Is There A World Without The Performance Review?

September 6, 2011 § Leave a comment

You may have heard the interesting story “allegedly found in a diary in Magellan’s own handwriting”, which describes how the South Americans he first encountered in the early 1500’s could see the boats that his explorers landed in, but not the ships anchored offshore.  As the story goes, only their shaman was finally able to make out the ships offshore because he was open to the possibilities of strange things from other worlds.

The story may or not be true but the lesson for Human Resources is valuable.  Being open to very new ideas from different worlds would be very useful for this important function within an organization.

In my opinion, the current performance review process and rewards and recognition are a form of control that is left over from the industrial age and Taylor Scientific Management methods.   Like the South Americans in 1500’s, HR professionals are having trouble seeing a world without these outdated management tools.

There are consultants today making a great living claiming the Millennial Generation is very different and the workplace must adapt to their special needs.  I can agree that their behaviors and beliefs may be different because the context within which they grew up.   Even I can remember the 60’s and how my generation felt unique.  We expressed ourselves in my new ways because of the context of the 60’s.  We had different music, lots of love, drugs, and anti-war sentiments.  The Millennial Generation has computers, iPods, IPhone, iPads, the Internet, multi-tasking, social consciousness etc.

Each generation is entitled to its own behaviors and tendencies.  It is NOT entitled to its own principles.  The principles upon which the typical performance review and pay for performance policies are based are flawed.  The shift from the menial task Industrial Age workplace to the complex system knowledge age is shedding the bright light of truth on why and how these polices no longer add value.  They don’t work anymore, not necessarily because of the generational differences per se but because the nature of work has changed.   We don’t do menial tasks any more.  Menial tasks can be done by computers.  For example, if we wish we can shop and then checkout at the grocery store without even contacting a human.

To function more effectively in the knowledge economy we need less control and more freedom and choices.  If we want to understand what the millennial generation needs we can read the book Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.  They want the same things we all want including to know why and how our work makes a difference to others.  They want challenge, feedback, a sense of progress, and a chance to focus on their work.  They want to use their creativity and they want freedom.  These principles of motivation don’t change over generations and they don’t get satisfied with rewards and recognition and they certainly can be damaged by the typical performance review.  That is why as many as 60% of people see either no value or see negative results immediately after participating in a performance review.

I am hopeful HR professionals can begin to see the ships off shore soon.  Those ships are from the new knowledge economy and they don’t carry policies that include the typical performance review or the typical pay for performance policy.

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