Don’t all modern firms grapple with individual employee productivity issues? The modern firm wants to squeeze every bit of productivity out of its individual employee. Armed with an array of digital tools for email and calendar management, giant-sized cloud-based shared drives, collaborative tools like Trello and Evernote, and Virtual Private Network’s (VPNs), the modern firm is equipped to trail what the average employee does during a typical day at work. Yet, the modern firm continues to rely on the annual performance appraisal cycle to manage and optimise employee performance.
You find a plethora of staff types at the modern firm:
- The extremely smart yet not productive enough
- The average smart but very productive
- The extremely smart and productive
- The not smart and productive
Now, firms that have cutting edge staff recruitment and selection systems will search and identify staff types two and three above. They should be able to avoid category one and four.
However, the truth is that employee recruitment and selection at the modern firm is like a game of Russian roulette. While their aim is to target and recruit extremely smart and productive staff, firms at times end up recruiting extremely smart but unproductive staff or even the not smart and productive.
With the mixed-calibre staff cadre above, the modern firm needs to have the equivalent of the ‘chemical litmus test’ for staff, to identify staff that are not productive and those that are. We ought to remind all of you reading this blog that this discourse is not about IQ (smartness) of employee per se, but productivity – we at the Effectiveness Lab believe that one may not be extremely smart, but still achieve high levels of productivity.
If the challenge is to identify from the above pool of staff, productive and not productive staff, we know where the modern firm will look for a solution – the annual performance evaluation tool. Despite the many shortcomings of the orthodox performance evaluation tool, it continues to enjoy its darling status among HR practitioners.
Sadly, in this fast-moving digital age, the annual performance appraisal ritual at the modern firm leaves a lot to be desired:
- It catches staff productivity issues late and the results are fire fighting, disagreement, organisational climate issues, etc
- It is not real-time; effective performance evaluation has to be Just In Time (JIT)
- It is mostly sparring between juniors and seniors
- It is simply not realistic to evaluate a whole year’s performance, let alone six months, in a one to three-hour conversation
The speed at which organisational value-chains are moving at is mind boggling. Archaic performance management tools can no longer do the job. Such tools are constantly playing catch-up, in the new and fast-moving productivity environment at the modern firm. Can you imagine tools like the dreaded annual appraisal, effectively evaluating individual performance goals? Moreover, goals that could have changed four times before the annual ritual. In other words, by the time the supervisor and the employee meet to review performance goals at the end of the performance cycle, the goals in themselves will have metamorphosed multiple times, making the whole evaluation process a sham
Performance evaluations have failed to evolve with the times – the modern firm has gone digital. The Internet of Things IOT’s is driving firms to previously unthought of digital collaboration and management. Archaic annual appraisal tools can no longer cope with the digital work tool-box, its application, and monitoring of intended outcomes at work. It simply is too squeaky to do the job
Individual performance optimisation in the digital age?
In this digital age, we have to flip the performance management paradigm at the modern firm. Individual performance management has to shift from the familiar and age-old pattern:
- Multi-year organisational strategy definition
- Annual business plan development
- Individual staff business plan and annual performance goals definition
- Midterm check-in
- and finally, end of year individual staff performance review
The above is a fallacy that can no longer work at valuable modern firms. Value at such organisations is delivered effectively when management recognise and accept the flipped paradigm:
- Constant turbulence in the organisational atmosphere
- Staff managed via short span project assignments – done in a task eco-system; this as opposed to the orthodox functional departments. It is a cob-web task order we are talking about her
- Short-term assignments (we are no longer given open-ended contracts – are we?)
- Work with and through multiple teams to contribute individual and ’S.M.A.R.T’ly defined ‘bits’ to an outcome that forms the whole – i.e. we can no longer take credit for doing projects alone. Project success accolades are shared with many and your individual contribution may be difficult to identify in the grand scheme of things
While HR systems at the modern organisation are known for their ‘complexising’ and business-as-usual habits, it is about time organisations considered what is practical, obvious, and with them 24/7, as the solution to performance management in this digital age.
Yes, we support a kind of goal-defining approach for individual staff performance evaluation; but goals are only an end in themselves. It is about time organisations identified proxies for performance goals, which while not goals in themselves, are at the very early stages of a performance cycle, indicative of ultimate goal end-points.
In effect, we are saying that as opposed to waiting six months or one year to evaluate whether an individual employee has achieved agreed performance goals for the year or not, goal-proxies should be used in real time and corrective action, including employee dismissal, taken.
Performance goal-proxies used in real-time:
At times, we look too far out of boundary for indications of low staff productivity at work – we should not always jump to evaluating individual progress on annual performance goals. From my personal experience, I have observed two factors that are early signs of low staff productivity at work. They may be the place to start, when looking at employee performance optimisation:
- The dreaded e-mail inbox – look out for the tale-tell signs below in poorly performing staff
- Failure to clear inbox to zero or a bare minimum
- Hundreds of unread emails (over the years I have worked with direct reports that have over 1000 unread emails in their inboxes and they have proven themselves to be pretty inefficient at work + fail to achieve performance goals)
- Not responding to email directly addressed to the staff (even if it is to delete the e-mail)
- Non-SMART in-box management approaches – no ‘rules-regime’ to manage inbox ’noise’; it is surprising that many staff, manage all their emails (and for senior staff in the thousands) in three folders only – Inbox; Sent; Deleted
2. Doesn’t notice/manage digital meeting management tools
- Appearing unprepared and blank at meetings – main reason: behind on email that provided background info. to the meeting or simply can’t manage their calendar
- Not recognising meeting start times and having to be reminded of meetings
We are sure that you have many more examples from your unique organisational contexts, to add to the above – please do
Takeaway: While the above two performance goal-proxies aren’t performance goals in themselves, in a digital work environment, they can be used to identify staff that will ultimately not accomplish agreed annual performance goals.