I was recently discussing the pros and cons of various personnel review and commitment systems/styles with a close colleague of mine. She was saying something like, “It’s just like a horse race. One year you put your all into the race and win. The next year you put just as much effort and work into the race as the year before, if not more, and nine others finish ahead of you.” The implication is that this gives the folks putting on the race the impetus to……what? Give last year’s horse sugar for running a great race? Trying the horse at different races? Retiring the horse to pasture?
It seems that the climate in many organizations implies a future involving a glue factory. Why is this?
First of all, people are not horses (to call out the obvious first…). I think some organizations miss this.
Those who have groomed and trained the horse put up any number of earlier races where perhaps the horse didn’t do so well, but showed potential…..say, finishing fifth. They continue to invest in the horse with training, care, better jockeys (I don’t want to think about jockeys in this analogy, but needed to mention it at least once…) and so on. They keep running the horse in any number of more races, different venues, different odds and work to identify what might help the horse to do well. This takes time and nurture.
Still, in a race there is only one #1. Does that make all other horses in the race immediate glue candidates? I think not. The owners have invested WAY too much into them to just drop them into a vat. Their value lies beyond whether or not they top out at #1, despite the structure of a race where only one horse can actually win.
So, what does this look like when you get past the analogy and into the world of work?
I believe that a company hires people for the benefit of the company, but a company is made up of people, so there is always a human, personal element in what we do….or there should be. In his book “The Seven Day Weekend: Changing the Way Work Works“, Ricardo Semler relates numerous stories of employees at his company, Semco, that are encouraged to move from business unit to business unit if it helps them find the Semco team or project that they really click with and are allowed to deliver on that passion. The company takes ownership for the hiring decision they made in bringing the person on-board, and works with that person to “find them a home”. By all accounts, it works pretty well. It’s more difficult and undoubtedly harder to manage than a simple “keep/toss” structure, but the company benefits as does the person in question. Semler and his company seem very aware of the human facet of who they are as a company and the impact of what they do as a business on other businesses, as well as upon the people of Semco.
So what is the point here?
It is one I mention repeatedly because it is lost sight of constantly: Be responsible. Treat others with respect and civility. Do not shoot or whip the horse. Sugar and an opportunity at a fruitful retirement, along with support, guidance, investment and encouragement will take us to the end of the journey much more profitably than shooting every horse that doesn’t finish at #1.