Who says i’m incompetent? Questioning the relevance of performance review in an interconnected age

Businesses face a challenge of determining what makes a person ‘competent’ in role. They often do this through a process of Performance Review.

Very much in vogue are competency frameworks, a reductionist approach that effectively produces a series of measures of key skills and behaviours for a specific job role and then measures people against them.

In poorly designed frameworks, this measurement can be purely quantitative, or overly qualitative, but in better setups, it’s usually possible to combine the two. This is done through self assessment against criteria, as well as garnering 360 degree feedback from other people (Wikipedia entry on 360 degree feedback) and including hard quantitative data.

The issue with any competency based approach is in the nature of it’s reductionist methodology; an implicit assumption that the competencies we measure are, if rated sufficiently strongly, naturally going to deliver success. There are, of course, many other factors that can impact here.

We’ve come a long way from the days when, as the Economist recently reminded us, performance reviews concluded ‘unfit for work’ or ‘not particularly valuable‘ (Performance Review from 1904), but there is still an assumption that conformity will deliver success and that micro measurement and quantification is the approach to manage this.

The sheer range of skills and abilities that can lead to success surely mitigate against taking such a reductionist approach? The often quoted attack against Assessment Centres is that Churchill would never have passed one, but there is surely at least space for debate about the value of assessment. I’m confident that shaping teams against frameworks can deliver conformity, i’m just less convinced that conformity delivers strength.

One feature of User Generated spaces, both formal and informal networks, is that the playing field is remarkably level, at least, it is once you discount the requirement for a fairly basic level of computer literacy. One click publishing has enabled all of us to be authors, enabled the voiceless to speak with no constraints, and removed in one swipe the ‘quality’ barriers imposed by publishers. Clay Shirky, in his seminal book ‘Cognitive Suplus – creativity and generosity in a Connected Age’, talks about ‘Post-Gutenberg Economics’, the notion that in this day and age every computer is a printing press and that we have been freed from the constraints of publishers. I’d encourage anyone with an interest in this to check out his writings (Clay Shirky\’s website).

My point here is that in participant created spaces, there is no need for the imposition of frameworks to generate quality. The space is self moderating. Sure, you get a load of rubbish published, but the process of peer review and linking means that the best material rises from the wasteland. I realise that there is a world of difference between the skillset and behaviours that we are looking for in the workplace and the skillset and behaviours that we are looking for online, but lets not forget that it’s the same people who inhabit both spaces.

In essence, what i’m arguing for is that the current drive seems to be for greater conformity and standardisation within work, whilst outside it, or even within user generated formal online spaces, a totally different set of behaviours and skills are rewarded with success. One the one hand, we are encouraging conformity, but on the other hand, we are rewarding difference.

I believe that we should be trying to capture the best of both worlds. Understanding and measuring some factors from the workplace, but also creating space for people to differentiate themselves and create their own bubble. Allow conformity, but welcome difference. Understand that strength comes from diversity of skills, attitudes, behaviours and beliefs, and that a more holistic view of assessment can include all of these things.

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About Julian Stodd

A learning and development professional specialising in e-learning and learning technology.
This entry was posted in Assessment, Competency Framework, Competency Review, Formal Learning Spaces and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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