Earlier this week, I came across the following tweet:
Now, I’m not here to blame any specific company, so let’s keep this post broad. You’d be surprised by how many companies in the world operate exactly in this way (or similar). I’d call this management done wrong. Like horribly wrong. Like making me want to leave that company, even though I’m not working for them. Please let me elaborate by breaking up the above message into several categories.
KPIs (Key Performance Indicators)
There’s nothing wrong with KPIs in my opinion. They’re a powerful and straightforward way of getting your company’s goals clear and concise. However, they’re only as powerful as the group of people who set them. Is a manager setting a KPI? You’ll probably have hard time getting your team fully on board and dedicated to meet (and go beyond) the KPI. Is the whole team involved in setting the KPIs? You’ll see a lot more dedication, progress and fun throughout the process! Check out this article by Dutch company Voys, which closely involves its whole team in decision-making and strategy. Do not link KPIs to negative consequences if they’re not met! Positive consequences can be used, but don’t overdo it, as it will create tunnel vision on KPIs.
Bonuses are normally given with the goal of stimulating individual people’s performance and involvement in the company. “If you reach your KPIs, you get your bonus!”, “Sales goal met? Bonus!”
In my opinion, (individual) bonuses are a source of evil. A lot of evil. It forces people into a way of thinking that’s only for their personal gains, rather than the company’s vision or a larger (societal) purpose. Makes them selfish. Childish. Like they wanna steal someone else’s food. Even worse, linking them to hard KPIs only accelerates this process further.
Companies should focus on their vision, their purpose, why they want to make this world a bit better. Bonus-oriented people are not gonna help with that. Successes should be celebrated by the whole team, rather than individuals. Take the team on an outing, instead of giving a single manager a €10k bonus. Just like mistakes help a team grow, in contrast to blaming individuals. If you want to work with some kind of bonus system, then make sure the whole team benefits from it.
Negative tone of voice & wrong feedback
This aspect worries me the most. You’d be surprised by how many managers (and even CEOs) are using negative tone of voice in their messages. Telling people that they are “significantly below targets and still not working on weekends to catch up” is just plain wrong in my opinion, killing company culture and productivity (debates are coming up that say working too many hours significantly decreases productivity). Saying things like “people who rate ‘significantly below expectations’ will be fired without any negotiations” only makes matters worse. Just working longer doesn’t mean targets will actually be met. Instead, ask questions like “Is the KPI we set actually managable?”, “Did we put the right people together in this team, so they can flourish most?”, “Can we try things differently?”, etc.
Looking at this from a learning perspective, we’re already doing this to people at a very young age. In schools, we tell students that they “failed their maths test”, instead of saying “this student is exceptionally good in marketing, let’s tailor his education a bit more towards that direction” (this becomes most important at age 16+). The exact same happens in business: “this employee has failed his KPIs in the marketing team, let’s fire him” instead of “this team member is very good in product development, let’s offer him the option to switch to the Product team”. That’s the world upside down, isn’t it?!
If you want to read more about learning & feedback, I’d highly recommend this Harvard Business Review article which, among others, contains this spot-on quote:
Focusing people on their shortcomings doesn’t enable learning; it impairs it.
Fixed that for you
So, to give an example of how I’d phrase a message like the one above (personal opinion!), here you go:
Here you have it – slight changes in the way you organize your business and communicate can be a real game-changer. Again, this is my personal opinion, but there’s more and more research coming up that supports the beliefs outlined above. Work is where we spend most of our lives, so we better make it a fun, rewarding and a world-changing experience!