churchill, roosevelt, stalin, performance review, Toby Elwin, blog

3 performance review politics that always trump merit

Toby Elwin Blog, Organization Behavior 7 Comments

performance review, politics, motivation, toby elwin, evaluation, merit

The biggest laugh at Yalta was that no one shared a version of what “win” really meant.

When performance reviews were created the goal was to collect and share observed performance feedback that would sustain good performance or the observed feedback needed to improve performance.  The performance review would then inform merit increase in salary or bonus based on performance feedback.

The goal:  a pay increase or bonus based on merit.

Transparent for all to see.

For all to count on to manage expectation and motivate.

To provide an organization cultural tipping point of expected performance.

Well, that was the goal or intent before new agendas replaced true diligence; otherwise known as due diligence.

True diligence, an effort to back merit with observable and detailed example, has too often turned into an agenda-driven, force fit to prove a political point.

3 Review Politics and 1 Agenda

Merit-based performance would focus on the employee’s behavior that exemplifies excellence or the employee’s behavior that needs to improve.

However, a performance review based on merit is often out-numbered and out-gunned in many organization cultures by 3 agendas.  These 3 agendas destroy transparency and sabotage employee motivation to work.  These 3 are rarely identified by their true name, but exist in their behavior for all to see:

  1. Partiality to long-standing friends, especially by appointing them to positions of authority, regardless of their qualifications:  Cronyism
  2. Group views the world strictly through the lens of its functional goals and judges the relative importance of other activities by the way they affect the group’s objectives:   Parochialism
  3. Policies exists to increase the personal wealth and political power of officials or the ruling class at the expense of the wider population, often without pretense of honest service:   “rule by thieves” affectionately translated to Kleptocracy — a personal favorite to witness.

Engagement becomes a façade when cronyism, kleptocracy, and parochialism exist, but are allowed or advocated within any organization culture:

  • Who gets promoted?
  • What type of employee gets the biggest raises?
  • Who shows up on the high-profile projects and does very little hard work on them?  People see these in culture very quickly.

Politics Trump Merit

All of those should go to those who have shown reliable, merit-based performance.  When given to those with little merit, but through the politics of the above then you’ve sabotaged engagement and have little hope to achieve true engagement.

Every night at 5pm engagement follows motivation out the door while politics are allowed to exist.

In a one-to-one fight cronyism, kleptocracy, and parochialism each trump merit.  When cronyism, kleptocracy, and parochialism gang up meritocracy has no chance.

An added danger to politics:  leaders who play politics usually choose politic clout over technical or functional competence.  That is the real cost of culture.

How is your organization spending their time around performance review?  Finding merit or stuffing the ballot box with politics?

I’ve written about no more performance reviews before, why not abandon the whole game and get back to the hard work of delivering to your company strategy and maintaining the bottom line:  people’s motivation?

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