My first joyful encounter with performance management was the Balanced Score Card. An evolution of the “tick-box” nursery school of management theory. The process required external consultants to describe value and outcomes in such a way that no real roles had any relational context whatsoever to the value or outcomes described.

Management would then observe how colleagues, in the form of an iterative performance dance, would contort their indifference into a sort of management-speak bullshit tango. The charade hung onto its credulity just long enough to hear management’s stage-whispered promise that none of it mattered anyway.

Another early encounter with performance management was the Forced Distribution Curve. The theory goes that a representative workforce will have a distribution of performance that maps to the shape of a bell. Most people in this construct sit grumpily in the middle of the bell-curve, with those deemed to be “walk-on-water” wonderful sitting at one end, and others who are deemed to be “sunk-without-trace” sitting at the other end.

It is the responsibility of management to force the performance distribution of their colleagues into one of these three categories: 1) Useless Bellend, 2) Generally Grumpy or 3) Useful Bellend.

The apotheosis of this form of management science was perceived to be the Psychometric Test where, for example, a 17-year-old black-belt 6-Spagma operative, would apply a hideously expensive random letter generator algorithm to literally label 50-year-old employees as under-performing and surplus to need.

This was generally news to all of them as for the last fifteen years their recently retired senior manager, Bob, had always described them as “Outstanding” in formal annual appraisals. Although it appears he had done so largely on the basis that he could not be arsed to fill out the “your journey to personal enrichment” forms and because, as he mentioned in his exit interview, it “fucked with HR’s mind”.

The only genuinely interesting observable phenomenon when Psychometric Tests are deployed is when a colleague who is a well-known sociopath, is labelled a HPKH (or High Performing Knob Head). In all cases where these letters are given to someone it literally follows like an immutable law of nature that they will be promoted rather than sacked.

On balance I feel we need to have more focus on the human being element of management theory. My personal wish is that we end the jumped-up, self-regarding, dashboard hokum and instead that we focus on three broad concepts.

First, that we set out a clear idea of what we want our humans to do. This will be both in terms of what we hope might be achieved and how we expect our humans to behave towards other humans whatever their rank or role.

Second, that we recruit humans who we believe can do the job and, crucially, we then leave them in peace to get on with doing the job. In all observable tests it seems that if leaders are not dickheads their teams will have fewer dickheads too.

Then third, we ask our humans if they have other needs that we can meet and whether there is anything that we could do better as a result. It might be a long shot, but in this way we might see things improve quietly and organically without the need for the bullshit slurry sprayed over everyone by the HPKH wanting to know if 9:05am is an acceptable time to arrive at the office.

In most instances, the complex organisational paradigm we need for these three outcomes to be predictably achieved is called “The Conversation”. However, while this is a reasonably well understood theoretical practice it is often implemented poorly. There will be many instances when it is simply cancelled at short notice, thus leaving the clear impression that the more senior human is after all a HPKH. There will be other times when the more senior human uses up all the allocated time explaining to the junior human how hard it is to be a senior human. Once again this risks the junior human thinking the senior human is a HPKH.

To be truly effective therefore we should aim for an interaction where the more senior human mostly listens to the more junior human. Sadly, this is not rocket science and we cannot therefore give it a fancy name and make HPKH’s pay lots of money for an acronym. Thankfully, however it is not rocket science and therefore it requires no budget at all, just an ability to STFU and to show some kindness.

Take care x