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Why Embracing Subjectivity Is a Better Approach to Performance Managementby@yaw.etse

Why Embracing Subjectivity Is a Better Approach to Performance Management

by yaw.etseJanuary 12th, 2024
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It’s crucial to reflect on the inherent shortcomings of most PM processes, especially as they pertain to engineering culture. Embracing the subjectivity of performance management can lead to more genuine, effective, and meaningful assessments. By focusing on individual experiences, aligning personal goals with team missions, and empowering team members with context and autonomy, organizations can create a dynamic, responsive, and ultimately more effective approach to managing performance.

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I was recently asked about my thoughts on performance management and to share the resources I find helpful. So, as we wrap up another performance management (PM) season, I’d like to reiterate what I’ve mentioned privately: it’s crucial to reflect on the inherent shortcomings of most PM processes, especially as they pertain to engineering culture. The key point is the importance of acknowledging and embracing the subjectivity at the heart of performance management.


One of the most compelling arguments comes from “Nine Lies About Work” by Marcus Buckingham and Ashley Goodall. They assert, “People can reliably rate their own experience” but are notably unreliable at rating others. They explain, “Your rating of a team member on something called ‘performance’ is unreliable because your definition of performance is unique to you” (Buckingham & Goodall, 2019). This challenges traditional, often rigid, performance evaluation models and suggests a more introspective approach.


Similarly, “No Rules Rules” by Reed Hastings and Erin Meyer presents the intriguing concept of “The Keeper Test.” It’s a straightforward yet powerful tool: “If a person on your team were to quit tomorrow, would you try to change their mind? Or would you accept their resignation, perhaps with a little relief? If the latter, you should give them a severance package now, and look for a star, someone you would fight to keep” (Hastings & Meyer, 2020). This approach simplifies performance assessment to a singular, yet profound question, focusing on the real value an individual brings to the team.


“Working Backwards” by Colin Bryar and Bill Carr, though not directly addressing PM, offers valuable insights into creating environments where performance is naturally high. Amazon’s emphasis on clarity, autonomy, and direct, candid communication is a testament to creating a culture where high performance is a byproduct of the work environment itself.

In most large corporate settings managing low performance consumes disproportionate time, energy, and resources. The goal should be to cultivate high-performing teams where excellence is the norm, not the exception.


As Quotient’s Research-Driven Engineering Leadership blog aptly notes, measuring engineering productivity requires a nuanced understanding of what performance means in a technical and creative domain (RDEL, 2023).

In conclusion, embracing the subjectivity of performance management can lead to more genuine, effective, and meaningful assessments. By focusing on individual experiences, aligning personal goals with team missions, and empowering team members with context and autonomy, organizations can create a dynamic, responsive, and ultimately more effective approach to managing performance.


References:

  1. Buckingham, M., & Goodall, A. (2019). Nine Lies About Work: A Freethinking Leader’s Guide to the Real World.
  2. Hastings, R., & Meyer, E. (2020). No Rules Rules: Netflix and the Culture of Reinvention.
  3. Bryar, C., & Carr, B. (2021). Working Backwards: Insights, Stories, and Secrets from Inside Amazon.
  4. RDEL. (2023). Research-Driven Engineering Leadership: The Most Popular Posts of the Year. [Blog Post].