.asp (kind of old)

Connected..Yet Disconnected said...

Is there any better way to get that visibility? Successful projects are seldom looked back to see if it was done well ( not lack of bugs or any other delivery quality parameters) but to see if the estimates were correct or they have made the people stretch too much. The order of the day seem to be to complete the project in smallest possible estimated time. Previously I thought it was because of wrong estimation procedures or overlooking some critical things, but it seems the estimates the estimates are deliberately made less to win the project leaving the delivery team with no option but to slog. In these situations, is there any other way to get noticed than being your managers saviour???