Comments on Measuring Values in Employee Performance

Monday, May 4th, 2009

A client in the US federal government asked me if it were possible to measure values along with other performance indicators in the appraisal process. The Human Resources Department of that agency said “No.” I was skeptical, so I asked readers of Tools for a Change (my e-mail newsletter). Here’s what they said:

From Federal Government

Regarding the response you received below, the first page of our individual performance plans lists a whole range of expected values (we call them administrative requirements) of which each individual will be assessed. They include teamwork, respect for others, fostering a cooperative environment, appreciating differences, customer responsiveness, and mentoring. – Len Genova

From a City Government

The city began piloting a centralized call center in March of this year. Among our charges, prior to the start of the pilot, was to create a mission statement and develop standards for performance.

Our mission statement identifies, specifically, the values we have adopted for this initiative, and the standards we developed relate back to one or more of the values. BTW, the values are Accountability, Competence, Courtesy, Efficiency, Service, and Satisfaction (or ACCESS).  Performance absolutely must reflect these values. – Gwen Bryant

From a City Library

Sorry, but our evaluations at the library invariably list only measurable behaviors: time and attendance, programming skills, outreach goals accomplished, etc. I don’t think anyone told us we couldn’t do it, but, out of habit, I don’t believe it’s a routine addition to appraisals.

In the “comments” section, you can certainly list how Jane’s teamwork or John’s flexibility are helpful in the workplace, but you’ll rarely, if ever, see a separate category and a numerical ranking attached. Probably because we’re chicken: nobody wants to tell Jane that she is a slimy, unethical rat, or John that he is an overrated know-it-all with no respect for his colleagues. Hope this helps. – Doreen Woods

From a Corporation

We have performance objectives for both employees and leaders that evaluate our values. Energizing the team, creating an inclusive working environment, creating relationships, etc. were established because it was discovered that even when production objectives were met, there were bodies in the wake of that accomplishment. So, the values were instituted and measured to make sure that “how” the goals were met was as important as actually meeting them. – Heather Bryant

General Comments

I can’t reference specific government agencies that rate values, but I just completed the design of a performance appraisal that is based on the organization’s core values, including integrity, respect for others, etc.

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The appraisal documents demonstrations/evidence of behaviors that support core values. In my opinion, if an appraisal is not structured around the intersection of personal and organizational values, I’m afraid it has missed the point. – Ellie Hooks

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Just a few thoughts in regards to your question regarding values in performance reviews. I can see how a firm might balk at trying to measure whether its employees meet an objective measure, but I think it’s short-sighted. That, in itself, may be an indicator of organizational values in play (and missing).

If the issue is measuring values that have already been adopted, say teamwork, from your example, then perhaps some behaviors could be mapped, like responsiveness, facilitation skills, communication skills, evidence of commitment to a team or project goal. To some extent, these could be measured and reported.

If the firm won’t accept this amount of fuzziness into their formal performance management, then maybe there should be a distinction between the inputs and outputs. The firm only wants to hear about outputs, but it’s the improvement of the work activities that gets better outputs (notwithstanding changes in strategy, environment, and luck). So maybe the values and mapped behaviors can be used along with coaching to help people improve skills and abilities, leading to better work, which would lead to better performance outputs. It would be hard to get organizational support for a process like this since the coaching part is based on something that’s not considered legitimate. No one would want to spend time on it unless the leaders bless it.

Then I think we’re back to values of the organization. If the leaders don’t believe that measuring values is valuable, it will be a difficult, maybe un-winnable, battle to get them to care about something different. If you can make the case to the leaders for some measurements that have a direct effect on the measures they do care about, then maybe you can get it started.  From your description, it sounds like the HR person will not help to drive this, and you’d have to find a more credible route to the executives. – Rick Fowler

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This VERY narrow-minded view of values and performance completely negates one of the most important elements of producing results, that is the human element.  While these numerical elements are easier to measure, they are driven (in many instances) by the human dynamic of teamwork and cooperation which produce more long lasting results.

Just another thought.  This HR department, evidently, forgot about this dynamic somewhere along the way. – Ted Hughes

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