Tuesday, February 26, 2008

From evaluation to feedback

It is not that easy to manage knowledge workers. It has been discussed; knowledge workers are very independent. In their specific job, they have more expertise than we do, as their managers. The knowledge workers even decide when to share us, and how much we will be shared. This is normative. This is their job. Nevertheless, it does not make our job of management and control easy or simple.

Once a year, many organizations evaluate the performance of their workers. This activity is not a substitute to the ongoing evaluation process that takes place all year long, as we comment, thank and appreciate our workers. The yearly evaluation is different. We stop to think and give an overall evaluation; the evaluation is written down. The yearly evaluation has a ceremonial importance.

The evaluation process; we are not aware to most of what our workers do on a daily basis. In places where we are, many times we hear what they do through their perspective, as they are the ones to report. In the specific job they are in charge of, they are the experts. That is what makes them knowledge workers. Performance is not measured only in quantitative perspective. The bottom line- the evaluation is not an easy task.

The problem is clear, what could and should be done?
I shall start by confessing: I evaluated many workers; knowledge workers. I tried evaluating based on my wide overseeing. I tried evaluating based on quality measures and not only quantitative ones. I tried using many techniques. Sometimes, I succeeded. There are workers that listened, understood even thanked me and changed. The truth has to be said, more times, I failed. Workers, in the evaluation session, always had answers to whatever I commented on. They knew to describe instances where their behavior was the opposite from what I explained. Workers found different meanings to shared reality. Workers did not agree with what was said. Workers did not understand. In some cases, they decided to ignore. I have seen it all. I have been hurt and disappointed; them too.

Until some wise person taught me, how to turn the evaluation process into a feedback one. I know this is not possible in all organizations (or at least in its full transition), yet, wherever possible, even partly, I think it is worth considering.

First, let us redefine the goal of this process: Not evaluating, rather directing the worker; helping him or her working better. We all are not perfect, and each one of us does some things better, some things less. We all have place for improving. As part of the process, it is the right time also to appreciate. As it has been stated earlier, this is an activity with ceremonial aspects, and appreciation here has its importance. Nevertheless, this is not the main goal. The main issue is helping the worker improve.
Several insights to think about:
We are speaking about a feedback process, not evaluation.
Although we may know about many faults, and behaviors that need improvement, we will focus only on two or three. People are not capable to internalize too many changes together.
It is not wise to concentrate on the most sticking-out behaviors. It should be considered what affects the workers performance.
There are things that are hard to be changed. We are not in a justice process, rather in an improvement one. We have to focus only on weaknesses that can be improved.
Every feedback has to be accompanied with a practical way for implementing the change. If I do not have such an idea, sometimes I will not give the comment at all. Yet, the decision how to change is a decision of the workers themselves. We have to give them one alternative, they shall decide whether to implement the change based on it or on any other path, they choose.

In addition, one last tip. When preparing the feedback, think of the organization's values. These values are there to direct us on what is correct. They were built in thought of leading us to the organization's vision. The values are to be examined, and the weaknesses, as points of appreciation are to be derived from them.

Do these directions improve the process of evaluation? I believe so, but some years have to go by, before it is stated clear and loud. Will it always bring success? Of course not, but the chances will be better.

Moving from evaluation to feedback improves the process, improves the output, but also makes it easier for us, as managers of knowledge workers, as we cannot fully evaluate the performance of our workers.

It is a complicated task to be a manager. Complicated, but challenging; and rewarding.


Thursday, February 7, 2008

Between acting emotionally and acting rationally

Many years, many of us were educated to think and act in a rational matter; to be logical and ordered. I can testify that I was brought up learning in a very strict high school and things surely got even more logical and rational during the university as I learned in the Mathematics and Computing department. No doubt, that rational management has significant benefits: It enables consistent progress to achieving company goals; it enables existence of uniform processes in organization; it enables us control.

A known saying regarding to sales, speaks about 80% of every sale to be emotional, and 20% to be rational, justifying the emotional.
Even if we think this saying is exaggerated and radical, yet, a substantial portion of every sale is emotional indeed.
I took part, last week, in a convention that dealt with decision making; most lectures were based on game theory, psychology of decisions making and the combination of both; we combine ordered processes with personal emotional decisions.
I wish to claim, that emotional and rational combined management, is not a constraint or weakness. Emotional and rational combined management is better. I am sure that some may think (and they may stand correct) that what I say is exactly the proof that cognitive dissonance works. Maybe I am trying to justify myself, as so I act.
Yet, here are some points in favor of emotional management and the combination of it with rational management:
  1. We work with people; whether if customers, suppliers, managers or employees. In an era of knowledge, more people work a greater portion of their time with people. The recommended way to work with people is to be a person ourselves: to speak with those we work with, not only as professionals, rather, as people. To be sensitive to others. To support and take interest in what they go through. Not to be arrogant. Combining emotional aspects, enables me to express the "me".
  2. Intuition seems to be the opposite of rational management; deciding from "guts feeling", not brains. However, when examining the issue more carefully, we understand that the experts, those who have deep smarts, work a lot using their intuition. They take many decisions without even thinking. Even when they analyze alternatives, many times the first alternative considered, turns out to be the best. That is intuition. How does intuition work? Maybe, the decisions are not really "guts feeling" decisions. The expert does think, does analyze and does decide rationally. He or she runs this process unconscious and therefore we have the illusion that it was emotional and not rational. The uncertainty gives us the feeling of something irrational. That does not stand correct.
  3. However, above all, the main point is that combining emotional and rational management aspects together, gives us a broader view. It enables us to take into consideration, not only what is profitable, but also what is right to do. Emotional thinking, gives us the opportunity, many times, to think not only "business", but also "values". Emotional management does not necessarily mean getting angry and acting impulsively, externalizing all our week points. Emotional management is first and mainly, doing what is right in our eyes (not only regarding our conscious brain).

I am lucky to run a private held company that belongs to me. Managing in such terms, I do not have any directorate who may guide me to concentrate on money and business profit only. I can act involving emotions and logic, and no one can complain.
Yes, I am lucky. I thank god every day for that.