Measuring talent in the workforce

Mon, 14 Oct 2013

A lot of time in the workplace is spent ranking and scoring employees.

I understand why they do it, but I would question each of these reasons.

If they don't do it, they think they'll be accused of not caring about their people.  There are far better ways to show that you care about an employee's happiness and productivity at work than trying to simplify their success into a single score.  Honestly talking to them about what they want and what they can offer from a role shows that you care about them as an individual, not just a cog in a machine.

Scoring makes the desired outcomes clear.  It is true, measures give a very strong signal of desired behaviour.  However, it can cause people to do what is counted, rather than what counts.  Most of us have experienced gaming of scoring systems in the workplace, even by well intended employees that came into roles wanting to achieve the best outcome for the company.

Employers think that competition will push their employees to work harder, to beat their colleagues.  I am willing to accept that a small proportion of jobs require the individual to focus so hard on one aspect, competing against their competitors, and disregarding all other factors.  Maybe athletes (though in recent years we've seen that even they can take winning too seriously).  But for most jobs, collaboration, team work, and thinking outside the square help the company more than competing in one dimension.

Employers believe that employees will only consider compensation and promotion fair if is based on objective rankings.   While employees do value fairness in compensation and promotion, most scoring systems don't lead employees to feel fairness has been achieved.  Instead, they see evidence that the system is gamed, that favorites are promoted and those that truly help the business are held back.

Companies believe in *talent* - the idea that there are a small number of brilliant people that need recognition and promotion to become leaders of the future.  While different employee's aptitudes differ, I don't feel chasing after stars pays off.  It escalates mistakenly identified 'stars' beyond what they are capable of, and alienates others.  It also tends to narrow the definition of successful contribution.  I believe good outcomes in an organisation are far more likely to arise from working to engage all employees, listening and helping them get into roles that suit their skills and interests, and communicating honestly about their actual contribution and ways in which they can contribute going forward.  Creating open opportunities for employees to contribute and develop lets the real leaders and other talented individuals emerge and contribute in a more natural way.