Buckingham: Help Team Leaders Lead

By Aliah D. Wright Oct 19, 2015
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LAS VEGAS—What is the secret to getting the best performance out of your employees while increasing employee engagement?

Give team leaders the tools they need to lead.

As goes the team leader, “so goes the organization,” said Marcus Buckingham, a best-selling author and founder and chairman of The Marcus Buckingham Co., a workplace engagement and performance research and training organization.

During the opening keynote session at Human Resource Executive’s 18th Annual HR Technology Conference & Exposition, Buckingham outlined three shifts that would help the audience—made up mostly of HR executives—create a world in which HR takes a step back and allows team leaders to better manage, motivate and engage their employees:

  • Move from serving the organization to serving the team leader.
  • Move from “big data” to real-time, reliable data.
  • Shift from theoretical models to real-world behaviors.

Performance Evaluation: Flawed, but Necessary

HR must “examine the quality of our data,” he said. “An awful lot of data we put into our systems in HR is garbage. Not all of it. Payroll data is really good data, but what about the other data we have?”

For example, “most performance management data tries to create a nine-box grid. You’ve got a team leader rating performers.” But that system is flawed, he said. “We measure it once or twice a year, and we get to calibration sessions and make sure the dots are right. We might have arguments on whether or not you’re a 4 or a 5 or a 3,” and that determines an employee’s pay and whether they get a promotion.

“All of this is premised on an idea that a human being can be trained to evaluate other human beings,” when numerous studies prove otherwise, he said.

Ultimately, he said, evaluations are based on whether the rater thinks the employee is a high-performer. It’s based on the rater’s perspective and measurement error. “Sixty-one percent of a performance rating is a reflection of the rater, not the ratee,” he said.

But companies can’t eliminate performance ratings, he added. Companies that tossed them aside—“Motorola, Adobe, Microsoft—they’re going to put them back in the end [because] you need to produce a range of data so you know what to do with people,” Buckingham said. “The challenge and issue is not ratings or no ratings. The issue is do you want good data or bad data.”

He suggested that companies flip the questions around and ask the team leader to rate his or her own actions. Also, try to neutralize each team leader’s innate rating tendencies. “Let’s use algorithms to neutralize the fact that I might be a harsh rater,” he said.

Aliah D. Wright is an online editor/manager for SHRM. Follow SHRM’s coverage of the HR Technology Conference at www.shrm.org, via Twitter @1SHRMScribe and on Periscope @aliahwrites. The hashtag for the conference is #HRTechConf.

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