Tracking Performance Equitably

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“Jane Jacobs argued, contrary to common wisdom in the 1960’s, that streets are safer when more people are on them. They are also safer when people are able and willing to watch the street from windows. InThe Death and Life of Great American Cities, she explains how to make public streets and public spaces secure. Her ideas are a prescription for real crime prevention, not simply a way to achieve a feeling of security. Safe, well-used streets are inherently livable streets.”

Following the wisdom of Jacobs and by applying her principles to labor supervision, I created and adopted this recognition system template in the summer of 2013, later known as the “student worker acknowledgement grid — or swag sheet,” to quickly collect data on the work habit and work ethic of my students, liked the results and later used it with my workers.

This tracking system gave us real-time performance data that:

  • required supervisors to become more engaged with the work of their subordinates,
  • allowed us to give specific and periodic recognition (based upon the principles outlined in Aubrey Daniels book “Bringing Out the Best in People”),
  • track growth/ regression of our workers, &
  • gave the inexperienced workers a sense that the management was involved with their success.

This experiment actually resulted in a significantly measurable rate of improved performance.

The swag sheets were effective I believe for the following reasons:

1) Required supervisors to become more engaged with the work of their subordinates: rather than sit around and dictating orders or assignments, supervisors were expected to walk around the building, identify the name and appearance of each of their subordinates.  Often after the workers had gotten to know their supervisors better, they’d ask about the data collection and once the students knew they were being watched and recorded, they were much more willing to complete their tasks because they didn’t want a track record that they weren’t contributing. Supervisors were either enthusiastic or apprehensive about collecting data and most were very good about finding out other information about their workers, helping them find supplies or troubleshoot difficulty they may have been having, or letting the supervisor know of potential scheduling conflicts.  In previous years, because the roles weren’t clearly defined and supervisors weren’t involved at this level, there was a lot of confusion between supervisors and workers about who was working, when, which or whether supervisors should be approached about concerns, etc., so the swag sheets were effective in alleviating quite a bit of that confusion.  The swag sheets also made it easier for supervisors to pass information along quickly about what tasks had been assigned and to whom when they were switching shifts.

2) Allowed us to give specific and periodic recognition (based upon the principles outlined in Aubrey Daniels book “Bringing Out the Best in People”), Daniels talks about the failure of annual performance appraisals and employee of the month initiatives to motivate employees and how the rate of improvement in employee performance could be significantly achieved using specific positive reinforcement.  You can read more about Daniels work here in the publication Positive Reinforcement: Misunderstood and Misused.

3) Tracked growth/ regression of our workers: this allowed us to be able to track performance issues related to supervisor engagement, the impact of policy changes on worker performance and retention, or areas of mismanagement.  It also helped us to identify and reaffirm the things we were doing right.  We could look at indicators like absenteeism, history of task completion and so on to identify when workers were suffering from issues outside of work, to track illnesses, time falsification and even incidents of worker fraternization.

4) Gave our inexperienced workers a sense that the management was involved with their success: the increase in oversight and involvement improved employee attitudes and most workers saw the passive approach to monitoring less invasive because they’d received an increase in communication. As a result we’ve had one of the highest employee and leadership retention rates in the history of our department in a very long time.

So I suppose we have that to be proud of.

So, You’ve Finally Figured Out Why People Love to Hate Millennials

I recently read this article “I Finally Figured Out Why People Love to Hate Millennials” in which Jewelyn Cosgrove explores why many employers believe millennials are lazy, entitled narcissists and whether this perception should be viewed as an accurate depiction.

Lately, I have run across more and more articles bashing millennials. It’s the spigot that won’t stop, and why not, when the articles are just the type of fast-food philosophy to perform spectacularly well on the internet? Most recently, Elizabeth Wurtzel jumped on the (clearly very popular) anti-millennial bandwagon with a nonsensical tirade about the “lamest generation.”

It’s certainly not the first time a journalist has investigated this topic, and after reading Derek Thompson‘s article “Adulthood, Delayed: What Has the Recession Done to Millennials?” from the Atlantic, I imagine it won’t be the last.

I grew up as an 80’s baby, but I went back to school in 2008 to finish up my degree and learned very quickly as a non-traditional student that learning how to work with millennials would be nothing short of an adventure.  You don’t really realize how perplexing you must have been to the older generation until you find yourself in their shoes.  Millennials value  autonomy, freedom of expression and quite frankly they don’t always realize when you’re genuinely trying to help. Watching them make mistakes and try to make sense of the world can be incredibly painful at times; especially when they cast aside any expectations that we believe may compromise their future or their promise.

…like I once had a student who refused to go to the hospital for treatment after having an anaphylactic reaction because he’d concluded that just using an epi-pen would increase his chances of getting accepted into the air force.  Despite my admonitions, he chose not to out of concern that any medical documentation of his condition would jeopardize his chance of receiving an air force commission.

But looking back, I wonder whether this generation is really more headstrong than any other.  More often than not, I have also found many millennials to be incredibly bright, insightful and just a pleasure to work with.  But what I’ve also found is that as I’ve transitioned back out of college and into the working world, that I’ve also fallen prey to much of the bias and cynicism that millennials face at the entry level due to my freakishly youthful appearance.

I found this particularly vexing at times when I accidentally reinforced those perceptions when I got really excited about a new idea (esp. if my students were receptive to it) or caught myself actively trying to prove my worth to upper management. I can definitely say that I’ve experienced both sides of the equation as both a caretaker to millennials in the workforce and as an entry level associate.  What I have discovered is that my unique role floating between both of these worlds is that even though I feel a bit out of place at times (and have dedicated numerous hours to the study of both of these worlds), that once you understand how the brain works and how patterns of behavior shape what motivates people, it becomes much easier to articulate to millennials what’s expected of them as well as to help their caretakers better understand how to reach them.

What are your thoughts, would you agree with Jewelyn Cosgrove’s stance against millennial bashing? Or do you think millennials really deserve the reputation used to describe them.