Are we just playing a game of Business whack-a-mole?

You know the game I am talking about right?   The one where one of several moles (or other animal/head/object) pops up through one of several holes in a gaming machine, the objective being to whack it with a hammer or similar weapon before it disappears back into the hole.  (There is an online whack-a-boss game too if you care to search for it!).  

Substitute the hammer for decision and the mole for solution to business problem and you could be forgiven for thinking that it is a big part of our day jobs.  Let's take a quick look at just a few possible examples...

Employee Performance & Feedback

I don't think there is anyone who would argue that in business, employee performance matters. In fact it is kind of the whole point of having employees - an exchange of benefits (salary etc.), for work that needs doing (actions, decisions, outcomes).  There aren't too many jobs I know of that pay simply for showing up!

Back in the day, performance ratings and reviews were popular, and many had thought that they had whacked this mole flush on the top of the head.  However recently there has been an out-pour of experts offering evidence that these methods don't really do much for performance.  Oops, maybe we whacked the wrong mole!  And so the call went out to scrap the performance ratings and replace them with continuous feedback methods.   Hit the mole!  However there now seems to be reports of increased levels of confusion about how a person's performance is to be evaluated.  Some experts have since offered contrary evidence, suggesting that there is no reason to scrap reviews.

To me, it is all a little bit confusing and this is probably because the Performance Review seems to now have a life of its own.  Whatever the solution, it is probably worth keeping the eye on the prize - making sure that the value of the exchange between Employer and Employee continues to be fair for both parties?  To achieve this, it is probably worth starting with the basics - an agreement about what is important to either side in order to achieve a productive whole where everyone gets what they want out of the exchange?

If you are looking for ideas for simple Performance Management ideas that won't break the bank, check our video about how to create a performance drumbeat.

Employee Working Arrangements

I must admit, this is one of those things that makes me giggle when I think about it.  First there were offices, but a little while back they suffered from a perception problem - costly in terms of space and barriers to collaborative interaction. The solution was to move to an open-plan style of office to force higher levels of collaboration... Boom!  Got that little sucker!

The contradictory evidence has already started to filter through.  For example, I have read articles about open plan workplaces contributing to increased stress levels associated with constant interactions.  Some people simply need to be able to concentrate so they can get their work done.  Oops.

No problem, let's create workplaces with with a mix of breakout, quiet and hotdesk areas.  Whacked the mole this time for sure!  Except I am also reading about an increase of instances of stress and bad backs from having to lug stuff around all of the time. If only I had a full time desk!

Maybe the 'flexible working policy' will be the right mole to hit?  My guess is that like everything above, every individual has preferences that no one solution can meet every time.

Automation and Efficiency

In almost every boardroom around the world there is talk about how to increase automation to achieve further gains in productivity and performance.  Marketing automation - whacked the mole! Recruitment automation - whacked it again, damn we're good!  Big Data and Algorithms - game over!

The real question to ask is...efficient for whom?  There is no point having automation if there are no customers or staff left.  In other words, whilst automation and artificial intelligence algorithms might sound sexy, and in some cases they do exactly what they are purported to do, in many cases they don't.  There are very few companies on the planet armed with the financial and intellectual clout to do it properly.   An algorithm is a black box of assumptions that we on the outside never get to see.  Most companies hide behind 'it's our IP so we can't tell you how we did it, just know that it is awesome and definitely correct'.

It's worth being mindful of how unbiased and predictive an algorithm can actually be.  The number of variables that one would need to reliably collect at very granular levels to achieve this properly is mind-blowing.  Keep in mind before investing too heavily.

At the end of the day though, I am pretty sure that customers and employees will be the ultimate judges of the difference between efficiency and I am just a number to them so why would I bother?

So what's the point?

In Business, sometimes it is easy to become fixated with the latest trend or solution to a problem.  It's new, so it must be better than the old, right?   The echo chamber of social media is a breeding ground for solutions that on the outside seem like good ideas, but ultimately don't have strong enough foundations to succeed.

For the decision-maker looking to make the most out of their budget, a better bet might be to spend more time defining the actual problem in the first place.   This is the point of the article. For example, are we looking for a better performance management system/process, or are we looking for ways to improve performance?  Are we looking for an office layout that improves collaboration, or are we looking for ways to improve collaboration (which may or may not include a new office arrangement)?  Are we looking for recruitment automation, or are we looking for a way to ensure we deal properly with high-volume applications?  These are just examples.

By properly defining a problem, and then solving that right problem, it saves a whole heap of time and money in the future.  When this doesn't happen, it can become a game of whack-a-mole, jumping from solution to solution based solely on the fact that the last one didn't work.  One solution replaced by another, the size of the hammer increasing each time with little impact on the outcome.

The art of decision-making is to first understand the problem.  The real problem.  This means understanding the variables that truly contribute to the problem.

How can employees help you to identify problems and opportunities?  Click here to read 'How To Overcome HR's Strategic Dilemma' 



About the author:


Jason Buchanan is the general manager for insights and innovation of Optimum Consulting Group, a trusted and leading HR consultancy firm in Australia. He is the brain behind Optimum Direct, a web portal of the best HR tools and software for small business. He is interested in finding solutions on how companies can continue to grow without destroying the things that are important to them (employees, customers, suppliers, reputation etc).