Saturday, October 12, 2013

Performance Evaluations, Knowledge Management and Gamification

I've never liked performance evaluations.  Who does? The employee is cynical about it. The manager is cynical about it.  Why bother?  Under current circumstances, I am no different from anyone else.  I can't escape it.  It's part of "business-as-usual".  From a knowledge management perspective, I hear time and time again that knowledge sharing and other knowledge management activities should be part of an employee's performance evaluation.  As soon as I start imagining what that would look like, I cringe.

  • "How many lessons learned did you write this year?"
  •  "How many knowledge sharing workshops did you attend?" 
  •  "How did you share your knowledge?"
  •  "Did you coach or mentor someone?"
I fear that adding Knowledge Management questions to a faulty performance evaluation process will not add a great deal of value.

Solutions often emerge out of personal frustration with processes. Faced with the prospect of yet another useless performance evaluation I came up with a variation.  I didn't ask for any changes to the process (I typically don't try to rock the boat).  I simply gave it a personal interpretation. I had recently taken a course on gamification (a MOOC) and while I had a hard time figuring out exactly how to use that new knowledge directly in the context of the work I was doing around knowledge management, I could certainly experiment with some gamification within a more personal context, my own performance evaluation.

I came up with an overall personal mission statement, six core goals, and a number of specific objectives for each goal. Five of the six goals correspond to the responsibilities of my position while the fifth is more oriented towards personal growth, yet directly related to the demands of the job.  The five core goals would be the same for anyone doing the job.  The sixth is something specifically designed to address what I consider to be a personal weakness.  Addressing that weakness would allow me to better perform towards the other five goals.

The next step was to assign points to each objective.  After playing around with the numbers for a while, I settled on an annual goal of 100 points, spread across the six goals and objectives.  Part of the adjustments I made with the points and how they were allocated had to do with the need to be able to monitor progress on a regular basis.  I have a good mix of objectives for which points accrue on a weekly basis and objectives that can only be reached over a much longer period of time and for which points can only be earned at the successful completion of a milestone.  Having done some work in evaluation in prior years, I had a few ideas about setting clear criteria for completion and making it relatively easy to monitor.

In a real gamification initiative, all of this would be automated and points would show up on a digital dashboard on my computer.  Until I have some evidence that this is working for me, I'm keeping it very low-tech.  Next year, I might enhance it with an Excel spreadsheet and a mini-dashboard.  Since my goals and objectives are completely unique to my job, this approach can't easily be scaled to an entire organization.  If the approach was standardized so that everyone had the same categories of goals and objectives and employees were competing for the highest number of points, not only would some employees become tempted to "game" the system, but the goals and objectives would become too generic to add real value.

Why would I want to compete for points against other employees who do completely different jobs? I'm interested in enhancing my own performance within the specific context of my very unique work.  I want goals and objectives that are designed for this specific position.  Since I'm designing the approach, I even get to say what the goals and objectives are.  I did share the goals and objectives and the entire point system with my manager in the context of the performance evaluation meeting.  I can't think of a much better way to see if expectations match. I can't think of a much better way to discuss actual performance next year.  For once, I will have very precise data to provide... and a few lessons about applying some gamification principles to employee performance.


P.S.:  There is a lot of hype around gamification.  Like anything else, when done poorly, it will fail.  If done right, it can work.