Thursday, July 3, 2008

Today's Agenda: what is wrong with this picture

This is real from today, let's see if anyone can spot anything amiss with my agenda.
  1. address production issues from last night ~1 hour
  2. finish self assessment and send it off to my manager ~20 minutes
  3. transfer data from my individual performance scorecard from the excel template we used to the online version through PeopleSoft ~40 minutes
  4. update information in my individual performance scorecard ~30 minutes
  5. perform peer evaluation feedback for peers ~2 hours
  6. attend standards and best practices meeting for development technologies ~1 hour
  7. status meeting with offshore development team ~30 minutes
In the 6 hours of activities I have scheduled 1 hour was spent working on some errors from a nightly process--thanks other team that didn't care to check with us before messing with our resources. I have a 30 minute meeting discussing status, that's probably the only valuable and necessary activity in the day.
Self evaluation and performance management activities are not a total waste, but they aren't worth half a day either in my situation.
In my current position I meet with my manager in a 1on1 every week. We sit in adjacent cubes and chat every morning. We eat lunch together from time to time. We communicate. If there were something about my performance that were in need of correction, I'm sure I'd hear about it.
I understand the value of feedback. I enjoy hearing that I'm doing a good job and I appreciate hearing about things I need to improve as early as possible.
The current system we have is a reaction to the division's process for managing performance. My manager does not directly decide how to reward his reports for their performance. Typically managers get a budget to give their reports raises and the manager allocates those funds as he sees fit. In my company it isn't a person's manager who makes that decision, instead it is all the managers and above in the supply chain rank all of the people at each pay grade and award them raises and bonuses based on where they sit compared to their peers.
The system diminishes the role of the manager. A manager has a say in where her people are, but other managers need to agree. This system rewards people who are visible and perceived to be strong performers by as many managers as possible. A person who is perceived to be in the top 10% by many managers is going to be ranked higher than a person who is perceived to be in the top 1% by a single manager.
This system has another serious flaw as one of the stronger willed senior directors would take the position that her people were all in the highest tier, and should be rewarded the best, and that the other directors had the scraps. That wasn't an equitable system. It also wasn't a secret that this is what's happening.
To correct these perceptions of inequity, all employees are expected to spend about 4 hours a week performing tasks to monitor their performance. 10% of our time is spent performing non-productive tasks to manage our performance. That's a 10% reduction in a work force's ability to add value that is spent to create the perception that they are being rewarded equitably for their work. I would argue that the real cost is even greater. People don't enjoy tracking their performance. They'd rather spend the time performing and let the managers notice.
Joel Spolsky wrote an excellent essay denouncing the practice of incentive pay. The essay concludes that creating incentives to do your work is tantamount to creating a system of bribes. Incentive based pay will corrupt the motivations of the workforce and the net result will be an underperforming work force. If the net result of incentivizing your employees work is a less productive work force, does it make sense to cut their work week by 10%?
A point that Joel made is that regardless of how praising one's performance review is, that person will be disappointed by it. I can attest to that. I've received many formal performance reviews, most of them very good, only one that I can think of that wasn't so good, and directly after all of them I was disappointed. The not so good one because I felt that my manager had no idea what I was doing. In the good ones, I didn't think that they were good enough. They'd tell me I was doing a heck of a job and then bump my salary by about 4%. In hindsite it didn't seem so bad, but at the time it kind of hurt. I'd work very hard and the couldn't even throw me 5%.
At my current company I can't help but wonder where we'd be if someone stood up to that pushy director. We'd probably only have to spend a couple hours a week working on reporting our performance.

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