Fact that’s hard to argue: performance evaluations/management are often a train wreck. They typically happen once per year — if that — and they’re often not even based on what the employee necessarily did that year, but rather what the company’s more abstract core pillars/tenets are and how the employee relates. If often leads to manager + employee struggling to figure out what to put in the box marked “Leading The Charge” or something equivalent, and it happens so infrequently — and the data culled from a mass of them takes so long to process — that it often doesn’t have any real result. People have been trying to fix this space for years — I actually had a job interview with a Boston-based start-up that’s trying to, as well — but the central issue lies in the point of sale: Human Resources. HR doesn’t necessarily function like other areas of a company, so — and this depends on who you talk to when you make contact — their focus might be more on compliance side than effectiveness side. When the priorities don’t line up, additional challenges arise.
Niu interviewed over 35 entrepreneurs from a winemaker in New Zealand to a fruit trader in China to a financial services consultant in Korea about best practices when it came to leadership, culture, and managing people. He ended every interview with one question: “What’s one pain point you have around managing people that, if I took away, you’d gladly pay for?”
“Regardless of industry, size, or geography the most haunting feeling for any leader is when an employee gives their two weeks notice out of the blue,” Niu asserts. That confirmed what he already knew: a company’s people and culture were important strategic advantages.
We often see figures around what it costs for an employee to be disengaged — could be $550 billion globally — or for a two-week notice to lead to a new recruiting search (a lot). That should be the motivating factor to get this stuff right, but the central problem is that issues like “employee engagement” and “talent strategy,” while they sound good, aren’t explicitly revenue-facing. As a result, they fall down the queue with competing priorities. Here’s the broad way that TINYPulse tries to function:
The way TINYpulse works is to email employees just one question each week. Though the questions change frequently, the one that asks how happy staff is at work is on repeat. Niu admits he doesn’t use 15Five but understands its helpful for status updates and project management. TINYpulse, he contends, keeps leaders’ finger on the pulse of the entire organization, anonymously. This is key, he says, to stay on top of sentiment.
This idea sounds pretty cool on surface, but you have to remember that even a one-question e-mail may linger in someone’s inbox if they think they’re busy as all hell or if they treat e-mail like most of the world.
There’s basically one way — and it’s hardly proven across all types of organizations — to make performance evaluations a legitimate process, and that’s not necessarily achieved by adding a new system and a new set of e-mails into the equation. Rather, the only true way is to try and push your organization towards “organic communication” — not the idea that everyone has to be best friends, but rather, the idea that a conversation can start on a walk near campus, rather than at a scheduled 1-hour meeting. If you have that type of culture, then you’ll be more in the loop about who might be leaving, who isn’t engaged enough (and thus might have more capacity for projects from the people who think they’re slammed all the time), and where things stand between managers and employees. This requires a lot of escaping comfort zones — namely, avoiding the all-day-blocked-meetings and endless conference calls, etc. — but it can be done if you just chip away at it. I think TINYPulse could be cool, but I don’t know if installing additional e-mails that need to be read and systems that need to be analyzed will ultimately make a company better at evaluating and predicting performance.