Can performance-tracking systems be biased? How can you ensure that the way you are monitoring your staff is not biased? In this article, we explore ways in which performance tracking can go wrong and cover ways to optimize your systems while ensuring the monitoring is equally fair for both the business and the people.
Sandra Gouveia·December 05, 2022·7 min read
To track or not to track performance: is that even a question nowadays?
Back in the days when computers were not an office norm, most employees would not feel the added pressure to perform. However, with the introduction of new technologies and methods of working, it’s becoming easier and easier to track employee performance in the corporate world.
Now how companies track their employee’s work depends on the organizational culture. Are they tracking individual or team performance, perhaps both? Are employees being held accountable for deliverables and tasks that are dependent on other team members, departments, leaders, and even the market?
Can performance-tracking systems be biased? Yes. But how can you ensure that the way you are monitoring your staff is not biased?
Let’s explore ways in which performance tracking can go wrong and cover ways to optimize your systems while ensuring the monitoring is equally fair for both the business and the people.
In theory, the quantification of performance makes sense: people who do better at their jobs should be rewarded more than those who don't, right? You'd think so. But as with most things in life, there are some flaws with this way of thinking—and the main flaw is that it can make certain employees feel disempowered at work and eventually disengaged.
But first things first: what exactly is performance tracking? It's an organizational tool that allows employers to collect data on how well employees perform their job duties over time. Performance tracking can take many forms depending on what kind of work environment you work in; some companies keep track of everything from how many hours employees spend working on projects to how many times they answer customer service emails during normal business hours. In addition to tracking these metrics, some companies also require employees to fill out surveys about their own performance—in essence, making them rate themselves.
Have you ever thought about what it would be like to work for a company that didn't track your performance? What would it be like if your manager didn't know how often you missed deadlines or how many times you did not attend important meetings? How about if they didn't know what your deliverables were?
If we're being honest with ourselves, that kind of culture is essentially unworkable. Imagine going into a meeting and having no one show up to it. Or having an assistant consistently failing at booking venues for special events. The idea that clear expectations, roles, and deadlines are necessary for productivity should hardly come as a surprise.
If you're like most people, you've probably been taught something like this:
- The ultimate goal for any employee in a company is to be the most productive and deliver the most results in the least amount of time;
- Productivity is the amount of output that can be created in a given period of time;
- Therefore, to increase productivity, we must do visible things that increase output.
But here's what you probably don’t know: productivity is actually not the same thing as performance or effectiveness or quality or creativity (or any number of other things). It's just one way of measuring how much stuff got done during a certain period of time—and that measurement can have very little to do with actual work being done well or poorly.
So to be productive doesn’t necessarily mean to be efficient or to be delivering great results and supporting the business in the best possible way. You can seem productive by promptly replying to 50 emails or messages in a day but it doesn’t necessarily mean that the work you did was the one that deliver the highest value to the business or had great quality. Here comes the question: are you adding value or keeping yourself busy?
The issue with performance-based data is not its existence—it's how we use it. Performance metrics should be used in conjunction with other methods of evaluation such as peer and self-assessment, creative thinking exercises (like brainstorming), and qualitative feedback from direct managers, and peers.
Performance metrics shouldn't be the only way to measure creativity because some people will feel forced into the status quo for fear of being evaluated poorly by their superiors based on numbers alone.
Creative workers tend to be non-process people meaning they often struggle with performance. Many times ideas and solutions surge in inconsistent bursts of “flow” states. This often includes hours of staring at a screen, taking several short breaks, surfing the internet for completely unrelated topics, and so on. The creative process might then require a new definition of productivity since it's not the same as getting things done.
So instead of focusing on tight schedules, creatives should be given autonomy and flexibility. The results delivered, the timeliness and compliance, plus the quality of the work (determined subjectively by client satisfaction) are some of the aspects that can be more fairly evaluated.
There are two sides to the performance tracking coin: it can be used as an effective means of measuring employee performance and productivity, or it can be a tool that misleads and potentially harms employees. And the latter is what you should be concerned with.
It is a very common practice in many companies because it allows employers to gauge how well their employees are performing their jobs. They can also use this data for things like determining raises and promotions based on those results. While this seems like it would benefit both parties involved—the employer has accurate information about which employees need improvement and/or recognition, while the employee gets clear feedback from his or her superiors—there are some downsides that may not get addressed until after an employee has left a job because of them.
For example, if you have worked at your current position for more than a year without getting any raises or promotions despite receiving positive feedback during monthly reviews, then there might be something wrong with how your company measures “performance” (in this case probably meaning production output). Maybe instead of focusing on quantity over quality when looking at how well someone produces their work, organizations should focus more on quality. Otherwise, they run the risk of losing good talent who want better paychecks but aren't willing to compromise their integrity just because managers demand higher numbers from them.
Performance tracking is an instrument that, like a car or a power tool, can be used for good or ill. The first step to optimizing your performance tracking is to understand what it's actually measuring: work productivity, not quality—and the latter requires more than just code churn and test coverage. You also need to know how work processes usually work to make adjustments based on real data rather than wishful thinking and gut feeling.
If you're going to use performance tracking at all, be sure that you have a human-centered culture where people are valued more than their output alone; otherwise, they'll resent having their work monitored so heavily and will find ways around it (which may result in worse quality). Also, make sure not to forget about other important aspects of work such as creativity or empathy.
Another important aspect to consider in performance tracking is trust. Some individuals know what works for them. These people only need clear, measurable goals, and are then able to manage themselves. Others might need more guidance and support which can be offered in the form of mentoring, coaching, or workshops. Trust can then be built by offering flexible work options and suggesting adequate self-tracking methods and tools. This way you are treating your employees as adults, empowering them to decide how to do their jobs, while at the same time, encouraging them to take accountability for their deliverables.
Would you like to improve your employee productivity and engagement without having to set up strict and restrictive systems? Get in touch with us and learn how to build self-managing, high-performing teams using our Team Selfie Assessment and the Semco Style Roadmap.
This article was written with the help of AI