Here’s another assumption that is deeply embedded in much of our organizational behavior, but sadly out-of-date: If I keep my head down and do my own task well, I’ll be fine.
This assumes that an individual’s responsibility is simply to do a “good job.” In hierarchical organizations, the standard for gauging an individual’s performance is typically whether an employee has met specific objectives. As a corollary, the unwritten rule among colleagues in most organizations today assumes individual autonomy — “you do your job and I’ll do mine.” Peer relationships are typically characterized by polite conflict avoidance, rather than the challenge, debate, and openness to critique that are required for collaboration.
In a collaborative enterprise, individual capabilities become valuable only if they contribute to the success of the whole. The standard of performance shifts to the extent to which each person has contributed to the shared task or mission. The behavior of individuals operating successfully in an environment of extended collaboration requires active engagement, a willingness to challenge and to make “adult” choices.
The changing definition of success and the new relationships among co-workers drive the need for rethinking performance management systems. However, my research has shown that simply moving to a team-based reward system is an insufficient and possibly even counterproductive approach if the team has no influence on distinguishing among the contributions of its members. In a comprehensive study of 55 global teams, we found there was no correlation between the perceptions of individuals outside the team, even direct supervisors to the team, and those of team members regarding the degree of internal collaboration. Thus the boss is highly unlikely to judge correctly who is contributing what to team performance and may either retain or reward individuals who are making minimal contributions.
The optimum approach for performance management in an environment that depends on extended collaboration requires that team members have significant input into the determination of contribution. There are two primary options:
* Team-based, but with the ability of the team to choose members or throw non-performing members “off the bus,” or
* Individual-based, but with the ability of peers to assess the individual’s contribution to the success of the mission.
Whole Foods uses the first approach noted above, allowing selection of new team members by the team. Every store is divided into teams. New employees are hired into one of the teams on a provisional basis. After four weeks of work, the team votes whether the employee gets to stay. Allowing team members input is critical because pay beyond base wages links to team performance.
The design firm IDEO employees the second philosophy, in their case, using an internal collaboration hub specifically designed to capture peer feedback and serve as a reputation-development tool. Each individual’s site includes a portfolio of his or her personal work, blogs, upcoming team commitments (evidence of demand), and rich profiles that provide other colleagues with an appreciation of the individual’s varied interests.
Of all the organizational modifications required for successful extended collaboration, adopting a performance management approach based on peer feedback is probably the most important and the most likely to create significant cultural change.
Do you incorporate peer feedback in your performance metrics?