Last week, I had the opportunity to talk with two senior executives of large Brazilian companies in the food and construction industries. Part of our conversation was on the corporation’s performance management process and to what extent it impacts the culture of the organization.
Simply put, the performance management process is typically the following: someone (most probably your boss) will set your goals and you will work all-yearlong to meet them. He will then assess you and assign you a grade that will grant you specific consequences
(financial, status, remaining at the Company, gaining access to training sessions, etc.). There are small variations to it: participation of the employee, to a greater or lesser extent, in his goal-setting and self-assessment at the end of the period, more or less sophisticated assessment systems involving different dimensions (such as the famous GE 9-box, which assesses what-you-did-and-how-you-did-it), feedback obtained from more people other than your boss, assessment made after talking to the employee or in a enclosed room and only informed to him, etc.
My humble opinion: regardless of the variations, we are actually talking of the very same model: someone sets goals for you and you perform against them; someone assesses you at the end of the year and you get the consequences. And this model is fundamentally one that takes you back to your infancy years!!! During the years I worked for a global Company, I must admit that I hated the time of the year when I was under scrutiny for assessment and also had to assess my subordinates. I say that because I felt as if I were back to my traditional school environment; I was a child that was subject to the whims and opinions of his teachers, with a very little degree of autonomy and a high degree of submission. This doesn’t mean that I’m used to play the victim, but with such a process it was difficult to escape from this “infantilizing” dynamics.
I recall a conversation I had with an executive who heads a global business unit in Europe about the best day of the year for a professional. For an entrepreneur, the best day of the year is the day he closes an excellent deal, whereas for an executive it is the day in which he makes a fantastic presentation before the company’s CEO or the Board. I was shocked, but could clearly see myself in his description!
What does this mean? Very often we do not work harder to add value to the client and the market, nor to create a sustainable organization or to put our vocation into practice. We work harder to try to get a good grade at the end of the year! I met a lot of people who would spare no efforts to meet their goals, even if they knew that this was not the most appropriate they could do at that point in time! And that´s the origin of a lot of dirty politics which take over the corporate environment.
In the 20th century, we were induced to think that human beings were like mice and respond to a Skinnerian stimulus-response model: that of reinforcement and punishment. And we manage our organizations likewise to this very date. And we do so because it works! It does so at least for some time, until we start sending only our obedient bodies to work, but we leave our preserved souls for more noble moments when we feel that our purpose of life is being accomplished, our passion is pulsating, and our talent is flourishing… And the impact of it all are companies without innovation, unhappy people in their workplace, corporative crime, degraded environment, dissatisfied clients, abuse of all types!
In his book, Drive, Daniel Pink explains what really motivates the adult human being, and summarizes his findings into three elements: Purpose (I find meaning in what I do), Autonomy (I have the freedom to act) and Mastery (I learn and become better every day). Several studies have proven that compensation is a merely hygienic factor: if it is too low, it causes dissatisfaction; but if it is high, it does not motivate the person internally, it only makes him/her fulfill the orders received.
However, incredible as it may seem, we still use a 100-year old model to manage “human resources”. Several schools already adopted constructivist, Montessori, anthroposophy models; but in our companies we are still lingering with a traditional model! As the old saying goes, those in power rule, and those of us who are clever, obey…
Going back to one of last week’s conversations, we came to the following conclusion: what if our year’s goals would no longer be debts we contract with our employers, and would once again be dreams we share with them, dreams in which we believe and invest all our self? What would a management model that foster ownership spirit be like, one that would boost creativity, responsibility, that would add value to the client and at the same time generate a high degree of intrinsic motivation and happiness? How could we no longer manage mice and reconnect with the human being at the core of the corporate world? I do believe that these are the new models we have to experiment with, towards a viable and complete future…