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Our Responsibility to Help Organizations Make Good Decisions

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Here are two pieces on performance management that surfaced today that motivated and informed this blog entry:

I was asked by a high school teacher to visit his class and talk to them about my profession, that is, just what does an I/O Psychologist do?  I find that a lot of us in this field struggle with a concise answer to that question, perhaps because we touch so many different parts of the interface between people and organizations.

For the purpose of this 30 minute time with the class of juniors, I landed on the notion of a common denominator for the applying of our trade is that of helping organizations make decisions about people. The obvious starting point is the major role we play in helping organizations decide which people to hire or not, though some of us do get involved in the employment life cycle even before that (e.g., during recruitment and advertising to draw applicants.)

Moving on from employment decisions, we can move through all sorts of stages in the career of an employee where decisions are being made (and they are making decisions as well), and wouldn’t it be nice if those decisions are being made based on criteria that are “valid” (to use our lingo), fair and transparent.  And, I told them, that was a major contribution we as I/O Psychologists bring to the process, using science and experience for the benefit of both the employee and the organization to increase the probabilities that the decision is more likely to lead to successful performance than if it were just a random (e.g., flip of the coin, gut instinct, expeditious) choice.

This little discussion was a few years ago, and it came to mind now as I read some more articles on the ongoing discussion/debate regarding Performance Appraisal/Performance Management.  Depending on what version of a Performance Management Process (PMP) makes up your mental model, a PMP can have direct consequences for an employee. In the current discussion and debate on this topic, people are fretting (and rightly so) about the mechanics of evaluating an employee.  They/we also are worrying about other facets of the PMP process that should include higher quality (and more frequent) interactions between the manager and his/her employees for both performance discussions and development conversations, with aspirations that such interactions happen more often than the once or twice a year that “formal” appraisal systems require.

One proposed solution to creating more frequent interactions between managers and employees is to get rid of the formal sessions, symbolically represented by the evil rating process.  One of the many problems this creates is to remove a source of information that the organization needs to make decisions about people.  It is our responsibility to provide decision makers with methods to provide them (at all levels) with reliable data. If the current PMP system at an organization is not doing that, it is fixable as suggested by Glen Kallas and his blog piece.  Dismantling the system does not help unless somehow that data can be generated by whatever is taking its place.  I don’t see that happening, at least in what I am reading.  If there are data being created in the alternate processes that involve more frequent interactions between managers and employees, then we have the same responsibility to ensure that information is as good or better than what it is replacing.

The Herena blog speaks to the many benefits of maintaining or even enhancing your PMP. Then she (and her CEO) go on to call for supplementing PMP by making their managers into better “coaches,” which is fantastic! Especially when supported from the top.  She doesn’t speak to the benefits of PMPs in terms of the data they produce, though the alignment benefit is extremely important and potentially lost when the system goes away.

IF you agree that the organization needs reliable data to make decisions about people throughout their employment cycle, then no profession is better equipped to do that.  Arguing that the solution is to remove the data generator instead of fixing it seems irresponsible.

I was watching a documentary about George Harrison’s life, and they interviewed his second (and last) wife, Olivia.  They were married for 23 years until his death, and it was clear that their marriage, like many, had a lot of bumps (or whatever euphemism you want to use).  Her observation was that the secret to a long marriage is not getting divorced, which I took to mean not giving up when things are difficult.  Well, there are many reasons we should not be giving up (as Glen and Monique point out), and I hope I am adding one more reason to the mix.

We have a responsibility to help organizations make good decisions about people.  And there are decisions being made constantly, ranging from promotions to pay to job assignments, and even what developmental experience you get or don’t get.  What I suggested to those students is that there should be some comfort in knowing that there are people like us that are trying to create a level playing field and good information so that the decisions that affect them (of which many are life and/or job changing) are based on reliable information.  We need to consider that responsibility when we make or influence other types of decisions, including those decisions that reduce the quality of that data.  In other words, help organizations to not “divorce” their PMPs just because they might be doing what we want them to do.


Written by David Bracken

January 29, 2016 at 6:50 pm

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