The Old Way of an Employee Performance Review
Nothing brings back memories of a schoolchild reporting to the principal’s office than being summoned at work for a quarterly (or annual) performance review. Much of how an employee will approach the session has to do with their relationship with their superior. If the relationship is a strong and open one, the level of apprehension will tend to be lower. If the relationship is rocky with undercurrents of stress, the review may be one that both parties prepare for in a combative nature.
But does it really have to be this way? Shouldn’t an organization view the performance appraisal of their employees as a two-fold opportunity to both reward as well as provide guidance? Yes and most HR departments will ascribe to this goal. Unfortunately, one major stumbling block prevents clearer outcomes from reviews: the lack of an ability to quantify performance.
The Dilemma of Knowledge Workers
As the workforce continues its shift from manufacturing to knowledge workers, the ability of management to quantify the performance of their employees has become murky at best. In years past, determining how well someone performed on an assembly line was pretty straightforward. Metrics such as defects per thousand, velocity of assembling during a given time period and others were black and white. For a salesperson, you can simply set the sales quota for them to achieve. For technical support people, you can measure the number of support calls followed by a survey of customer satisfaction to ensure their quality.
But for the many information workers who spend the majority of their time on computers, it may not be easy to find clear quantifiable performance measurements for them.
Take the example of a software developer. What would be the metric to determine their level of performance?
Would it be how many lines of code they produce in a given period of time? But poor quality coders could churn out massive amounts of faulty code, or redundant code that’s difficult to maintain on the long run. After all, elegant code is such that it can execute tasks in the least and simplest fashion.
Would it be how few defects are in their code? But there are serious bugs that corrupt data versus cosmetic bugs of no significant consequence. So we can’t simply use the number of bugs as a measurement. Even if we weigh the severity of the bugs, it can be somewhat subjective in the eye of the beholder.
Many companies often estimate the size of a software project to determine the amount of time it will take to complete, and then use that to measure the software developer. The biggest challenge is that it is often difficult to measure the time required to complete the project. If it is underestimated, the project simply gets delayed. If it is over estimated, the project gets delivered on time, but it will not likely be completed earlier due to human nature.
The second challenge is different software developers work at different paces depending on their talent and past experience. When you measure by output, while a project may take one developer 8 hours to complete, it may only take 2 hours with another developer. If you assign this project to the 2nd developer with an 8 hour quota, it is likely the project will finish in 8 hours, not 2 hours. It certainly is a loss of productivity for the company, but also a loss of the employees and society.
Measuring performance by output is definitely valuable during an employee appraisal review. As discussed earlier, it has some limits and difficulties for implementation. This is the reason why we need to add another measurement to the equation.
Diligence: Perfect Compliment for Output Measurement
Most managers know very well how talented each employee is. Unfortunately, talent is not something you can easily quantify. If you can get a talented employee to work diligently, complete the project in 2 hours based on his/her ability, instead of the 8 hours based on the estimation, and then we will have a superior system than any of the currently adopted performance review systems. What’s missing in most employee performance appraisals is the ability to quantify performance related to diligence.
But how can management measure something that sounds as ephemeral as “diligence”?
It’s not actually as difficult as it sounds.
“Diligence” is defined by Merriam-Webster as:
1 persevering application
2 the attention and care legally expected or required of a person (as a party to a contract)[i]
The two components are therefore perseverance and attention required.
In a real world context, this means the employee is focusing their attention on the tasks they are legally employed to do, and not others. It means they persevere in their efforts. If they end up spending work time browsing their friends’ Facebook pages or shopping on eBay, that does not fall under the attention and care they are required to do, and they are obviously not persevering.
A good manager will have a conversation with the employees if he/she starts to show up late or leave earlier. But whether the employee is using 100% of their attention on the task at hand would not raise a red flag as quickly. Employees have the ability to log in to Facebook or do some personal banking, as long as the company does not block these sites.
Even if those sites were blocked, most employees nowadays have a Smartphone which allows them to bypass the block. When employees do not have a smart phone, it will be difficult to stop spending time in the rest room or chatting with colleagues. Without the ability to see telecommuter’s faces, superiors have no idea what activities employees are engaging in. The question becomes how can you manage your telecommuters?
In the end, the manager can only measure if employees completed their job or not. But this seems to be a different standard than how a manager would handle the attendance problem. The main reason for this discrepancy is because diligence has been difficult to measure.
MySammy: Quantifying Diligence for Better Performance Reviews
Here’s where MySammy comes in.
With MySammy, management can quantify exactly how diligent employees are. This is done by recording and reporting on metrics including active or inactive computer time, total amount of time spent on specific applications, websites visited, keystrokes per minute and more.
For example, if an employee shows high active computer time, and she spends the majority of her time in Powerpoint, Outlook or some coding application, then it can be safely concluded that they are diligently pursuing tasks related to their position.
On the other hand, if an employee shows high inactive time with the majority of it on websites such as Youtube, Zynga (online gaming) or Amazon, then it could be surmised that they are not diligently pursuing tasks related to their employment.
What MySammy provides managers is another powerful tool that clearly lays out the diligence of the reviewee during appraisals. It is not meant to be the final word in employee performance but rather helps paint a much richer landscape from which the performance review can take place.
With MySammy reports, both management and employees can clearly understand why they are being reviewed in a certain way. Goals can be set to stretch and improve their diligence and rewards can be doled out of those goals are achieved.
Providing clarity and definition around the diligence of employees is a surefire way to immediately improve the entire employee performance appraisal process.