Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Compensation and Performance Reviews...Where are the Rocks

As you can assume from the title, I am going to be talking about compensation and performance review systems but first, why would I discuss this in a technical blog? Well, for starters, all of us techies and non-techies alike will have to work for someone at some point of our life (minus the occasional very large trust fund individual). Even if your working for yourself, compensation and performance are still very important as you have to be your own biggest critic as your paycheck is directly tied to your performance.

I believe that many compensation systems understand that pay is a hygiene factor. Herzberg stipulated that hygiene factors are those things in a workplace that don't bring job satisfaction however they are critical to preventing job dissatisfaction. This is where performance reviews often completely mess things up.

A performance review is a system or process that is designed to provide feedback to the employee to help them determine which areas of development they need to focus on and which areas are they already really strong in. In
reality, most performance reviews fail to accomplish the objectives that they originally set out to attain. Many people fear their reviews instead of viewing it as an open time of discussion. In addition, many companies perform reviews on an annual basis. The time between reviews is so large that entire company objectives might have changed. Then there is the whole concept of money. Money is only a motivator if its a goal. Once this goal is attained, it no longer motivates. Personally, I would not want my employees working for me, busting their butts with the sole intent of making more money. Instead, I would rather see them fairly and adequately compensated and have them vying for top positions by boosting productivity, education, and experience in order to be qualified to take on even more responsibility.

Despite my desire, not all people are wired to be the best of the best. Some people are what I would call solid individuals. They are the hard workers that have been in a position a long time, know the job, the environment, and all the tricks of the trade but really are not interested in moving up on the corporate ladder. They are happy where they are. They know that management is not for them and that a lateral move would only cause them to lose interest. What do you do with these people. First of all, you need to value them. They are your ROCKS upon which your department and organization can build a foundation; a source of stability. Secondly, two words: job enrichment. I believe that every one desires two things from a job: challenge and recognition. These people would be very beneficial to help new comers acclimate to the team, be able to lead efforts in documentation of team processes, facilitate an active policy of knowledge share, and might even be considered more of a mother hen than the manager is. Remember the hygiene factors? Work relationships can be both a hygiene factor and a motivational factor.

By leveraging these seemingly immobile workers, you can build a competitive advantage that results in less churn and burn and fosters greater knowledge share and creation. I know that when I am interviewing with different firms, one of the things that I really look at is how do the people seem to interact together. I also look at how much of a difference am I going to be able to make.

Having worked in many organizations, I can say that some organizations are too large and too broken far to long for any one individual to try and radically change things. One organization in particular had me excited about the potential to radically change a really dysfunctional team. After spending years trying many different tactics from team based approaches to grassroots efforts, I realized that I was merely just a finger in the dam. Conditions and morale would improve but if I was gone for longer than a week, the same fundamental issues would start to arise again and the dam would burst. It was obvious that I was not creating lasting change. Instead, most of the issues were originating from the top and I was merely acting as a diffuser. As soon as I left, it would turn back to a powerful jet stream, ripping people apart.

As us techies enter the workforce or even move about in it, we sometimes have to stop and realize that its not always about the technology, the projects, or the cool toys we get to tinker with. All workers, whether they be executives, asphalt pavers, or marketers, have certain basic needs. They require status, job security, benefits, and fair pay. They also desire recognition, challenge, and responsibility. Each individual will value each element differently and will also perceive how well each element is being met differently. Some like being congratulated publicly, others rather have a pat on the back and a whisper of "Fabulous job!" in their ear.

Issues of human resources might be incredibly boring to some but I don't think of it as human resources. The HR department to me is really the Department of Autonomous and Superior Logic Processing Computing. The human brain is really the ultimate computer and HR (DASLP if you will) processes is still trying to reverse engineer how we are wired and subsequently programmed. There is no API and each person has a different revision of code. Thinking of things this way helps us have sympathy for their misgivings.

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