Performance Management as Vehicle of Destruction
Moments ago, I finished reading Kurt Eichenwald's article "How Microsoft Lost its Mojo" in the August 2012 issue of Vanity Fair. I found it to be a sobering and ultimately depressing piece. Another in a litany of stories about companies, and people, who've lost their way after great success.
But my immediate thought after finishing it was, for all the time we spend diminishing HR, debating just how lame HR people are, and bemoaning the fact that we don't have a seat at the table - the real issue is laid bare in this article: managing people is really hard. Developing programs that will celebrate and encourage success - while simultaneously isolating and diminishing failure or bad behavior or poor performance is really, really hard. Admittedly, it's probably much harder to do if you have HR people who lack inquisitiveness, the ability to think strategically, or even understand their own business. But I know that's not the case at Microsoft. I've worked with a hoard of HR people there at all levels - and they're pretty damn smart.
And, yes, you can certainly blame business leaders for lacking foresight, seeing people as cogs in the system, and failing to dedicate the time and resources to identify and implement the best methods for driving great results. But in the end, isn't it just really, really hard to blend the right leadership, the right business strategies, the right supporting processes and structure, with the right cultural practices and priorities? In fact, it seems almost magical when it does happen.
But while it might seem magical - it's not magic. There are very simple and practical things we can do, as business and HR leaders, to predict what will derail great (even good) performance. And our performance review systems are a perfect place to start. One simple exercise would involve getting the right people in the room and debating four questions: What kind of behavior does this process clearly encourage? What kind of behavior does this process discourage? What unintended consequences might be a result of this process? What's the worst case scenario when the poorest leader in our organization - our weakest link - completes this process on a group of top performing employees?
If honest discussion follows, it might become clear that our performance management process is not doing what we thought it was doing. In fact, it might just be the vehicle of our destruction.
Other Articles You May Find Interesting:
Three Clues That Your Career Management Process is Working
Three Building Blocks to a Healthy Talent Management Strategy