“Not that time of year again!”

A very common thought when, just like taxes, it’s once again time for the Employee Performance Review (EPR). EPRs could actually be less painful and more insightful. Here’s how and why.

WHAT GETS MEASURED…

What gets measured gets managed”. So goes a saying. Something also served as an argument by managers to introduce KPIs (aka Key Performance Indicators) almost everywhere. Doing so to oversee how certain supplies or resources are used can be understandable. Even more when the dire-resource can be acquired in a measurable volume itself. Like a ton of wheat (to prepare your favorite cereal meal), 100 000 units of pre-cut cardboards (to package the now-prepared cereal), and 800 hours of work-time (to deliver these cereal boxes to grocery stores, like your favorite one).

When KPIs take the floor, things like Excel tables, diagrams and reports are numbers-oriented managers’ best friends. If they ever encounter some resistance (against their KPI-focused management style) from employees, “If it can’t be measured, it can’t be managed” is the usual counter argument.

The thing is that KPIs tend to reach their limit when used to measure what can’t be converted in any given-volume or quantity.

Empathy, when deciding to shift deliveries from overnight to day-time for some stores. Because these are located in high-density (sleeping at night) residential neighborhoods. While other stores (e.g. the vast majority) are located in non-residential/commercial areas instead. Carefulness, in the bathing of elderly people in rest homes. Trust in others, while being part of a Seals unit working on a life-rescue mission.

HOW MANY _____ HAVE YOU DONE?

It’s also in this type of situations that EPRs (which are KPIs) show their own limits. As, by tradition, EPRs are volume-quantity-based. “How many deliveries have you made?” “How many hand-towels have you used to give those 10 baths?” “How long did you need to complete your task with the Seals team?” EPRs also only focus on a set of tasks. Not on “the context and environment in which a given-task is to be completed”.

For example, you work as an order-picker in a lumber yard. You can’t trust the sales rep you receive client’s orders from. Why? Because 99% of the time, he deliberately doesn’t fill an order’s paperwork properly. Creating the necessity for you to constantly go ask the dire-rep about the missing information. You’ve asked management for things to change/to be improved but no one does something about it. This avoidable work overload and “status quo” environment got the best of you lately. Your own morale, work quality and quantity have started to suffer from it. Four months later, during your EPR the whole situation led to a severe warning from your supervisor – about the quantity and quality aspects of your work. “Things have to change or else…” Imagine if you worked in a context where you could trust the sales rep instead.

That work problem has nothing to do with your knowledge of the work that needs to be done, the tools provided by the company to complete your tasks, nor the quantity of lumber products in stock. It has to do with the fact that human factors – like trust, altruism (collaboration with others), and engagement for instance – aren’t generally considered in EPRs.

Why? Because KPIs like EPRs work best with manufacturing processes and machines’ work: the quantity of units produced (call-handled, clients’ orders picked, etc.), work’s level of quality, use of time while on site (productive time, idle time), time offline (absenteeism) and compliance with the company’s standards/practices/policies (quality control and discipline).

As shown with the lumberyard example, for a task to be completed by a person isn’t all about mechanics and processes.

In a way, then, numbers can’t say it all about someone’s work. At least not in the way numbers are used nowadays. Studies even show that a faulty performance review process actually does more harm than good to the people reviewed. [1, 2] Evidences that NOMs (Numbers-Oriented Managers) have trouble arguing against.

CAN EPRs BE TWEAKED OR MODIFIED?

Is it possible to tweak EPRs in a way for them to include “non-mechanic (human) factors”? Sure. The tricky part will be in defining what exactly you want to get someone’s opinion about. Instead of working with volumes or quantities, aiming for things like “levels” and “extent” is more useful.

Here are a few examples.

– On a scale of 1 to 5, where 1 means not at all and 5 means very, to what level do you feel respected by your team at work?

– How likely are you to trust _______ to give you a hand on a difficult task, if you ever ask him/her for it?  Very likely, somewhat likely, somewhat unlikely or not likely at all?

– To what extent do you believe your supervisor genuinely care about your team’s opinion when s/he asks for suggestions to improve how things are done in your department? Strongly believe, somewhat believe, somewhat disbelief, don’t believe it at all?

– If given the opportunity, would you rather work with ______ to find a solution to a recurring work-process issue (like ______) or choose someone else on your team instead? With ______ or someone else?

These questions broaden the perspective, bring in more insights on “how things have improved or not” in someone’s work over the past months.

The problem with numbers isn’t the numbers themselves. It’s in the choosing of those we believe are (the only ones to be) relevant.

Evidences and experience show that a person’s work can’t be defined only in mechanical terms. That human factors also have to be considered in the completion of one’s tasks. What’s stopping you from modifying and improving your company’s ERP process then?

In the end, what gets measured might get managed but… where’s the value of a measurement (and the management decisions that follow) if it only considers half of the whole picture?

What is one example of question you’d like to add to your company’s EPR?

Signature PF