The question is, “What should this organization hold you accountable for by way of contribution and results?”
The first time you ask this, your people will find that this is a very difficult question. They’ve never thought that way. Most people, believe me, think in terms of work and not in terms of results. Most people say, “I’m always the first one in the office and the last one to go.” Well, that may be all right for the night watchman, but for nobody else.
Somebody asked me about salespeople. I don’t know whether you realize it, but salespeople are probably the area where productivity in the economy has gone down the most. If you adjust for inflation, the saleslady of today in the department store sells about half of what she did 50 or 60 years ago. One reason is that we have loaded her down with all that paperwork. She doesn't serve the customer anymore; she serves the computer.
The poor performer corrupts. If you have the fellow or the woman who is getting old and they’ve been there 49 years, then okay. But otherwise, accept that the poor performer lets his fellow workers down. You have a duty not to tolerate the poor performer, a duty to the performers. That quenches motivation, when they see that everybody gets the same praise, when we know perfectly well that Jim or Jane hasn’t done a lick of work and what they have done is shoddy. That demoralizes.
Spend time on the placement of people. There is nothing worse than the belief that anybody can do every job. That may work on the assembly line, though even there, it’s not quite true. But when it comes to knowledge work, you must spend time on placing people where their strengths can become productive. Nothing so motivates as achievement. And nothing so quenches motivation as frustration.
These are all very elementary hygiene rules; nothing new about them. But like most hygiene rules, they’re disregarded. And so put that burden of performance on people. And build the idea of people appraising themselves into the work goal, the performance goal, or whatever you call it. And then you don’t have to sit in judgment. It’s not a good idea for human beings to sit in judgment on others. But then performance will be the judge. And performance will also show where the need is for learning.
In fact, one of the questions to ask when people appraise their own performance is, “What do you need to learn? What do you need to improve? What do you need to change?”
There are also things that people need practice in. They may know the subject theoretically, but haven’t done it enough. It’s not going back to school; it’s doing it more. In other cases, they may have to read up on something. Maybe it’s been a long time since they’ve learned a topic. And maybe it’s a good idea to go back and to take out that textbook on cost accounting once again. They’re becoming rusty.
If we don’t do what makes sense—what is productive both for the company and the employees—then I’m afraid that, yes, 20 years from now we’ll find ourselves under very severe restrictive and punitive rules. We don’t have forever, and maybe being forced by lawsuits to accept the fact that there has been social change is the only way we will ever accept it. Certainly, we are now getting enough lawsuits so that people ought to accept the fact something is happening here. And maybe it’s a good idea to move before we are pushed.