With her eyes gazing over a table littered with papers, blue milk and holograms, General Leia Organa warned her team, “I’ve got a bad feeling about this.”
It was time for the Rebellion’s annual calibration exercise. What joy! Performance management does in fact reach all corners of the Galaxy.
What can we learn from Star Wars for the year-end performance review?
Unbeknownst to these Resistance fighters–up against the evils of Snoke, Kylo Ren and a seemingly infinite number of Stormtroopers–similar meetings were simultaneously being conducted by corporate leaders on a tiny outpost planet called Earth, located in the Milky Way system. Indeed the force awakens in a perennial fashion everywhere.
The same rules apply on Earth as it does on Jakku or Hoth or Rebel headquarters, where Leia and her direct reports were meeting.
Senior leaders of the organization (affiliated by one supreme vice-president or senior vice-president or evil Snoke-like chancellor of some regard) lock themselves in a room for a few hours and discuss employee performance from the past year. All of them come prepared to discuss the good and the bad of their team … as well as employees ‘not’ on their team. It’s an excellent opportunity to rip to shreds the performance of employees they never even come into contact with.
It’s called calibration.
In other words, it can be hierarchical, managerial blood sport. It happens once a year in many firms, including General Organa’s “Rebel scum.”
Many organization’s performance management process dictates that everyone in the organization needs an annual score. Even stars like Rey, Finn and Han have to be measured by leaders in the Rebellion.
How else would toy makers know whether to add them to the game of Monopoly or not? (Sorry Rey, maybe Episode VIII.)
If it weren’t for the performance management review process and the supreme leader calibration meeting, how would employees ever know their self-worth at work? Thank the swampy heavens of Dagobah that when the calibration meeting concludes, leaders are then free to have the annual “performance management review meeting” with the team member, blaming the calibration exercise for “lower than expected” scores.
So much for self-actualization let alone meaning and worth at work.
After all, this is the manner in which “performance” is managed. Right?
Calibration is how bonuses, promotions, even compensation adjustments come to be. It’s how leaders adjudicate merit. It’s how perquisites get distributed.
Tellingly, calibration is the organization’s chance to bash its employees “fairly” into an imaginary bell curve of performance. For many firms, any one team–regardless of its size–must ensure that at the end of the calibration meeting the average performance score for the entire team equals 100%. It’s simply the law of all galaxies.
Thankfully, smart Jedi like Josh Bersin of Deloitte have debunked such a model.
It matters not what one team or individual has tried to achieve. Do or do not, there is no performance management try.
The overall score of the team must equal 100%, performance or effort be damned.
Back at the Rebel base in Leia’s calibration meeting, her direct reports–Admiral Ackbar, the ghost of Obi-Wan Kenobi, super smart Maz Kanata and, mistakenly, C3PO–were busy debating the recent performance of key members from the Resistance. We pick things up at the beginning of the third hour of deliberations for some insight into the art of calibrating.
“What do you mean you have a bad feeling,” shrieked Ackbar, as he rather weirdly gazed one eye at Leia and the other at Kenobi’s ghost. “The fact of the matter is Skywalker did nothing for over two hours. Standing on a mountain overlooking a paradise-like body of water while we were busy trying to fend off Snoke’s army and a weapon of mass destruction is not deserving of a 100% rating. I say he gets 5%, tops. He didn’t even speak!”
“But sir, he did wake up Artoo,” replied Threepio, clumsily knocking over a glass of blue milk with his shiny red arm while excitedly trying to stick up for Master Luke.
Obi-Wan chimed in. “If Luke had not left in the first place, we would not be in this blasted predicament with the First Order.”
“But he’s my brother,” lamented Leia.
“Oh, so you’re playing favorites,” questioned Maz? “Look where that got you with your son, Ben. By the way, we don’t have to rank Ben–or is it Kylo now– this year do we? I still don’t think he deserved the 110% rating from last year. I mean look what happened. He took his bonus, bought a new cape and mask and joined that Snoke bloke. Crazy, but I told you it would happen. I warned you what he might eventually do to you or Han.”
“Admiral Ackbar,” interrupted Obi-Wan, “I see you gave Han a 0% rating this year. Why?”
“Isn’t it obvious?” answered Ackbar while cleaning up Threepio’s blue milk mess.
“But he finished the year with us,” replied Leia. “He is entitled to his fair share. He did his job. He and Chewie brought down the deflector shield of Death Star 2.0. Let’s give his bonus to Chewie instead.”
“Do we even calibrate wookies,” asked Obi-Wan?
Becoming exasperated with the conversation, Ackbar yelled, “If Han deserves a fair share, I am dropping my rating of Finn from 90% down to 50%.”
“I have Finn at 200% as the odds of another Stormtrooper defecting to the Resistance are 6 and a half million to one” responded Threepio.
Seconds later, Kanata reached over and switched Threepio off.
“Finn might be a traitor, a liar, even a janitor,” countered Obi-Wan, “but his lightsaber skills were exquisite. I have Finn at 85%.”
“I’d sooner kiss a Tauntaun than give Finn anything more than 75% this year,” exclaimed Leia. “He’s unconscious anyway. He’ll never know what score we give him until 2017.”
“That’s wretched and unethical Leia,” said Obi-Wan, moving to sit on another ghost log.
“I guess there is a little bit of my father in me after all,” she retorted.
“What about Poe,” asked Kanata?
The room fell quiet. No one had any idea who that was.
“So, 100% for Poe,” continued Maz?
Everyone nodded in groupthink agreement.
“That brings us to Rey,” Ackbar mentioned as he rose from his seat to find something to eat at the live sushi bar.
Maz asked, “Does she have a last name, I can’t find her on my list?”
“I have her at 175% for she is the ‘chosen one,'” claimed Obi-Wan.
“You say that about anyone living on a sand planet Kenobi,” laughed Admiral Ackbar.
“I don’t really know her,” said Leia, “but she does hug well.”
“If what Chewie, BB-8 and Finn claim is true,” said Obi-Wan, “Rey handled herself with determination and resilience throughout several potentially dire situations. Were it not for her, at a minimum, we would not have the Millennium Falcon back.”
“What about Luke’s lightsaber, you know, the entire plot of this performance review related to Rey,” asked Maz?
“Run Luke Run,” responded Obi-Wan.
“Ok Ghost Obi-Wan, you are acting Tatooine crazy again. You are free to go now,” a fuming Leia answered with anger. “I think we are just about done here.”
Admiral Ackbar returned from the sushi bar. “Are we finished,” he asked? “Does it all average out to 100%?”
General Organa remarked, “Here’s the plan. Poe gets 100%, Han is at 200%, after all he is the most experienced. Finn drops to 60%, Luke gets 80% (just because) and that leaves 60% for Rey.”
“Is it fair,” asked Maz, “particularly for Rey?”
“It doesn’t matter,” replied Leia. “It averages to 100%. We can take care of Rey next year. She’ll be fine. She did get to fly the Millennium Falcon.”
Obi-Wan’s ghost reappeared in between Ackbar and Leia.
“Rey at 60% is preposterous. I won’t stand for it,” cried Kenobi.
“What’s done is done, Ben,” said Leia. “Now go arrange your one-on-one annual performance review meetings and inform everyone of their score.”
Back on the tiny colony known as Earth, the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) reports that only 5% of individuals who participate in performance management practices in any type of organization are satisfied with the process and the outcome. Sibson Consulting found similar results, indicating only 5 percent of respondents graded it with the highest level on a 5-point scale.
Rather ironically, the firm also found that almost 60 percent of all HR managers actually dislike their own performance management practices.
Globoforce, a Massachusetts-based consulting firm, found 51% of respondents believe the performance development process is not an accurate measure of the work they accomplish. Over half of all workers think the way in which they are being measured at work is hypocritical. Furthermore, team members are skeptical of the process itself. For example, 24% actually feared the annual review.
The question we must ask is whether the existing system of the performance management process is as advantageous as some claim.
Does it aid or hinder whether a team member will ever feel professional purpose in their role? Does the once-a-year “performance review” and the “calibration meeting” do anything to fuel a sense of organizational purpose?
Whether with central tendency—where everyone receives a rating that is average, placed in the middle of the bell curve—or through unreasonable performance standards that penalize team members who in fact achieve above the norm, the performance review could be one of the most loathed processes in any organization, whether public sector, not-for-profit or for-profit. The calibration meeting is no help either.
Any potential for intrinsic personal achievement, motivation or confidence becomes difficult for employees as a result of such archaic practices.
I wonder how Rey and Finn will feel when they are informed of their scores?
I wonder how some of those team members on Earth are going to feel over the next few weeks?
I wonder if our performance management and calibration practices will ever improve?
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October 25, 2021
A very inspiring list. Thanks for putting this together
October 25, 2021
This is such a great list of women leaders! More power to you all