Which Drives Engagement, a Focus on Mastery or on Performance?

April 9, 2012 § Leave a comment

Is there a big distinction between mastery and performance and which comes first?   I believe mastery (the desire to learn and become better by learning from one’s mistakes) is a driver or cause of excellent performance (the achievement of results or the accomplishment of a goal) and therefore a focus on helping employees develop mastery in their jobs would create higher performance.  Unfortunately performance is still the main focus for most organizations today and that is why they call the annual review a “performance review.”

Doesn’t the focus on improving performance help explain why most organizations struggle to achieve higher employee engagement?  Doesn’t this also explain why most organizations (their leaders) insist on keeping performance reviews and pay for performance rewards?   Don’t most leaders still believe in the need to push, drive, threaten, or bribe employees to perform?  What if they focused on mastery instead?   Wouldn’t that shift in focus cause the employees to be naturally motivated to perform?

Employee engagement is the natural desire to do more without being asked, prodded, bribed, or threatened.  When there is engagement the eternal drivers become unnecessary (or at least less important).  Engaged employees will exert extra effort voluntarily because of the intrinsic desire coming from the task itself or from the knowledge that mastery can be the result.    Can we therefore conclude that managers who put their full focus on helping employees to achieve mastery would therefore create an engaging work environment?  Wouldn’t this focus on mastery render the traditional performance review unnecessary and obsolete?

How can we expect managers to focus on mastery if they are required, by policy, to conduct the traditional performance review?  It’s not possible.  The need to conduct the traditional review is a barrier to achieving mastery and therefore a barrier to achieving engagement.  Only the elimination of the traditional review will pave the way for a focus on mastery.

The traditional performance review policy requires the manager to give an employee a grade based on his/her performance on a list of goals.  The manager cannot focus on mastery in that context. He/she can pretend by attempting to coach the employee but the only meaningful focus with the performance review policy is on performance.  It is like asking a judge in a beauty contest to use IQ as the only single factor in his/her decision to choose the winner.  It doesn’t fit.

The root cause of poor employee engagement is the decision by management to focus on performance results.  The focus on performance will continue to be predominant as long as the traditional performance review is required in organizations.  It will require a shift in thinking and a significant boost in courage for management to ditch the performance review and place their full focus on mastery instead.  That is courageous leadership.


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