It’s 5 pm. Sophie, a consultant, comes out of an important meeting with her colleagues. Everyone talks about the meeting just outside the building, congratulating themselves, evoking moments when “he/she could have done better”.
In other words: Everyone mechanically evaluates their level of performance.
On the phone, Sophie’s worried manager asks her “Did it go well? ” – “Yes, it did” Sophie replies, telling her manager what she thought she did right or wrong. Back home, her partner asks her “So, did you enjoy your meeting?” – Sophie stops for a minute, she didn’t even ask herself that question yet.
In fact, no one did.
Annual reviews, self-assessments, feedback… Most of the interactions and reflections on our professional activity today revolve around one element: our performance.
This is not surprising though. For companies, their employees’ performance is directly linked to the organization’s productivity, development, and sustainability. For managers, the performance of their team is associated with the objectives they have set for each team member and directly correlated to the company’s business and strategic challenges.
For a manager, there is only one objective: to achieve their team targets. Or even better: to exceed them! On a more personal level, achieving our targets can result in a reward in the form of a bonus and/or personal satisfaction. So whatever the context of our interaction, the subject of our performance is often paramount.
Born out of a concern for performance was the concern for commitment…
To boost this performance that is absolutely crucial for companies, several studies have looked at the issue (e. g. Gallup, ADP) and made the connection between the level of commitment and the level of performance.
As a consequence, engaging employees has become an important topic that has been widely analyzed and addressed… resulting in an equally wide range of solutions: work organization, skill development, career prospects, remuneration, a sense of belonging, quality of life at work and so on.
There is no doubt that these elements all contribute to an employee’s commitment to their manager, their team, their company, as well as to their well-being and therefore to their performance.
But does feeling committed to your team or company mean that we are fully committed to our missions and objectives? And do we care about the employee’s commitment to the objectives and missions they must accomplish?
We can see a reflection of this in the evolution of HR tools: engaging people around objectives or missions requires good communication and regular interaction between all stakeholders. Engaging people around an objective means regularly checking in, seeing what’s wrong, finding solutions and boosting your employees. A good number of tools and methods, therefore, promote a continuous conversation between employees, managers and other contributors for feedback and a regular review of our progress.
One example is the OKR (Objectives & Key Results) methodology, a method of defining objectives that became popular mainly thanks to Google. The OKR method aims to restore meaning to the final objective through a milestone approach. These milestones are quantifiable steps towards achieving our goal.
This type of methodology makes it possible to initiate an ongoing discussion via frequent feedback rather than having to wait for the annual (and mid-year, for the lucky ones amongst us) evaluation. As such, it helps to soothe the final judgment (reached/not reached). It also makes it possible to engage the employee by giving him/her more visibility on their contribution to the company’s overall plan.
… but forgetting one key element: pleasure
The thing is, while it makes sense to have this conversation, it forgets a major element of employee engagement: the pleasure they take in reaching their objectives.
And so, despite our best intentions, these kinds of methods have the perverse effect of bringing the dictate of scores and percentages of achievement back to the forefront, to scrutinize us in real-time.
This type of feedback won’t take the pleasure the employee took in achieving their objective into account: did they enjoy speaking in front of fifty people? Did they find it hard to work alone? Did they enjoy having a lot of freedom to decide how to deliver a project or, on the contrary, not at all? Was the challenge as big as they expected?
In short, what are the elements that made them realize they were enjoying – or on the contrary, not enjoying – their job? Only very few professional interactions directly combine objective, commitment, and pleasure, especially in a formal setting.
The quest for joy is not a taboo but a source of information on what boosts your employees’ engagement!
Going back to our initial example, and the question of Sophie’s manager’s: “Did it go well?”. Yes, of course it did. But wouldn’t he have a lot more relevant information to use if he had asked Sophie if she had fun? Wouldn’t he have more sincere and constructive elements to know what motivates Sophie and how to better engage her?
So, of course, managers often draw these conclusions on their own: He told me that this or that stressed him out a lot, so this is not something he enjoys doing. But why not ask questions more frequently to come to these conclusions? While at the same time allowing the employee to look back on their achievements, which may or may not bring them joy and to understand the reasons why.
Along the same lines, the idea is no longer to rate people’s performances.
Instead, the goal is to truly know what stimulates that performance in close connection with the objective that needs to be achieved so that managers and employees can build the most pleasant path towards the realization of that objective together. There is no doubt that if employees gave a “fun” rating to their objective that it would be correlated to that of their performance.
While only 10% of European employees feel fully committed to their work (last Gallup World Report – end 2017), it seems that the time has come to rekindle the flame: stop asking employees to evaluate their performance, ask them if they had fun!
In other words: Rethink the way you interact with your employees on a daily basis and talk more about how much fun they had rather than about their performance.