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Clarity, Control, and Performance Reviews

Social media has thrived under the mantra “Clarity over control.” In Humanize, Maddie and I make the argument that we should be applying that principle (and others from social media) to the way we lead and manage our organizations. The “industrial management” that we’ve been practicing for the last 100 years has outlived its usefulness. Instead of coercing and controlling, we need to invest the time and energy to achieve greater clarity that can guide and inspire the people in our organizations. It’s hard work, by the way, this “clarity” thing. But it pays dividends.

So where do you start? Surprisingly enough, you can start with performance reviews. It may sound odd–choosing that annoying process that many people hate in organizations as a place to start humanizing. But it turns out to be perfect. It’s a nice little container for working on that discipline of clarity, and despite its history of mandatory annual meetings and somewhat coerced “development plans,” it turns out to be a great opportunity to give up some control.

I just released a White Paper on “Making Performance Management Work.” In the paper I explain some of the flaws in our industrial approach to performance reviews (specifically the way we link them to compensation) and outline a different approach that focuses on creating valuable, skilled, growing, and successful employees. So what does this have to do with clarity and control?

First, if you want people who provide “value” to your organization, then you need to be clear on what, exactly, is valuable to your enterprise. I think Netflix, by the way, does a great job at that. This goes beyond the insipid value statements that could describe any organization–it’s what you know drives success for you. This needs to be at the heart of your culture, and good performance management recognizes that.

Second, to do this right, you have to give up some control. I argue that in part of this process, the employee gets to define what success in his or her job looks like:

Management evaluates employees’ “success” in terms of skills and value to culture (the first two areas), but it’s critical that employees are each able to define and measure their own success, in terms they understand and can see directly. This may feel messy and somewhat hard to control. Welcome to human organizations. If you can’t tolerate the mess, you’ll never get access to the power.

It’s time to start ACTUALLY changing our organizations. It’s time to start APPLYING the lessons of social media, rather than just identifying them. Performance reviews are a great place to start. Download the White Paper and start some experiments in your organization today.

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