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THE CROWDSOURCED PERFORMANCE REVIEW
How to Use the Power of Social Recognition to Transform Employee Performance
By ERIC MOSLEY
The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.Copyright © 2013 Globoforce Limited
All rights reserved.
The Traditional Performance Review and the New Global Workplace
"Liz, I'm asking for your help," said Rebecca, vice president of human resources at Hydrolab. "We are about to make some big changes in the performance review process."
Liz managed product development at Hydrolab. She was a Stanford graduate who wore simple suits, studied martial arts on weekends, and listened to obscure UK garage bands. The door of the HR manager's office was closed; it was a confidential discussion.
Rebecca continued, "I checked the records of the performance review process, and you are one of the few managers who does your reviews on time, thoroughly, and thoughtfully."
Liz said evenly, "Rebecca, I like giving reviews. I've got a good team. But I'm careful about the reviews in spite of the process, not because of it."
Rebecca clicked a pen, and started to write. "What would you say is wrong with it?" she asked.
"What would you say is right with it?" asked Liz. "I'm supposed to rate 28 employees on a scale of 1 to 5 for overall performance, 1 to 5 for each job requirement, and 1 to 5 for 'potential,' whatever that is. Then on the bottom of the form I get three little lines to write comments.
"It's ridiculous to reduce something as complex as program or project management to a series of scales. For example, my department has 23 software engineers at three levels of seniority, and yet their job descriptions are more or less the same. They work at desks all day; I can't watch them, and interrupting their work is counterproductive."
The conversation continued for 30 minutes, and then Rebecca announced her plan and made her request.
"We're introducing a new performance system at a manager's meeting. We're going to unite the recognition system with the performance review system. I need your help getting the others on board."
"You want me to help get the other managers more involved in reviewing performance?" asked Liz.
"Not quite," Rebecca replied. "I want you to help get everyone at Hydrolab reviewing performance." To Liz's quizzical look, she responded, "We're going to start crowdsourcing our reviews."
Imagine someone watching apples going by on a conveyer belt. His job is to sort the apples as they go by—big, medium, small—and that goes okay as long as he can keep up. At some point, the conveyer belt speeds up a little so he has to work a little harder to keep sorting apples. The belt speeds up a bit more, and he misses a few apples as they go by. A little faster, a few more missed apples, and your worker becomes anxious. He anticipates more speed, and more misses, and before long he's overwhelmed. Eventually, he can't possibly keep up; what does he do?
A clever apple sorter steps back from the apples and invents a grid with different sized holes that can sort the apples quickly enough to keep up. New technology, and a different way of looking at the problem, can fix the trouble that technology started.
Work information is like those apples, speeding up as technology increases the volume. Take e-mail, for example. Twenty years ago you could sort e-mail messages one at a time because you received perhaps 20 a day. You might delete a message or take action based on its information. The first step in both cases was reading the e-mail and deciding what to do with it.
But along the way the conveyor belt sped up! What used to be 20 e-mails a day became 60, and then 80, and then 100. Twitter, Facebook, Chatter, Yammer, and RSS or blog feeds joined the queue. The speed of the information conveyer belt got to an overwhelming level, and the e-mails piled up.
To understand the magnitude of change facing performance management, we have to start with a much bigger question facing every kind of management today: What happens when there's too much information flow? How can we sort through all those apples?
Business has moved from an information revolution to an information overload revolution. With the advent of cloud computing and mobile devices, infinite information processing power and storage capacity are available to anyone with a smartphone, and we have all become producers of unlimited streams of information in the form of e-mail, documents, conversations, tweets, and postings on social media.
Today the typical businessperson can't even keep up with the simple first step of reading the content, let alone take action. He or she might monitor as many channels of content (the aforementioned Twitter, Facebook, etc.) as individual messages 20 years ago. And rather than being self-contained messages, most of these are now streams of information that grow and multiply. Now you reply to a Facebook posting about your company's product, and you get a notification whenever someone else adds to that posting. Twitter messages multiply like hydra heads, splitting infinitely into important or trivial information streams. Interacting with all the messages individually is impossible.
This is the information overload condition. The information overload revolution consists of ways in which business learns how to manage the condition, and even takes advantage of the endless stream of information, to separate the valuable from the worthless, and leverage the most important information from customers, employees, stockholders, and all the others in a business's universe of stakeholders.
Search-Led Information Processing
As we move from finite storage (physical files and disk space) to infinite storage (databases and clouds), we shift our focus from storing information to retrieving it. Rather than carefully filing valuable information up front, we now build better ways to search all of our information for valuable content.
Finite storage meant making choices about what to save. In years past, I'd get an e-mail from Bob, and I'd put it in the "Bob" folder. Mary's e-mails went into the "Mary" folder, or because she works in finance, I might have put her e-mails in the "Finance" folder.
I gave up filing e-mails five years ago. Now I have a single storage folder for e-mails, and I've switched from filing to searching that folder. I no longer design a filing scheme in advance. That used to take a lot of time, and it was quickly outdated. The emphasis has changed from dealing with information immediately and comprehensively to dealing with information when I need it, from up-front filing to future retrieval.
This dynamic scales with the amount of data. In fact, the advent of search engine optimization (SEO) and its methods, such as tagging of all content, is an Internet-wide version of the same practice. This works with content channels as well as e-mail. Except for a few favorite sources, I don't rely on websites for the business news I need (analogous to going to a file called "business news"); I use a custom Google search so that information relevant to my business is continuously delivered to me.
The move from filing to searching is a fundamental shift. It's novel to older generations, but millennial workers have grown up in this continuous stream of information, and their work habits reflect their comfort with it. Their experience points to the inexorable evolution from filing to search.
Move from Synchronous to Asynchronous Search
Moving from filing to search also changes information work from synchronous to asynchronous. Synchronous refers to work tasks that occur together; for example, you complete a task and move on to the next task. Mail came to the in-box, it got processed, and responses went into the out-box. Asynchronous means work without the use of fixed time intervals; for example, you partially complete a task, you move on to another task, you move back. When I'm working on a task, a search of my computer will retrieve all relevant e-mails, documents, web pages, and blog messages I saved on that topic today, yesterday, and two years ago. My information work is not bound by time or sequence of tasks.
The search model relieves an individual from the need to create endless information trees, rubrics, and the like for managing his or her information. If you're following three people on Twitter, you might feel obligated to read everything they post. If you're following 500 people, the idea of reading everything is absurd; you have already crossed over to the place where automation is the only answer to finding the right information. You might step into the stream from time to time for the pleasure or creative inspiration of serendipity, just as you will probably continue to scan highly focused information sources, such as the website of the Society of Human Resources Management (SHRM). But for general purposes, the model of automating the retrieval of important information, to evolve from sorting apples by hand to building an apple-sorting machine, is the efficient and inevitable model.
These capabilities are potentially great tools for human resources planning and performance management, as we shall see. In the social recognition model, the manager allows the employee base (the crowd) to rate and review the employees throughout the year through positive feedback, building data and connections that can be reviewed (searched) asynchronously. With the speed of change in business, human resources can use all the help it can get.
It's Twitter's World
The millennial generation consumes information differently from all its predecessors, illustrated by the astonishing rise of Twitter. A few years ago, Twitter seemed trivial to businesses, which typified it by mocking its content like, "Hey, I'm eating a sandwich!" Twitter was quickly adopted by the digital elite as a reporting-in-real-time platform, memorably at the 2007 South by Southwest (SXSW) digital media conference, and by 2009 it burned into world consciousness as the frontline reporting medium in the Iranian presidential election protests. Today, hundreds of millions of people use Twitter's 140- character messaging format to spread information and awareness via weblinks, hashtags, retweets, and Twitter's other conventions.
This is a different form of communication from newspapers, radio, television, or even websites. Twitter is a continuous stream of content from many sources gathering around a subject, whether it's history in the making (the Arab Spring) entertainment (Academy Award nominations), gossip (Hollywood pregnancies), or news (live reports from a political convention). Twitter users can create a customized collection of the content they will view as it appears, or even follow "what's trending on Twitter" to simply check in on what is popular, that is, viewed and shared, among the millions of daily tweets.
Consuming this news is different from reading or listening to or watching a story following the classic journalistic "inverted pyramid" of a beginning, middle, and end. It is a different experience from reading an essay or listening to a story. In Twitter's world, the consumer captures and filters information from many sources, often in an asynchronous manner—a stream of text, pictures, video, and audio information.
There are similar applications used by websites to add meaning to single stories, for example, the constantly updated box of "most e-mailed stories" at The New York Times website or "most watched videos" at You-Tube. In both cases it's the crowd of users that determines the standing of an item on the list. The more popular a story or video at the moment, the higher it climbs.
What's important to note about this "Twitterfying" of information is that it is a nonlinear, crowd-resourced, crowd-filtered, and self-edited experience. Information is published by the crowd, filtered by the crowd, and consumed by individuals to whom the crowd is a reliable standard of significance for any given information.
Technology tends to create physical and emotional habits (prime example: if you don't get an answer to a search engine query in less than three seconds, you wonder what's wrong, and reload the query). These habits are both acquired and unconscious. As people find value in the new model of streaming and use it more, streaming becomes the majority's way of accessing and acquiring information.
Habits are also not built on randomness; in fact, predictability is the reason to acquire a habit, and so the mind that consumes information in a stream rather than single packets is working hard to recognize patterns, reinforce prejudices, challenge assumptions, or whatever the individual intends. And as it is with the mind, it is with the software that organizes and publishes a stream of content. Pandora's Beatles playlist isn't random—it's based on what the crowd thinks of individual Beatles songs (and based on what individuals whose tastes are similar to yours listen to on Pandora—what songs they choose, when they listen, how long they listen, etc.).
Can all these opinions, put together, actually render an accurate picture of the world? As we see in the next chapter, it is not only possible but, under the right conditions, collating and averaging opinions can render a more accurate picture than relying on "expert" opinion.
The Young Want It All—and They're Right
Since the beginning of time, bosses have grumbled, "Kids these days want it all." They mean by this that younger workers want to do things their own way. No more eight-year apprenticeships making the coffee and doing the lower-end work. Those who manage the millennial generation (people who were born after 1980) say the same, of course, but they risk missing differences that amount to more than youthful impatience.
First, in the modern organization, the lower-end work is gone. Technology does the copying, collating, and mailing. The boss makes his or her own coffee fresh at the Keurig machine. Nobody sends a fax. The cleaning service and phone maintenance are outsourced to another company. Young people entering the company in white-collar jobs have to be more skilled, motivated, and fast-moving than their predecessors because that's the only way they'll get a decent business job (not to mention a decent job in public service, teaching, etc.—but for simplicity's sake let's stick with the office work model).
Second, millennials are not blindly loyal to a company. Why should they be? Their parents were loyal and got laid off in every recession. They are not actively disloyal, however. They see work as a contract, an understanding that they'll contribute work as long as their needs are met. They are also more loyal to teammates and colleagues than to bosses and companies.
They also need more than a paycheck. Since they know that job security is a thing of the past and that they will probably work for a dozen companies in the first 20 years of their careers, they seek more than security.
Beyond the paycheck, millennials want their work to mean something—to fulfill a mission, to create great products, to serve customers, to accomplish personal expectations of excellence, or excitement, or travel, or experience. To be recognized.
Fortunately, a company that can provide these opportunities for millennials will have the pick of the litter because this generation's mobility inclines its members to go where the greatest amount of satisfaction can be gained, whether they want money or prestige or personal pride in a job well done—or all of these and more.
Third, there are substantial differences in the experience and talents of this generation of tech-savvy, media-soaked employees. They were using personal computers by age six. They were interacting with complex virtual worlds by age eight (video games like The Sims). They do not remember a time without the web, e-mail, instant messaging, and 300-channel cable television. And they build and maintain relationships both the old-fashioned way—at school, playing sports, going to church—and the virtual way, on social media sites like Facebook. They learn, date, play, and do business online. Skype and smartphones make their sense of time and distance more flexible than that of their elders.
Premillennial generations were brought up to complete each task at work including working with information. "You've got to finish the task," they were told. "Don't start something that you don't finish." "Finish your dinner." Finishing, that is, using up every possible resource before moving on to fresh resources, became a work habit, too.
In an overload situation, the first thing you have to accept is that you can't finish every task that appears. You have to prioritize. Let's take a lesson from many millennials who have grown up in this environment: They are often selective about which tasks are finite and must be finished and which are ongoing processes. In a world of unlimited information, following and generating information are decidedly the latter. For them, reading all the e-mails and information channels is not the point; getting to the right information quickly is the point.
People who have mastered this new work milieu participate in the stream as both creators and consumers of information. And that brings us to the good news for performance management, because their new habits make a better performance review possible.
The Work Stream
The workplace is a continuous flow of conversation, e-mail, tasks, events, teamwork, individual work, urgent and trivial tasks—the life of work. Everyone who is even barely alert participates in this flow. People work together and observe others working in the next cubicle or loading dock, forming relationships and opinions while writing the story of their work lives in their minds.
Excerpted from THE CROWDSOURCED PERFORMANCE REVIEW by ERIC MOSLEY. Copyright © 2013 by Globoforce Limited. Excerpted by permission of The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc..
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