2007 – Canvassing employees is the best measure of
The first full week back at work after the Christmas and
New Year breaks is the busiest time of the year for divorce
lawyers according to research among law firms published
earlier this week.
The findings didn’t surprise me. Christmas is an
unsettling time for all relationships, including those in
the workplace. While recruitment traditionally experiences
a lull at the end of December, it gathers pace again quickly
in January after companies have reviewed their teams and
ambitions for the coming 12 months.
Too often managers forget that individuals are reviewing
their own circumstances at the same time. So, as a rule
of thumb, it’s probably better to delay any large
scale personnel changes for a month until the dust has settled
after New Year departures and arrivals.
I welcome the end-of-year break as an opportunity to reflect
on new ideas. This may explain why I spent part of the first
week in January on a photography course re-learning the
fundamentals of single lens reflex cameras and how they
are applied in digital photography.
Photography used to be quite straightforward. There were
a few things to learn such as aperture settings and how
they relate to film speed and shutter speed. Today adjustments
once confined to the darkroom are replicated in software
which has introduced so many other possibilities.
The software works best when handling “Raw”
images, so-called because they consist of unprocessed digital
information. It struck me that there were parallels to be
drawn between the processing of photographic images and
the processing of work.
Like most work, photography is a combination of technical
skill and artistry where the results of both are clearly
visible in the final image. Ours was an evenly mixed group
of men and women.
“When we start taking photographs on the courses
I almost always find that the women achieve the best results,”
said our trainer John Clements, who specialises in Nikon
This should come as no surprise. While men are burying
themselves in the technical details, women are creating
the image they want to see in their frame. Accepting the
generalisation - not all men ignore artistry and not all
women shy away from technical considerations – it
does help to explain some of the tensions in approaches
to performance management.
For more than a hundred years since Frederick Taylor first
used technical measurements to wrest management power from
workshop artisans, work has been under the microscope of
The earliest applications of scientific management, particularly
when combined with moving assembly, were decried for the
way that they treated people like machines. Today it is
fashionable to discredit Taylorism yet its principles remain
in many of the measurement systems applied in modern performance
At the end of my course I received a little certificate,
not that I had taken any tests. It was clear as I attempted
to apply the learning over the next few days that I remained
as raw as my images in the technical work. But I know how
to frame a photograph so the results are passable.
A similar situation arises when new management processes
are introduced among people who have been doing the same
jobs for years. A shop manager I know was complaining about
newly introduced sales targets set by her head office.
“The targets are meaningless. If I reach them I
get little recognition for having done so and new targets
are immediately imposed. The managers are never satisfied,”
she said. In this shop there are standard arrangements for
every bit of merchandise and staff are coached in ways to
make additional sales such as selling the polish, for example,
to go with a pair of new shoes.
In reality I rarely come across great service in shops,
partly because good service involves building an instant
rapport with the customer and few people have that skill.
I went into one shop last week with the aim of buying a
leather chair. I found one that was much cheaper than others
on sale in the store. It looked a good buy and the assistant
“Why is it so much cheaper?” I asked. “Well,
it’s just not in the same league as our other chairs,”
she said. In that one short sentence she not only lost the
sale, but others too, since I don’t feel inclined
to go back. How many customers want to think they are buying
things that are second class? It was a lesson learned many
years ago, to his cost, by Gerald Ratner, when he told delegates
at a business conference that the product range in Ratner’s
jewellery stores was “total crap”.
If the assistant had continued to stress the good value
and serviceability of the chair, if she had possessed one
scintilla of empathy for her potential customer, her sale
would have been in the bag.
How well, I wonder, would this company have rated under
management author Fred Reichheld’s “net promoter
score” that ranks customer service on the likelihood
of customers recommending a company to others? The same
principle can and has been used among graduate job candidates,
rating their experiences with specific companies.
In fact the ranking of companies among employees is spreading
on the internet within sites such as WhereWomenWantToWork.com
that rates employment experiences for women and Jobvent.com,
a US-based web site that asks employees to award points
to their employers over a range of criteria.
As these rankings grow in popularity, so companies will
feel the need to respond. It is imperative, therefore, before
external employer rankings grab a dominating influence of
customer and job candidate behaviour, that companies co-operate
over generic measurement systems that are going to add meaning
to their businesses.
The Reichheld measure was criticised by John Fleming,
a customer engagement specialist at the Gallup Organisation,
writing in the December issue of the Gallup Management Journal.
Given the multi-faceted approach of Gallup Measurement it
was not surprising to find criticism of Mr Reichheld’s
claim to have found a single killer measure.
But Mr Fleming’s argument that detailed analysis
requires a variety of cause-and-effect measures need not
be at odds with a plea for a more simplistic approach.
For more than a year now, the Human Capital Standards
Group has been discussing the need for generic metrics and
the reporting of those metrics in annual company reviews.
As debate has progressed, the thinking has settled around
a combination of hard and qualitative measures.
When dealing with people I believe that counting things
has only so much value against measuring the climate of
opinion. If you ask people, for example, how well they believe
they are being managed, the answers they give when compared
year-on-year will prove a useful indication. It can’t
tell a company everything but, when asked with a batch of
other questions and supplemented with existing business
knowledge, there is the opportunity to develop a richness
of employee information that can inform future management
But no amount of measurement can replace good management
and leadership. Just as no amount of technical knowledge
will create a great photograph. There has to be something
in human achievement – call it talent – that
escapes our best efforts at measurement. We all know it
when we see it but some important constituent will remain
See also: Campaigning
for human capital standards