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Motivation by Career Development

James M. Wilmott

Joy and Resentment

The announcement of an individual’s promotion above his peers usually is an event filled with mixed feelings among coworkers. These individuals typically experience joy at their colleague’s good fortune, combined with resentment and confusion about what the promoted employee did to deserve this recognition. Comparisons are made with their own accomplishments and, inevitably the deserving, non-promoted individuals may feel loss and resentment. The latter situation usually produces either sarcastic comments or negative thoughts and emotions that are suppressed internally.

Ironically, the promotion of an individual that management would like to be a motivating event can deplete morale. In questioning why, responsible management may find employees feeling wounded that they are not receiving a similar distinction. After all, most employees feel that they work hard, complete assignments and contribute to the company’s success. They also may be angry at the boss who they perceive is showing partiality to one employee over another.

Perhaps another, more valid, interpretation is that these sentiments arise from confusion rather than resentment. The rationale used by the supervisor to justify the promotion to the management of the organization generally is not communicated to the staff. Despite the best efforts of most human resources departments, especially in large organizations, the promotion process is not well understood. It’s like the proverbial black box. Occasionally a promotion pops out of the box, but how it was achieved often is a mystery to the rank and file.

Typically, each supervisor establishes the criteria for a promotion, but what one supervisor feels is important may not be the same as the next supervisor. Worse, an employee might really be striving to improve in a particular area or at a particular task, only to find that the supervisor does not feel that skill or task is very important. Is it any wonder why an employee might feel confused and somewhat despondent?

Promotions usually are perceived as the winning of a competition for one of the limited positions in corporate hierarchy. If employees are not the winners, then by default they are the losers. After all, there are only so many positions available at each level, and they become fewer and fewer the higher one progresses. The traditional organization has a pyramidal structure with the professional, i.e. functional, positions at the base and managerial positions at the top. There always are far more people at the lower levels competing for an ever-diminishing number of positions along with the real or imagined perks that come with being higher up the corporate ladder.

Unfortunately, this organizational structure fosters corporate politics aimed at promoting oneself at the expense of others. In effect, individual employees are involved in a conscious or unconscious campaign to focus and advertise not only their positive attributes, but also to highlight the factual or fictional flaws of any rivals. As a consequence, cooperation among members of a department is minimal and sharing of information is the exception. The situation fosters a climate of secrecy out of fear that the information shared will be used by a rival to promote himself in the eyes of the supervisor.

Many managers of human resources departments confuse what one does with how one does it and inadvertently support this feeling of competition. Simply completing an assignment is not enough to determine whether a person should get additional responsibilities that go along with a promotion. Those in charge of promotability must also take into account how one completes the assignment. This factor often is a better measure of the individual’s ability to handle additional responsibility in a manner consistent with the ethical standards of the organization.

Once a manager has decided who should fill the higher position, that decision inevitably creates a feeling of lost self-esteem and hopelessness in the non-promoted employees. This situation often catalyzes the non-promoted employees to look for work elsewhere so they can feel appreciated, taking with them the training and experience that they received while on the job.

In the spirit of career development, human resources will sponsor training courses to select levels in the organization. Since everyone at that level is receiving essentially the same training, and since each person is completing assignments, it is little wonder why there is a lack of understanding by peers why a particular individual is singled-out for advancement. Obviously, there are other reasons for the selection, but these are not explained to the rank and file. As a result, the current process provides grist for the rumor mill where any explanation is fair game. Typically, these are very unflattering and, in some cases, almost libelous. As a responsible manager, you must ask what can be done in the process that will leave both the employees and management feeling like winners?

Job Performance vs. Career Management

Maximum satisfaction requires an understanding of the clear distinction between job performance and career management. Most organizations try to merge these two concepts. Performance is defined as the execution of pre-established or implied goals and objectives. By contrast, career development is defined as the understanding of the skills and expectations required as one ascends the corporate ladder. This is combined with the preparation of a rational program designed to assist individuals in acquiring the training needed to enhance these skills as well as applying them successfully in their jobs. In other words, performance is focused on the what-to-do while career assessment concentrates on the skills needed to get it done.

It is extremely important that these distinctions be appreciated in creating a corporate evaluation program. To avoid confusion, job performance and career development should be evaluated separately during the course of the year. The elements of the performance and career development programs include the key documents that drive each program and the event that determines the relative level of compliance in fulfilling the commitments.

Evaluating Performance

When evaluating performance, managers should focus on an individual’s accomplishments for the year as viewed by management and the employee. It must be determined whether the employee completed selected goals and responsibilities in a competent, high-quality and timely manner. These goals should be developed carefully in advance based on the corporate financial and commercial targets for that particular year. These goals and objectives represent the contract made between the employees and their supervisors, who represent the position of the company.

Progress toward completing these goals should be reviewed regularly both formally and informally throughout the year. In this way, the performance review becomes a dynamic, living document. Such reviews may not be done as often as one would like due to the daily pressures of the job. Ideally they are conducted at clear moments when either the manager or the employee feels they can point to a specific accomplishment. This would then be incorporated into the living review document.

Revisions to the initial goals should be made when necessary to reflect changes in corporate direction. Such changes typically come as the result of a shift in the market, in corporate strategy or in the regulations governing the market. They also may occur as a result of changes in corporate management or ownership. A formal review should occur annually with the measurement of progress toward completing the goals and objectives initially discussed between the supervisor and the employee. The degree of completion must be considered in light of the factors the employees had within their control. For example, were sufficient human and monetary resources available? Did the corporation change direction? Was there an acquisition? These and other factors need to be considered carefully in order to accurately assess the degree of success at completing the goals.

One also can ask whether the initial goals were realistic in light of prevailing priorities of the organization. The overall level of goal completion then can serve as the basis for the amount of raise or bonus employees will receive in recognition of their efforts to support the organization’s success during the preceding year. The establishment of relevant goals is a critical step in making the performance evaluation meaningful. These must be coordinated with the strategic objectives of the company.

Corporate management must set these objectives clearly. Inevitably the strategies evolve from the company’s mission statement. Unfortunately, such statements often are very general in their wording since it is the view of the organization from 60,000 feet. The strategic direction set by lower management should complement the mission statement. For example, the statement “maximize the potential of every member of the staff” helps support the desire of the company to be number one, and it also fulfills the part of the second phrase of improving the lives of its employees. Such strategies are usually prepared for enhancing corporate image, staff development, financial expectations, product or service offerings and short- and long-term vision.

Objectives or goals are the clarification of the designated strategies. For example, a financial strategy might be to optimize shareholder value by enhancing operating margin; increasing earnings before depreciation, interest and taxes (EBDIT); maximizing revenue; or some other financial measure. An objective of this strategy would be to grow sales by 50% in the next five years, or to increase EBDIT from 8% to 10% in two years. The goals of every department in the organization must tie into the corporate goals. The steps each level of the organization will take to achieve these goals are specific to the department, or the individual, and define the tactics that will be used to achieve the corporate goals.

Once employees fully understand the corporate strategies, corporate objectives and their department goals, then they can, and should be, an active participant in drafting their specific goals and tactics for the upcoming year. When both management and the employees accept these goals, they become a contract for expectations during the upcoming year. With regular review, both the supervisor and employee can monitor progress throughout the year. This contract is a dynamic document and should be modified periodically to ensure that it still is germane to the corporate objectives. An employee’s goals and objectives then serve as the basis for the yearly performance review. Input from both supervisor and employee are critical in order to keep the living document alive.

No Surprises

The results of a year-end performance review should never be a surprise. In fact, a sizeable part of the review can be completed by the employee and enhanced with input from others in the organization.

Another advantage of the performance review is that it begins to identify perceived reasons why the performance either exceeded or was below expectations. Performance below expectations usually is the result of personal, psychological or physiological issues or a lack of the required skills to do the job. Performance above expectation is the result of exceptional effort or high proficiency, creativity or motivation in particularly relevant skills. This is the definition of competency or talent. Recognizing the deficiency or possession of such skills can support employees with their career development and bring satisfaction to the acceptable level desired by both management and employee alike.

Skills and Knowledge Development

While the employee’s performance determines what was done, and its impact on the company’s success, it is equally critical to determine how the task was done. It is in knowing the how that provides the organization the means to determine whether the individual can be successful executing future assignments and responsibilities, i.e., is the person promotable?

In virtually every company, no matter how well-intentioned the human resources effort, this process is a mystery to the staff. The lack of understanding by all involved typically produces the aforementioned mixed emotional response that occurs when a promotion is announced. Inevitably the process is so subjective that it confuses the staff instead of providing the motivational impetus that it should have.

Of paramount importance in developing a career program is the identification of the skills and knowledge that are necessary to meet the demands of the variety of jobs in the organization. These skills will likely vary from department to department within the company. For example, the skills needed at various levels in the accounting/finance department will be markedly different than those of sales, production, R&D or marketing. Regardless of the department, the skills needed to be successful at every level within that department must be recognized, identified and communicated to management and employees alike.

It also must be recognized that skills and knowledge are not static. They must be developed continually and augmented by the employees to optimize their value to the organization especially in a rapidly changing world of technology and business.

By knowing the skills needed for a particular profession individuals can assess whether their aptitude or talent to perform that skill will ever allow them to reach the highest levels in that field. If one is challenged artistically, he can improve his artistic ability to a point, but it is unlikely he will ever be a great artist. Matching one’s ability and talent with the skills needed for a job is the essence of career planning. This is best accomplished by mutual input from the employee and supervisor alike.

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