What is “performance,” to begin with?
Well, I am surely not referring to the power equation (power = labor x time) used in the subject of physics. Instead, I am talking about the performance every single one of us delivers each day: in private settings, in the family, in sports, and above all at work. How can we measure or quantify performance?
One could argue that performance in private settings or in sports does not need to be measured as it does not have to be remunerated.
In contrast, entrepreneurs, managers, and team leaders quite frequently deal with how to determine remuneration for one employee in comparison to the other employee based on his or her performance. And that is far from an easy task because individually distinct performance is virtually non-existent these days. This is due to the fact that most of the work is done as a team, or at least based on the contribution or preliminary work of several people. Therefore, it is hardly possible to measure performance in an objective and fair manner. The situation is complicated further as the parameters that are taken into account when measuring performance are unclear. Could it be the working time, or the number of units, or clarity in approaching customers, or improvements in process quality, or anything else? To cut a long story short: performance in terms of an individual's value contribution in today's world of work cannot be measured objectively, therefore there is no remuneration that is perceived as fair by all of the parties involved!
And now what?
One could try not to measure performance (well, it does not work anyway), but to measure something else, such as an employee’s contribution. In this setting employees could be assessed based on their contribution they make to a product’s success, the customer relationship, efficient communication within the team, a future-proof strategy, the company’s innovative strength, employee loyalty, team spirit, the company’s system of values, etc.
I am well aware of the fact that this does not mean that objective measurement is guaranteed. However, even the mere act of untying yourself from the concept of “individual performance measurement” provides enormous space for rethinking the topic of employee assessment…
If we – just once as a thought experiment – tried to go down the road of seeing people in the context of their contribution, then we would quite automatically be able to put people who take on care work or volunteer tasks on the same level as people who are in gainful employment. This also applies to both unemployed and retired people.
In a nutshell: I find this to be a very attractive thought experiment, it is downright a liberation from old acquired habits and from the mantra “bigger, better, faster, more.” In doing so, we might be able to ward off the trend of increasing self-optimization and to reduce the number of people suffering from burn-out and depression.
Postscript: The cover of the 15th edition of the German magazine “Neue Narrative” shows the following equation:
Performance = (time spent for meetings + emails sent) * compliments given to the boss
Well, this equation actually did manage to put a smile on my face!
This text first appeared in my newsletter 'Innovation on Wednesday'. It is published every other Wednesday. For subscription click here