Talent is false God

The market is volatile when it comes to people strategy. The growing unrest is due to dynamicity of businesses and temperament of people. Every day new concepts keep popping up in the market place. What to chose, what to adopt and what to ignore is a hustle by itself. It is a vital sign of health, no doubt, but where this uncertainty is leading us is a curios question in every one’s mind. This is slaying many age-old practices and shaking some founding beliefs and one I could foresee would go passé is legendary performance management practice. There is lot of noise around bell curve in many offices and this is the first sign.

First of all it is very selfish of an organization to approach performance as the grand deciding factor and to make it a paramount exercise in the system. There is very minimal emphasis on Learning, Engagement, and other driving factors of Organization. The learning here is not the training measures. It is waking up to new realm of reality and seeing the unseen factors. The engagement here is how actively connected employees are at work. Don’t we box these important capabilities of employees and induce fear of losing out on performance? Let’s take an example of an employee who had taken a narrow risk of doing something and loses openly. He despite being good in first three-quarters was rated poor due to this loud loss in the fourth quarter. We believe that we have done justice theoretically by restricting his rating. But have we not sent a wrong signal of ‘No Risk Taking’ to other employees. How willing would be the same employee to risk next time? Is not risk a driving factor? If we blind our people to risk how would we as an organization thrive? Is not risk taking an organization competency?

If I ask you how much 2+2 is, you would confidently reply 4. Now my question is how much is 50 + 60. Yes you have got the answer. How much is 220+230? You took a little longer than the first two attempts but got the answer. Your success at first three attempts would give you a confidence and shows that you are capable. If the next instant is 643 – 569, how much time did you take to get the number? Can this delay be connected to your capability? It created a ‘blur’ in you but you eventually got it. Now you have learnt about next level of complexity. Should I reward your learning or penalize your blur?

Performance is the hypotenuse side of the triangle with other two sides as learning and engagement. Performance is the outcome of learning and engagement. Talent is unfortunately seen as the ability to perform at various contexts and momentary successes paramount to final verdict of performance. I don’t disregard that momentary successes or short wins but propose that the current perspective of performance is fault. The lack of evidence of talent in our measure makes the authenticity of performance measure wrong.

Performance is the hypotenuse side of the triangle with other two sides as learning and engagement. Performance is the outcome of learning and engagement. Talent is unfortunately seen as the ability to perform at various contexts and momentary successes paramount to final verdict of performance. I don’t disregard that momentary successes or short wins but propose that the current perspective of performance is fault. The lack of evidence of talent in our measure makes the authenticity of performance measure wrong.

The deliberations in my mind is whether performance by itself the end state of achievement or is Learning to be institutionalized as a journey towards a greater realization. On a hypothetical thinking, I believe that we always tend to align ourselves to one of the two perpendicular axes viz., either the axis of ‘Talent – Performance’ or the axis of ‘Understanding – Effort’ on the other axis. I’m convinced that there is an end state if we have to chase Talent Performance. We take it for granted that Performance is paramount. The challenge is that poor performance is seen as evidence of lack of talent, creating a spurious certainty about one’s inability and therefore learning is reduced to a limiting either of ‘success’ or ‘failure’.

When will one perform – when he/she is being judged or when there is active engagement and ample space to learn? When we create HiPOTs and separate them with initiatives based on performance there we divide the organization into two – one that is judged as good in performance even though there were other people issues, and another who could meet up the expectation irrespective of other contributing factors. Don’t we create end state with our expectations? Revenue and Growth should be by product of Engagement and Learning and not the other way round. Bell Curve has served us enough and it’s high time we retire it for it is creating noise in the system. When we categorize more than 40% of the organization as average performers, don’t we ignore and put off a major chunk of the organization? This forced judgment acquits many people who are good at intentions but failed due to circumstances.

We should courageously create non judgmental environments and convert shop floors and bays into non judgmental ecosystems where we don’t judge people for their hits and misses but value them for effort and intentions. This doesn’t create end states and unfold growth in many folds and in all directions. In the Understanding – Effort index, my journey is how much I’m on an engagement frame of mind with my peers or with the organization. The Understanding Effort axis thus breaks out of this ‘stuckness’ by recognising that learning is a dynamic, never ending process, joyous and valuable in itself without any gain attached to it.

I know i’m again reinforcing on my earlier statement but i firmly believe that Talent is a false God. So if both supervisor and the person being supervised are on a engaged mind set for the growth of an organization, there is learning, there is exploration and i believe this leads to transformation and this leads to superior organization. We have to thus move from fixed ideas of talent, reinforced by poor performance in assessments, to a more engaging frame of mind. It is important to use space to experiment and discover newer ways to engage with content or competencies or skills or wisdom or passion or purpose. In the Talent Performance axis, feedback becomes merely reinforcement of static idea of oneself whereas in the Understanding Effort, feedback becomes a reflection to critical ingredient of learning.

When surgeons can operate in the presence of other doctors, lawyers argue their cases in public view, why should learning or feedback seek the security of closed conversation. In fact, we have to move towards garage concept of public engagement. The performance/competency enhancement automatically happens if one is engaged with each other and with the organisation. If not also, in the longer run, engagement leads to greater collaboration for innovation as well.

So the question in mind is should I therefore categorize people based on their performance (again end state) as Performer, Medium Performer or Non-Performer and create a caste system based on performance and reserve few privileges to a handful of people? Rather I go beyond this static state of performance and move towards a fulfilling process of learning and engagement? Can we therefore identify people who are: Actively Engaged, Engaged, Partially Engaged and Not Engaged and bring them all under an engaging vision and goal to worth striving?

Today my daughter and I finished collecting information about 300 types of insects in her campus and it was a fun filled, engaging and learning experience for both of us. Next we are planning our exploration in Himalayas, another eventful, engaging and learning experience we look forward too.

Un-conditioning for Design Thinking

Let me start with a story from Cricket, for the next World Cup Series is just around the corner. A star batsman who had hit many centuries always finds it difficult to face an in-swinger from a bowler from another country. Their encounters are the most awaited, for people and cricket matter experts wait to watch them come together and play. There had been few instances when the batsman got out because of that bowler. It would be heart breaking the batsman walk away towards the pavilion with his unfinished centuries while he was standing in his 90s. Fellow colleague once said that the legendary Nadal – Federer encounters have become mind game where the game is played in mind while the skills clash at the court.

When people are put in the same situation again and again, how many times do they encounter the situation as if it was their first time? After the third time, it was basically repetitive in nature. People get conditioned for that particular task and there is no creative way or new way to do it. If the activity is trivial and not so significant, it doesn’t affect much. But if the activity is significant like building an enterprise platform for an organization or a transaction platform for a bank, how do we stay out of this trap called, Conditioning. Any act that happens repeatedly becomes an “understanding” whether we are part of it or not. We may argue that we don’t bring in our prejudices in such significant tasks. But any significant task becomes mundane if done repeatedly, be it pottery or building space craft.

When do we give in to conditioning? When does this conditioning start in us? We grow up getting conditioned to the world around us. At first, conditioning was conscious like touching the fire, tasting sugar, tumbling down the stairs. We don’t do it often to test our understanding about fire, gravity etc. But as we start learning about the world, the multitude of learning slowly gave in to complacency and we assume things to be what it is and mostly it is right. The catastrophe begins when this complacent blanket fails to cover our understanding.

When a battalion of soldiers were marching on a metal bridge that was built to move tanks and heavy artillery, no one knew that it would collapse for few tens of men. The architect and engineer “believed” that the bridge could hold three tanks at a time and they saw them move across the bridge some time back. But not it collapsed for 150+ men? It was a lesson that day that when the extrinsic frequency (marching frequency of booted men) matches the innate frequency of a material, it breaks.

The batsman mentioned in the story had conditioned himself to give in to the bowler. What was a difficulty at the beginning – that is to play an in-swinger, when persisted became a conditioning. Hence his repeated dismissals on same pattern!

Most of our activities at work are centered on building up: be in knowledge gain or acquiring programming skills, documentation skills or complex project planning or putting policies and processes in an organization. This might seem to be quite essential and may appear unexceptionable, structures erected by us lovingly, caringly and what I might refer as ‘conditioning’. Despite the efforts put in by us in erecting these structures, we still find ourselves in conflict with each other and ourselves.

Easier said but, how practical is un-conditioning? How to get people together, who are from different backgrounds of conditioning? How do we make them work towards one common purpose? Moving away from metrics this requires finer nuances of managing people.

Connect & Collaborate. Two simple options!

We need to create opportunities for people to connect and collaborate as often as possible or as many number of times as possible. Read from a blog that Google wants its employees to come together more often and most importantly meet casual. Guess they call it as casual collisions. They calculated that it roughly takes 20 minutes for an adult to finish his/her lunch meal. So if a dining table holds four people the chunk of 20 mins is spent speaking to 3 more people mostly from same team or function. So Google made longer table to hold more people. So an employee would get to meet more people and just a chat or share would spark ideas. No clear data on the result of that experiment but I like the thought and effort behind it. It is simply amazing.

All we need to do is get people together, rest will happen. It doesn’t need a boardroom to spark ideas. Google seems to break the conditioning. Ideas can spark anywhere.

At Intellect, we have something called as Benzene structure, identical to Benzene rings six edge shape. It is a small cluster of people consciously constituted to work as a team, whose skill and work are dependent to each other. Say for example, the team might have a coder, a tester, a quality person, an architect, an implementer and a sales guy. If they were to collaborate and configure an application wouldn’t it be one of the best solution built! Wouldn’t it cover all the perspectives and save a lot of time and energy. This is working magic for us. And this structure is fast getting implemented in our organization. All we did was break the conditioning of silos and made people connect and collaborate where their individual output in connected to collective delivery.

Conditioning can be even unconscious, but it takes conscious effort to break away from patterns of conditioning. I agree with the author who says it takes questioning beliefs, assumptions, opinions and prejudices which we strongly and conveniently held. It calls for moving away from biases, being open to input and acting without heeding into our likes and dislikes. Such sanyasic way of working yields unconditioned mind – that which is unwavering in the dims and fancies of expectations and results!

It is Mindful way of working. Robin Sharma’s quote goes to say that ‘Don’t live the same year 70 times and call it a life.’ Choosing to ignore the limited understanding and learning every time helps in jumping over the trap of conditioning.

We have accumulated multitudes of inputs and are conditioned over the years. A manager requested his reporting executive to take a psychometric test to understand the skills of the later. The manager had seen him working for few months. When the executive takes the same psychometric test after three years, definitely there will be difference in his profile. But had his reporting manager changed his perspective/opinion about him?

Steve Jobs of Apple in 2007 said that apple wouldn’t allow third party app developers to develop iTunes apps. Steve was a head high leader and was assertive in this decision. On seeing growing demand of apps and increasing competitors, he later in 2008 opened it to people to develop apps for iTunes. Contradicting one’s own belief is not seen as a failure. It is un-conditioning. Subtle trait for a Leader!

I read a journal from my daughter’s school in which the writer talks about two farmers who had their lands next to each other. One grew apple and the other, pine. Their fathers from whom they inherited the land had a fence and believed in strong fence for good neighborhood. Neither of the sons had cows that could trespass but still they continued to retain the fence. Do they need a fence between an apple orchard and a pine plantation?