Back when I was at university studying Business Management I wrote a lengthy research based article on the motivational aspects of workplace target setting. Ever since we first enter the schooling system we’ve been continually exposed to targets against which our achievement has been measured. Infact almost all jobs I’ve worked in have attempted to use targets as a method of assessing and motivating employees (with the exception of when I was a lifeguard; the only target then was to not let anyone drown). You would think then that such a widely used and accepted method must be excellent at assessing and motivating employees?
When I started my research it quickly became apparent that target setting wasn’t quite the holy grail of employee motivation many believed it to be. Infact in many cases it lead to employee demotivation and a reduction in productivity! Take for example John who works at Edison’s Bulb Company:
John’s target each day is to make 20 bulbs. He’s paid an hourly wage so doesn’t receive any additional pay for making more but equally gets no deductions for less. The only reason for John’s daily target is for the company’s internal monitoring and a misinformed attempt at employee motivation. When John reaches his daily target of 20, is he going to push himself to work hard and reach 30 with the fear that 30 may become his new daily target? Unlikely. And equally; is he going to feel motivated and valued if he is unable to reach his daily target one day due to a whole range of factors? Not a chance.
But what if your work output isn’t so easily measured and definable? What if every piece of work you complete is unique and measured by someone elses’ own approval? In a way; John is fortunate because his target has a definitive success criteria. He knows at the end of each day whether he’s achieved that number. Less fortunate are those who may have a whole host of completely subjective success criteria;
“Open and Honest Communication”
“Adding value for the customer”
These aren’t some metrics I’ve dreamt up for the article. These are genuine scoring metrics used in my own personal role targets. How the hell do you measure ‘open and honest communication’?! Would I score maximum points for telling the company that their target scoring is utter crap? If only!
The yearly appraisal
And so it was that I found myself sat in a brightly lit meeting room with my department manager last week as we began what could only be described as a 3-hour long endurance test. It was like an interview, but worse.. far worse. At least with an interview the questions tend to be personalised based upon your previous experience, and with the knowledge that you’re working towards the reward of a new job. Appraisals however seem to be completely untailored and with the only reward of keeping your current job. Many of the questions went along the lines of:
Your role description says that you must be able to do XYZ, so tell me about when you’ve done XYZ
It didn’t matter that I’ve only been working on a single project from which I’d recieved several excellent pieces of feedback from the customer. Didn’t matter that the project has been completed on time, to specification and within budget. If the role description said you must be able to do it.. and the target scoring said you must have done it… you must have done it.
At the end of the 3 hours I felt exhausted and miserable. The best part of it all was that despite this battering and poor scoring against obscure metrics, my manager freely admitted that my work to date had been excellent and he saw me having a long and successful career with the company. The only thing that I could think of as I left was hopefully not too long.
I know I’m not the only one fed up of having to endure the work required just to justify ourselves against some HR set scorings. To me the objective of early retirement is as much about the pull of retiring (free time, stability, choice) as it is the push of the workplace (stress, reliance and bullshit targets). Does anyone else have to endure this annual (or more frequent!) pain.. or does your employer instead judge you by your own personal achievements?