When Smart is Beyond Stupid

When do managers talk about improvement and development with those they manage?  In most cases it is when managers are required to do so, during the organization’s annual performance appraisal time period.  In three previous posts (Replace performance reviews with leadership for quality; Facilitate performance, don’t appraise it; Performance appraisal: A pathway to mistrust) performance appraisal was discussed but since the practice is still very popular another appraisal of it is in order.

Let’s reflect upon the intent and the very nature of the exchange between the manager and the managed during the appraisal.  What is the intent?  Being an appraisal what else could be the intent other than to rate, rank and mete out pay or punishment? Not only is it a time for measurement, judgment and valuation, it reflects the same understanding (or more accurately lack of understanding) that brought us No Child Left Behind and Race to The Top!  Simply it is a test where the distribution of outcome among those within a group/department is pre-determined by those in authority and/or where the average is similarly arbitrarily pre-set with everyone expected to be above it—talk about not understanding variation, statistical thinking and the basic characteristics and properties of a distribution! This process can’t help but be abstract, sterile, demeaning and dehumanizing.  As evidenced by his constant attack of this practice, Deming felt that this was among the most egregious management processes.

What’s the nature of the exchange?  Rarely, if ever, is there a dialogue between two human beings—not boss and subordinate—about the concrete experience of working within the human activity system known as ‘the organization’.  Rarely, if ever, is there an in depth (heart-felt) conversation without judgment about the person’s interests and opportunities for development of potential. How could there be, given that for the vast majority of those in authority the belief that the organization is a machine (wherein the managed are the gears and managers are the mechanics)!  This notion is so fixed in their mind that the organization could be otherwise is imperceptible—hence the paucity of leadership!

A good leader is a teacher and thus good leadership emerges from an authentic sense of caring about and for people’s development—not as a better cog but as a human being.

So of course going into and coming out of the performance appraisal most people feel angst and then objectified as their personhood and their very human experiences are made so abstract—with meaningless analytics supplanting concrete experience.  Because the content and focus of the performance appraisal has very little to do with who they actually are, what they actually do and what they care about how could people possibly find it helpful?  Generally most in management haven’t even a smidgen of understanding of the concrete experience of others, since all focus and attention is on getting results through management by the numbers. In short, the appraisal process serves another’s abstract purpose of outer value, mistreating people and contributing nothing to peoples’ very human need for development.

You are less likely to mistreat others if you view them as human beings and you are more likely to do so if you view another as something less than human, if you de-humanize them—casting them as a unit of labor, a tool, an instrument in service to your interests.  Further you can’t help others until you care deeply enough to invest time to understand them; you must go where others are if you wish to develop trust and to help them get where they potentially could go—there is no substitute for gaining this understanding!

Thus, if you wish to lead in support of higher level of performance, then you must act from your humanness—not as a functionary with your position or title—and become development oriented. Nothing is more vitalizing!

Unfortunately this can’t and won’t happen when all focus and attention is placed on holding others accountable for the numbers.  Stop acting upon and begin acting with others! What this means is that your notion of leadership must be reframed wherein the use of positive energy fields supplants the use of fear-based practices.  This reframing affords the meeting of the very human needs people fundamentally wish to satisfy—to be experienced meaningfully.

So the bottom line is this: Setting specific, measurable attainable realistic and timely (aka SMART) goals and cascading them to others and holding them accountable is beyond stupid, it is just plain cruel.  Treating people in a dehumanizing and cruel way turns the organization into a black hole where less and less creative energy is available.  Extinguishing the vibrancy of peoples’ very being cannot possibly lead to improvement and quality; misery and possibly even madness are all that can materialize.

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