Performance Management and the Uncertainty and Risk Nexus

In a recent post (Talent Management: The Need to Learn About Uncertainty & Risk, A Life and Leadership Core Competency) I discussed how dealing with uncertainty and risk (U&R) is a competency that relies on experiencing meaningful consequences for choices if we are to learn to deal with it better in life. I expanded on an article that discussed how an educator was at risk (yes risk) of losing his job because he gave zeroes to students who repeatedly failed to complete assignments.

This post will explore how we effectively use performance management to help learn to effectively live with U&R in our lives. This is inspired by a subsequent article on the issue of non-awarding zeroes by D. Slomp, C. Mombourquette and R. Marynowski called: “Making grades meaningful”; National Post; 11 June, 2012; page A8.

This article suggests some powerful insights:

  • That the core purpose of call room assignments is twofold. First is to collect evidence to assist in planning instruction to facilitate student learning. Second, to enable accurate reporting of student learning.
  • That the notion of grading as rewards/punishment needs to be set aside. It is about how much has been achieved (knowledge and associated application of this knowledge). This is about signalling demonstrated levels of competency.
  • That we accurately record progress towards a desired outcome factoring in such practices/habits as neatness, timeliness and associated behaviours essential to becoming productive citizens. These are important AND separate from grades.
  • The assignment of zeros may be detrimental in that once assigned students no longer have to do the work. This is obviously an unintended consequence.
  • That we are dealing with children (not adults) and we are striving to teaching them important understandings that will serve them their whole lives.

I have suggested in another post (Talent Management: Leadership Performance Management Issues) that the most effective way to think about measuring performance is to consider doing it along four dimensions:

  • our inputs: the quality of what we contribute to success including our behaviours, intelligence, interest and energy (along with capital, raw resources, etc.)
  • our throughputs: how well we optimize flows, pacing, priorities, shifting  realities and efficient/effective use of inputs
  • our outputs: did we get the results we sought at the effort we wanted to?
  • our outcomes: at the end of the day did what we do and achieve make the desired difference?

I appreciate the points of the article and I want to cast my take on what they suggest against the four performance dimensions:

  • Inputs: Noting what has been covered (instructor’s side) and what has been shown that the student is incorporating the information. For example, being able to reiterate what has been taught.
  • Throughputs: Use of knowledge and related enabling behavioural habits in skillful ways (showing integration of what we have been taught and how we should utilize it). This would include any classroom assignments.
  • Outputs: Grades and other measurements against standards of competence and excellence
  • Outcomes: Exhibiting effective habits for citizenship.

The most intriguing point for me is what happens to students’ efforts if a zero is awarded? The concern is they stop working on the assignment. I had an experience where I was failing to meet classroom assignments when I was in school. The teacher made it clear that he expected the assignments would be completed a and the shorter the delay, the less negative impact on my final grade. So I still had an incentive to do the work as there was still an opportunity to positively affect a later measurement, my grade. I have used this principle as a manager, a parent, and even as a friend; and I have found it to be generally effective. the linking of specific performance issue to a later and broader (an output is broader than an throughput item) is important.

Being in an adult work is rife with specific performance failures/disappointments having a later impact. the dilemma for many of us is the impacts are often tacit in nature. That is, we are never overtly told that our performance gaps  are affecting subsequent decisions about trustworthiness, promotability, assignment of important developmental assignments, and even continued employment. This is why I have a fanatical passion around meaningful performance management during a person’s formative stages (school, early work career, first introductions, etc.). Blow it and you are often “forever handicapped” without even being aware of it.

The link to U&R? Performance has the impact of exposing us to subsequent consequences.

Consequences that we are aware of and clear in our mind are pretty certain of encountering are risk like.

Many more consequences we are aware of but unclear whether we will be affected by them (we may not experience them). This is by far more common than the aforementioned consequences. These are uncertain ones (grey swan like ones, courtesy of Nassim Taleb).

When the consequences are overt, we at least have the opportunity to “learn”from them. What happens for us when we aren’t really aware of them? These are the “black swan” like ones. We are oblivious to their likelihood and even their possible occurrence. They can also be the most impactful, they literally can derail careers, reputations, relationships, etc. If those delivering the consequences choose not to tell us (i.e., they use tacit methods of “discounting” us) then we are literally hooped from learning and even being aware that we are being “shunted aside” for what what we have done/failed to do.

Given our litigious environment, I suggest that we are judged, found wanting, and silently /discretely dealt with quite frequently on matters that matter. Even if I am wrong on the frequency, I am clear that it does happen, and it happens where there is little incentive on the “judges” to be overt. Being overt may be the official politically correct  mantra, but being overt can expose the judge to much hardship. So why bother? Act on your judgement in a way that is many hassle free.

This is why I am concerned about any social system that deals with people during their formative years and fails to build effective personal performance management competencies. You virtually guarantee sidelining and derailing people in their future.


About 123stilllearning456

As a management consultant I am passionately interested in talent management and risk/uncertainty issues. In the area of talent management I propose that we seek strategies that look beyond the staffing/employee centric frames of reference. I have been frustrated at the "closing down on possibilities" by these more conventional staffing/employee centric approaches. I have been impressed where people have found systematic solutions to their talent management issues by going beyond the conventional approaches. In the area of risk and uncertainty, I am interested in making this topic relevant to more normal decision making situations. My conceptual foundation is to use the micro-economist's fixed/variable cost theme. I also think it is important to look at these issues for people through their emotional and psychological lens. As a premise I think risk and uncertainty only exist where there is a person who cares about possible events and its consequences. Hence, risk and uncertainty are social based concepts (no sentience, no risk and uncertainty). A major influence on my thinking in this area is Nassim Taleb of "Black Swan" fame. This BLOG provides me with an opportunity to express my thoughts on topics that interest me. As this is an online diary, content is more important to me than polish. I apologize if this distracts from readers' enjoyment and learning. Still I find this a useful way to live up to my namesake, learn more from others and hopefully provoke creative thoughts and ideas in others.
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