How is performance-truth decided in your organisation?

Many of us work in roles where our performance cannot be represented by an objective measure that neatly sums us up, and yet many of our performance management systems demand we do just that.

A lot of what we do has a fuzzy impact, with ambiguous barely-detectable results; results that ripple over longer timelines than the yearly appraisal cycle. In some cases our impact might be negative in the short-term because we want to make a lasting change in the long-term: change curves go down before they go up.

This is especially true when learning new skills, because there are phases of incompetence you have to struggle through if you want to gain competence at something new.

Even without these complications it is difficult to judge the full range and quality of what our colleagues do. We might see them dealing with a difficult customer so skillfully that they make it look easy, so we under-value how much legwork they put in to achieve this level of performance and so we mentally tot it up as routine. Then we move on, only catching glimpses of other people because we’re busy with so much else, those glimpses being more memorable if they ping a bias (or heuristic) such as “confirmation” (it confirms what we thought anyway) or “effect” (we have an emotional response to it) – but these superficial glimpses don’t stop us jumping to subjective judgements and thinking we’re seeing the objective truth about someone’s performance.

If that so-called “performance truth” is decided by people “thinking fast” (Daniel Kahneman), and confirmed by hierarchy rather than expertise, then we’re in trouble.

To quote Ryan Holiday (from The Daily Stoic):

because our senses are often wrong, our emotions overly alarmed, our projections overly optimistic, we’re better off not rushing into conclusions about anything

And this doesn’t change when you get promoted.

Continue reading “How is performance-truth decided in your organisation?”

Who are you going to believe, me or your lying brain?

Hi I’m John, and I’m biased.

I am not the only one. You are too.

In fact all human beings are born with a set of biases and mental shortcuts that help us survive and deal with the world around us.

In the past such biases were vital to survival.

We didn’t need to worry about being fair and inclusive when we were living in caves; we were more concerned with finding the next woolly mammoth and avoiding being eaten by lions.

Issues such as creating a diverse community were way down our priority list.

Back then, if we automatically feared the unknown person from the outsider tribe down the road, at worst we’d lose out on what could have been a beautiful friendship. If we got it wrong the other way around, including someone dangerous in our group, then we’d have likely lost our heads – literally – and evolution favours people with heads … ergo survivors are more likely to be suspicious of strangers.

The issue of bias goes beyond how we jump to conclusions about other people.

It includes how we approach all kinds of incoming information, especially that which contradicts what we think is true – again, evolving on the savanna didn’t equip us to distinguish the good data wheat from the misleading chaff; instead it left us transfixed by shiny objects and distracted by movement.

This was important functionality back in the day when it was vital to spot unexpected movement in the bushes – but times have changed, and being distracted by a TV screen when someone’s trying to talk to you is now more a bug than a feature, reducing our ability to perform, not enhancing it.

Now that we live and work in a multicultural global environment we need to broaden our vision beyond our own narrow bias-filled perspectives if we want to make good decisions.

This isn’t easy.

In fact a lot of biases will persist even if you are aware of them and intellectually believe they are wrong … but we can only manage what we’re aware of, and whilst we cannot rid ourselves of these hardwired shortcuts, we can change our behaviour to move beyond them.

I discussed all this (and more) in a recent Trainer Tools podcast with Paul Tizzard, and talked through a workshop I have delivered on the subject – including my favourite ever illusion:

In the picture above, squares A and B are actually the same colour.

Continue reading “Who are you going to believe, me or your lying brain?”