Sunday, December 22, 2013

Stress: Physical Conditions

In the last byte, we looked at the various interpersonal demands that could act as a potential source of stress. In today's byte, we look at how the physical conditions in a work place could act as a source of stress.

It would be a personal experience for almost all of us - invariably when we are tiered having worked for a long time on something, and it someone else asks for something we shout back! This is a common experience and shouting is a reaction that expresses the stress our body has had.

Such stress would be higher if the individual has been working in an environment that doesn’t have a conducive atmosphere - say a temperature that is non ambient (could be working close to a furnace for long hours!), an extremely crowded space where lot of people are cramped and working on the production process etc. Such inhuman working conditions are the reason why factories with such harsh conditions are called "sweat shops".

It is important to realize that the physical demands of work are often occupation specific. In the case of military pilots who fly high-speed jets, the risk involved would be of gravitationally induced loss of consciousness; in the case of CEOs who globe-trotter pretty frequently, would complaint of jet lag and loss of sleep. All these form sources of stress that evolve out of the work environment.

In the more common IT scenario, an ergonomic misfit between the person and work place would lead to stress too - the forms could be eyestrain, neck-stiffness and arm/wrist problems etc. So it’s time that we look back at these factors and think of improving the work environment to reduce physical stress.

Stress: Interpersonal Demands

In the last byte, we looked at role related issues that act as a source of stress. In today's byte, we look at Interpersonal demands that act as a source of stress.

We could look at interpersonal demands in the following categories:
  1. Emotional Toxins
  2. Sexual Harassment
  3. Poor Leadership
  4. Trust Related
We quite sometimes find an individual with abrasive personality and a find a set of emotions like anger, guilt, shame, fear etc come in immediately. These emotions make us feel "ill". These spread through the work environment and cause a range of disturbances - this is one potential source of work stress.

Sexual Harassment is a gender-related interpersonal demand that creates a stressful working environment both for the person being harassed and for others. A vast majority of sexual harassment is directed at women in the work place is a chronic yet preventable workplace problem.

Employees who feel secure working with strong, directive leadership may be anxious when handling an open management style. Those comfortable with participative leadership style will not feel comfortable with a very directive leadership. Poor leadership in organizations and excessive, demanding management styles are one of the leading sources of work stress.

Trust is an important characteristic in any leader-follower interpersonal relation. This is the reason why in most cases, a slight threat to the reputation of the employee with her or his supervisor may be especially stressful! Diversity amongst the project groups could act as a hurdle in building a trusting relationship.

Stress: Role related issues

In the last byte, we looked at how task related issues act as a source of stress. In today's byte, we look at how role related create a social-psychological demand in a work environment and act as source of stress.

We can classify role related stress into 2 categories:
  1. Role Conflicts
  2. Role Ambiguity
Role Conflicts result from result from inconsistent or incompatible expectations communicated to a person. Role Ambiguity is the confusion of a person experience related to the expectations of others. Role ambiguity may be caused by not understanding what is expected, not knowing how to do it, or not knowing the result of failure to do it.

We can understand Role Conflicts better if we can categorize the same. We can classify these into:
  1. Interrole conflict: is caused by conflicting expectations related to two separate roles. Example: an individual could be as an employee and be a parent. In such cases work-family demands could lead to stress.
  2. Intrarole conflict: is caused by conflicting expectation related to a single role. Example: A manager would press an employee to work fast and also deliver a high-quality work - this in some cases could cause conflict for the employee!
  3. Person-role conflict: is caused when an employee is expected to behave in a way that violates personal values, beliefs or principles. Ethics violations are one source of such person-role conflicts.

Stress: Task Demands

In the last byte, we looked categorized the sources of stress. In today's byte, we look at the first category of the source of work related stress - Task Demands.

We live in a world of change. Globalization has ushered in dramatic changes in the way we work (to know more about the drivers of the most recent wave of globalization read - World is Flat). With change comes a lot of uncertainty - which for an individual translates to the lack of predictability in the daily tasks and activities. Some manifestation of these changes in the work environment could be - job loss, or underemployment, monotony and boredom at work etc. These create stress in the individual who is facing these changed scenarios.

Technology (in a colloquial meaning - not the business classification we discussed about earlier) is an important driver of business, and this the change of these technologies only compound the problem further. The change in technology brings along with the fear of being outdated - while training, education and skill development are ways to address this to a certain extent; none the less the uncertainty associated would cause stress.

While working, there are certain critical factors that we feel are important to be controlled - lack of control could lead to the inability to influence the timing of tasks and activities (and other similar problems) - and create situations that are difficult and psychologically demanding - thus increasing the stress associated.

Invariably, everyone has a career aspiration and when one gets into a career gridlock (pretty common in the middle management level) it build us stress - this is further compounded by the time pressures one has to address to at work place.

Stress: Work and Non Work Related

In the last byte, we looked at what happens to the body when it is stressed. In today's byte, we try to understand the source of stress and continue the discussion as we move through the next few bytes.

We could broadly classify sources or stress into 2 categories - Work related and non work related. These categories are from the context of the origin of the stress. Following is a summary of this classification.

Stress: Psychoanalytic Approach 2

In the last byte, we summarized the various approaches towards understanding stress. Out of these, the psychoanalytic approach highlights the relation between the ego-ideal and self-ideal; it would be interesting to see how the body and mind would trigger a set of responses; this is what we discuss in today's byte.

The response to any stress situation is characterized by a predictable sequence of mind and body events. Broadly speaking, stress triggers the release of chemical messengers, primarily adrenaline, into the blood stream. These messengers activate the sympathetic nervous system and the endocrine (hormone) system. These 2 systems work together and trigger four mind-body changes to prepare the person for - fight or flight:
  1. the redirection of the blood to the brain and large-muscle group and away from the skin, internal organs and extremities.
  2. Increase alertness by way of improved vision, hearing, and other sensory processes through the activation of the brainstem (ancient brain)
  3. The release of glucose (blood sugar) and fatty acids into the blood stream to sustain the body during the stressful event
  4. Depression of the immune system, as well as restorative and emergent process (such as digestion)
The combination of the above events, shift a person from being neutral or naturally defensive to an offensive posture.

In some cases, the stress response could be very functional; it need not be inherently bad or defensive.

Stress: Approaches

In the last byte, we looked at psychoanalytic approach. Just as a pointer to the discussion, it would be right to summarize the discussion on stress with the following diagram.

Stress: Psychoanalytic Approach

In the last byte, we looked at person-environment fit as a source of stress. In today's byte, we look at the psychoanalytic approach to understanding stress.

In our formative years we create a set of expectations of our "prefect" self and improve on this perfect self as we mature. As time progresses, we begin realizing that there exists a self image that is pretty distinct from the ideal self that we had imagined. Here we talk of 2 distinct terms:
  1. ego-ideal: Is the embodiment of a person's perfect self
  2. self-image: Is how a person sees himself or herself both positively and negatively.
These 2 terms were coined by Harry Levinson who defined stress based on the Freudian psychoanalytic theory. He believes that 2 elements defined above interact to cause stress.

Stress results from the discrepancy between the idealized self (ego-ideal) and the real self image. The greater the discrepancy, the more stress a person experiences. This theory helps us understand the role of unconscious personality factors as causes of stress within a person.

Stress: Person-Environment Fit

In the last byte, we look at Cognitive Appraisal Approach towards understanding stress. In today's byte, we look at the Person-Environment fit Approach towards understanding stress.

It is not uncommon for us to see that people around us have various expectations from us. When we live up to their expectations, we feel happy about having lived up to the bar, but in other cases, it is not surprising that we feel sorry for not having been able to do it. In extreme cases, we feel a sort of strain - in extreme cases could result into depression!

This area of study of the relationship of how confusing and conflicting expectations for a person in a social role could create stress in him/her was conducted by Robert Kahn. This evolved as a part of social psychology in the attempt to understand stress.

The approach of studying the stress that gets created due to expectations which are confusing or conflicting between people was extended to include the person-environment. A good person-environment fit takes place when a person's skills and abilities match a clearly defined, consistent set of expectations. This results in no stress for the individual. But when the role expectations are confusing or conflicting or when the person's skills and abilities are not able to live up to the demands of the role, we find stress emerging up.

Stress: Cognitive

In the last byte, we looked at Homeostatic approach towards understanding how stress evolves. In today's byte, we look a cognitive appraisal approach towards understanding stress.

In our daily lives we observe that some situations which are stressful for some isnt stressful for others! For example, an employee would be more stressed facing an upset supervisor, compared to when the supervisor is not upset; of for that matter another supervisor itself. It is really the perception that makes this impact.

This aspect was studies by Richard Lazarus who focused more on the psychology of stress. It is similar to Cannon's approach in that it talks about the discussion between the person and environment, but the emphasis is on the cognitive appraisal of the situation at hand. Individuals differ in their appraisal of events and people!

In addition to these, there could be 2 other forms of such stress:
  • Problem Focused
  • Emotion Focused
While the problem focused coping emphasizes on managing the stressor; the emotion focused approach focuses on the response management.

Stress: Homeostatic & Medical Approach

In the last byte, we looked at the various approaches towards understanding stress. In today's byte, we look at the homeostatic/medical approach towards understanding stress.

Walter B Cannon discovered stress but had called it "the emergency response" or "the militaristic response"; this indicates the reason why the definition of stress uses - "the fighting emotion" as a root.

As humans, we love to be in a steady state - where everything is predictable, expected, sure; however this is far from reality. This "state of steadiness" that we are most comfortable with, is disturbed by external or environmental demands. The steady state balance or equilibrium is called "homeostasis". [Defn: A steady state of bodily functioning and equilibrium.] Cannon believed that, the body was designed with natural defense mechanisms to keep it in equilibrium/homeostasis.

Cannon's research going further explored the role of sympathetic nervous systems and how this would affect an individual's stressful condition.

Stress 2

In the last byte, we looked at some definitions associated with the concept of stress. In today's byte, we look at the nature of stress and initiate the discussion on the various theories that attempt to explain stress.

Stress is an important concept in the study of organizational behavior - this is partly due to the increased competitive pressure that exists in the current business world and this intern takes a toll on the workers and managers alike. Poor Leadership, Work-Family conflicts are some of the leading causes of stress in the present working scenario.

Stress is definitely one of the most creatively ambiguous words in the vocabulary - it has many interpretations and has a variety of meanings. It carries a negative connotation for few, and is generally thought of as something that is best avoided. Having defined the terms related to stress, it is now time to initiate the discussion on the different approaches that have been taken up to explain stress and related behavior. These are:
  1. The Homeostatic/Medical Approach
  2. The cognitive Appraisal Approach
  3. The person-environment fit Approach
  4. The psychoanalytic Approach
We shall discuss about these in detail in the next byte.


In the last byte, we completed the discussion on performance management with a summary of the discussion. In today's byte, we look at the concept of stress and begin discussion on the same with a few basic definitions.

Stress: Is the unconscious preparation to fight or flee that a person experiences when faced with any demand.

Stressor: Is the person or event that triggers the stress response

Distress: The adverse psychological, physical, behavioral, and organizational consequences that may arise as a result of stressful events

Strain: Is another name for Distress.

With this basic understanding, we begin the journey to understand stress better.

Performance Management: Summary

In the last byte, we looked at the modern forms of mentoring. In today's byte, we attempt to summarize the discussion on performance management.

People in organization are constantly learning, the managers should exercise the application of consequences appropriately to create desired results. The strategic use of training and educational opportunities, stock options, and recognition awards is instrumental to successful organizational reward systems. Managers could serve as positive role models for employees and act as mentors too in their career development.

Goal setting activities may be valuable to managers in bringing out the best performance of their reporting employees. Effectively designed goals could lead to excellent performance, but if these are misused, it could lead to dysfunctional behavior in an organization and lower the performance.

The role of good performance management tools is providing employees with clear feedback on their actions - methods to improve and make them precise have to be evolved to get the right picture of an employee's performance.

With this discussion, we conclude the section on performance management and move ahead to next topic

Mentoring 2

In the last byte, we looked at mentoring and identified the various stages that were involved in the creation of a mentoring relationship. In this byte, we move ahead towards the more modern forms of mentoring.

Mentoring is extremely beneficial to the "mentee" or "Protégés" who undergo the mentoring. This could significantly enhance the early development of a new comer in an organization and also mid career development of an experienced employee. Research has identified that good performance of newcomers with a mentoring relationship had been given a greater delegation.

Peer relationships for mentoring could be used as an alternative to traditional mentoring relationships to aid career development. Another trend as an attempt to outsource the business mentoring function is the executive coaching aspect.

In fact, we could classify the various roles who aid in the process as - informational, collegial and special peers and they aid the career development through sharing information, career strategizing, job related feedback,  emotional support and friendship.

To summarize the role, it is important to state that both mentors and peers play constructive roles in correcting an employee’s poor performance and enhance overall career development.


In the last byte, we began the discussion on the mentoring function of a supervisor. In today's byte, we look at Mentoring to a greater depth.

To begin with let us define mentoring - mentoring is a work relationship that encourages development and career enhancement for people moving through the career cycle. [In the context of organizational behavior we shall limit it to only this definition]

We could look at mentoring to process two distinct dimensions - a career related dimension and the other a psychological dimension. The career related dimension is called coaching and the psychological dimension is called counseling.

If one is to observe the process of mentoring closely, we could see it move through 4 distinct phases:

  1. Initiation
  2. Cultivation
  3. Separation
  4. Redefinition
We shall continue the discussion on mentoring in the next byte too...

Coaching & Counseling

In the last byte, we looked at the model of attribution and understood it well. In today's byte, we look at aspects of importance of coaching, counseling.

Managers generally deal with two aspects when they are donning a first level managerial position (and definitely continue as one grows in an organization). The 2 aspects are - managing the workforce to continue the work designated for completion unabated and the second is the dimension individual professional and personal growth of employee reporting to the manager. Given the long contact hours at work, it is found that supervisors and coworkers are more effective in mentoring than assigned formal mentors from higher up in the organization!

What is really unsaid is that the success of mentoring hinges on the presence of openness and trust amongst the parties involved - a stronger trust leads to greater openness and thus to better mentoring. Through these sessions, it is not necessary that only professional problems are addressed, personal dimensions that reduce the employee's performance - viz depression etc could also be addressed. The supervisor in these roles plays a very helpful role in employee's problem solving without being completely involved in the responsibility of employee's problems.

Performance: Attribution 2

In the last byte, we looked at a graphical representation of attribution and the change in behavior that could be associated with it. In today's byte, we attempt to understand the graphical model further.

A simple explanation to the diagram displayed in the last byte could be as follows:

A manager could observe a poor performance and immediately take cues (which would be as described earlier - consensus, consistency or distinctiveness) depending on the interpretation of these, the manager could attribute the poor performance to either internal or external causes. The internal sources attributed to could include - low effort, lack of commitment or lack of ability. External attribution could be towards the equipment failure or unrealistic goals etc. Based on the understanding, the manager could detect the source of the problem and tries to correct it.

The response of the manager could vary ranging from expressing personal concern to sending the employee back home!

It could be sensed that a manager who attributes the poor performance to a person would react more harshly than a manager who would attribute it to situational causes. In all this, the manager should be aware of 2 attribution errors we have already discussed:
  1. Fundamental Attribution Error
  2. Self-serving Bias

Performance: Attribution

In the last byte, we looked at how information cues work towards creating an attribution. In today's byte, we show a model that could summarize the way attribution happens.

Following diagram summarizes how we could look at the way attribution and the corresponding behavior could work. 

We shall explain the same and continue the discussion in the next byte.

Performance Management: Poor Performance Attribution - Cues

In the last byte, we began our discussion on attribution theory. In today's byte, we look at this in a greater detail.

Kelly (about whom we mentioned in the last byte) attempted to explain the behavior of other people by identifying antecedents of internal and external attribution. The attributions that people make as based on information gathered in the form of informational cues. There are 3 classifications of cues [defined in the last byte]:
  1. Consensus
  2. Distinctiveness
  3. Consistency
Based on whether these 3 cues are high or low, we make attributions. In case we summarize the way the choices are made, we could say:
  1. The combination of low consensus, low distinctiveness and high consistency leads to internal attribution
  2. Other combinations lead to external attribution!

Performance Management: Poor Performance Attribution

In the last byte, we looked at the potential source of Poor Performance. In today's byte, we look at some of the typical issues that happen when we attempt to attribute a poor performance.

If we are working in a team, we often find situations where the team is encountered with a poor performance. While some of the team leaders assign the responsibility to the external factors that where beyond the control of the team, there are others who attribute the poor performance to the employee whom they feel hadn’t worked hard enough. This is the subject matter of Attribution Theory - according to which, managers make their attributions (inferences) concerning employees behavior and performance. It is also found that, supervisors and employees who do not share perceptions and attributes are more likely to blame each other for performance problems! (True isn't it!)

Harold Kelly extended this understanding on the way we attribute and identified antecedents of internal and external attribution. We shall discuss this further in the next byte, but leave you with 3 definitions to mull over:
  1. Consensus: An informational cue indicating the extent to which peers in the same situation behave in a similar fashion.
  2. Distinctiveness: An informational cue indicating the degree to which an individual behaves the same way in other situation
  3. Consistency: An informational cure indicating the frequency of behavior over time

Performance Management: Poor Performance

In the last byte, we looked at how one could manage performance by getting the right rewards in place. In today's byte, we look at dealing with poor performance.

It is not uncommon to find instances of performance being below par - there is one question that arises once a poor performance is detected - What is the source of the poor performance?

Poor performance could arise from a variety of causes, some are: poorly designed work systems, a not so good selection process, inadequate training and development dimension, lack of personal motivation, personal problems creeping into the work environment etc. Given this plethora of causes, it would be important to identify the right source of the problem and proceed with the apt corrective action.

Once the source is identified, we could classify it into 2 categories:
  1. Problem due to the system - solution would be for the supervisor to set the system better
  2. Problem due to the personal sphere of the employee - in this case, the source of the problem should be further investigated and nailed down.
Having nailed down the source of the problem and its primary responsibility, we would require to next chalk out a plan to correct the performance. Without getting into details, it is important to state here that both the employee and the supervisor should be engaged in getting to a solution - there are no short answers in here.

Performance Management: Rewarding Implementation

In the last byte, we looked at the pros and cons of using an individual based versus a group based reward system. In today's byte we look at some of the aspects that a reward system would be required to consider when being implemented.

We sometimes hear the conversation - "Even if I don’t work, I get my salary!" This is in some ways the subject matter of today's discussion. If employees do not see the "connection" between their performance and the reward they begin believing that they are entitled to rewards regardless of how they perform. In many ways they begin to believe they are "entitled" to a specific reward rather than them "earning" the reward.

The Performance Management and Reward systems in organizations are built on the premise that there is a visible connection between performance and reward. It should be noted that when there is a visible relation between the performance of the employee at work and the reward related to the work, effectively handing the performance and reward could act as a lever of change that the organization might be looking out for - that is, the organization gets the performance it rewards for!

Thus, the organization would need to communicate the direct relation between performance and reward in order to be effective! It would require to leverage the strength of earning and develop that as a culture than, looking forward to an entitlement based culture.

Performance Management: Rewarding (Individual & Group)

In the last byte, we looked at why rewarding employees is a critical organizational decision. In today's byte, we look at whether rewarding would be good if done at the individual level or a group level.

In an organization, invariable the completion of a task requires an employee to play 2 distinct roles:
  1. As an individual contributor towards the success of the assigned target
  2. As a group member working together towards accomplishing the target.
When the question of compensating the performance of the employee arises, different cultures look at it differently. While the American influence looks at a verily individualistic reward system, the Japanese and Chinese cultures have a group based reward system. The individual system in extreme cases could end up leading to dysfunctional behavior in an organization, while the group bases system could kill initiative and creativity of the individuals in the group if not properly planned and executed.

A good way out of this situation would be: At the individual level, a skill based and pay-for-knowledge system would be good; at the group level, gain-sharing plans emphasizing on reducing costs would be a good approach. However, it is important to note that a case by case approach towards implementation and some tailor made modifications are necessary.

Performance Management: Rewarding & Importance

In the last byte, we initiated a discussion on the underlying challenges in rewarding performance. In today's byte, we look at why rewarding or punishing a particular behavior is a key organizational decision.

If we were to ask our self (as representatives of an organization), bestowed with the responsibility of rewarding an employee - it would be important to begin with a thought on the impact of the decision we set out to make. We would require to realize that the decision we are about to make would affect many people throughout the system; it wouldn’t be limited to the person being rewarded or punished. When we choose to reward or punish an employee, the impact is visible not just to the employee in question but also all those around the employee - there is an element of learning that occurs as people watch what happens to the employee.

Allocation of the reward or the punishment would involve sequential decisions be made about which of the people to reward, how should one reward the employee, and also when to reward! These three dimensions of the reward decision pretty much shape how people in the organization behave.

The next time, we are in the scenario of taking a call on rewarding/punishing an employee we would need to remember - people watch what happens to their peers who make mistakes or have problems with any change in the system - this acts as a feeder into their own behavior. Think through about what message is sent through the organization.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Performance Management: Rewarding

In the last byte, we looked at the key characteristics of an effective appraisal system. In today's byte, we look at the aspect of rewarding performance.

Generally, performance appraisal systems also act as feeders to rewarding decisions that the organization takes. We also have indicated in the discussion on learning that through reinforcement we could change the behavior of an individual. Extending this to the context of rewarding employees - if an organization wants good performance, it must reward good performance, and if it doesn’t want bad performance then it must not reward bad performance. If the company believes in values, teamwork, customer focus then they need to reward behavior related to these ideas.

This looks simple, doesn’t it?

If one were to ask a seasoned professional the answer would be "No". Reward decisions are the most difficult to make! Surprised?

Well the solution lies in realizing that not everyone works for money! While pay and reward for performance have value, a lot of other dimensions like - values, trust, fun and meaningful work all begin playing a key role. These elements make reward decisions most difficult and complicated decisions in organizations.

We shall continue this discussion over the next few blogs.

Performance Appraisal System: Characteristics

Over the last few bytes ending with the last byte, we have looked how a performance appraisals system has to be, and what impact of 360 degree feedback. In today's byte, we look at some of the characteristics of an effective appraisal system.

A simple reflection on the discussion thus far would help us identify the following key characteristics:
  • Validity
  • Reliability
  • Responsiveness
  • Flexibility
  • Equitability
Here are some ways we could improve the effectiveness.
Validity increases by capturing multiple dimensions of a person's job performance
Reliability increasing from capturing evaluations from multiple
Responsiveness adds in the element of the person who is being evaluate have an input on the final outcome
Flexibility leaves it open to modifications based on new information that surfaces
Equitability ensures fairness in the evaluations against established performance criteria, regardless of differences.

Performance Appraisal System

In the last byte, we looked at how 360 degree feedback could be made more effective. In today's byte, we look at a key function of good performance appraisal system.

A good performance appraisal system would need to keep the development of people and career enhancement in mind during execution. Developmentally, these appraisal systems should emphasize individual growth needs and future performance. Mutual trust between the supervisor and the follower employee is crucial for the success. The supervisor would have to be open to any challenge from the subordinate, keep an eye on the responsibility for execution. It is quintessential that the supervisor be skilled, empathetic listener and constantly encourages the employee.

The employee must take active responsibility for future development and growth - the individual shouldn’t be frightened to challenge the supervisor’s idea about future development and should express his/her preference/goals.

Thus, both the supervisor and the employee should look at their roles from the developmental angle to make the performance appraisal really impactful in the long run.

Performance-monitoring system: 360 Degree Feedback 3

In the last byte, we looked at how the various inputs from stakeholders in a 360 degree feedback could give a comprehensive view of the individual's performance. In today's byte we look at how we can improve the effectiveness of the 360 degree feedback.

We can look at the improvements in 2 broad categories:
  1. Addition of a Systemic Coaching component into the 360-degree feedback
  2. Separation of the performance feedback component from management development component.
By focusing on enhanced self-awareness and behavioral management, the feedback - coaching model can enhance performance overall, as well as satisfaction and commitment and reduce the turnover of people.

On the separation aspect, feedback component should emphasize quantitative feedback and performance measures, while the management development component should emphasize qualitative feedback and competencies for development.

Performance-monitoring system: 360 Degree Feedback 2

In the last byte, we began our discussion on the 360 degree feedback, in today's byte, we continue the discussion.

By incorporating the inputs of all the stakeholders, we get a well-rounded view of the performance. This improves the accuracy of performance appraisal as it is based on multiple sources of information.

It is extremely possible that an individual might be presenting a very positive, compliant and deferential performance to the superior. He/She might be completely indifferent to the peers and could be seen as demanding, abusive and cruel by the followers! Thus a 360 degree feedback could give a lot of information that otherwise doesn’t surface!

Thus we could define 360 degree feedback as a process of self-evaluation and evaluation by a manager, peers, direct reports, and possibly customers!

In the next byte, we look at how we can enhance the effectiveness of 360 degree feedback.

Performance-monitoring system: 360 Degree Feedback

In the last byte we looked at how one would require providing feedback as part of the performance appraisal process. In today's byte, we look in detail about 360 degree feedback.

If we look at our work, we find that we engage with various people at different level. Each of the interactions expects a certain standard of behavior, and 360 degree feedback helps get this. The various stakeholders we interact could be classified into:
1. Superiors
2. Peers
4. Customers.

The following diagram could help understand the reason we call it a 360 degree feedback

Performance-monitoring system 2

In the last byte, we looked at some of the challenges one would face in monitoring performance. In today's byte, we look at the feedback aspect in a bit more detail.

One common challenge every individuals face is to discuss about their areas of improvements with someone else. This scenario is generally forced by the performance management in the form of feedback sessions. The challenge of feedback is one of the most stressful events for supervisors and employees - no doubt.

To make the feedback session better, both the employee and the supervisor would require trying and making the session a constructive learning focused experience. The implications of these discussions are extremely long term and hence should be executed extremely well. It would definitely be useful to note the following when providing feedback (from the supervisor's angle):
  1. Refer to specific details - this enhances acceptance
  2. Focus on changeable behavior than the individual personality attributes
  3. Plan for the session
  4. Start with Positives of the employee
  5. Do more of listening and help the employee come out with areas of improvement
It is important to remember here that - the supervisor would need to balance the aspect of exploration, learning etc when providing specific feedback!

Performance-monitoring system

In the last byte, we looked at the source of the three categories of problems. In this byte, we move on understand what performance monitoring system would keep note of.

Performance-monitoring systems are varied in numbers. One category is that of result-oriented methods. Examples of these include the goal setting and MBO methods. There are some other methods that use modern technology for the purpose.

While using modern technology - the accuracy of the measurement might increase; there are a host of questions on principles and morals that could arise when performance is being measured. An example could be - should the individual being measured really know that he/she is being measured?

The Goal-setting and MBO methods are result oriented, but shift the emphasis to being subjective, judgmental on the results. The goals once set at the beginning and these form the bench mark on which the evaluation is done. The lop side here is that, in case a new opportunity arises to improve performance, these tend to be missed.

In the next byte, we look at moving on to understanding the feedback aspect of performance measurement in greater detail.

Performance Management: Actual & Measured 3

In the last byte, we looked at the various problems that arise in the assessment of performance. In this byte, we look at understanding these in greater detail.

To help recap the source of various problems:
  • Deficiency results from overlooking important aspects of a person's actual performance.
  • Unreliability results from poor-quality performance measures
  • Invalidity results from inaccurate definition of the expected job performance.

The Reliability problem could further originate from any of the following sources:
  1. The effect of the situational factors such as mood or timing of the evaluation
  2. The Disagreement between evaluators about the methods
  3. The Temporary personal factors like fatigues, or ill health of the person being evaluated.
It is to be noted that no existing system of performance appraisal is completely free from defects. Addressing the various emotions and defenses are essential to make the attempt of performance appraisal developmental in nature.

Performance Management: Actual & Measured 2

In the last byte, we looked at the difference between what is actually performed by the employee and what aspect of the performance is measured.

If we look at the diagram a bit closely and understand what aspects of errors could arise from such measurement?

A first look at the diagram - would indicate 2 possible areas where the defects in measurement could arise from - these are the areas of the 2 circles which are not part of the true assessment area indicated. Refer the diagram below:
The area of the circle of actual performance which has been over looked by the evaluator is essentially a deficiency in the measurement itself. This is called Deficiency Problem.
The area of the circle of measured performance which has been outside the true-assessment area could have two sorts of problems:
  1. The reliability of the measurement
  2. The validity of the measurement
We shall explore these in detail in the next byte.

Performance Management: Actual & Measured

In the last byte, we looked at performance appraisal and what the objective would be when one attempts to have a performance appraisal. In today's byte, we begin understanding performance measurement in greater detail.

Measuring Performance of individuals is not an easy task. As an evaluator it is always possible to overlook certain features, while considering only a few! Yes, part of this problem could be due to the timing of the measurement and the other part could be the nature of the work itself! Whatever the reason - it is always possible that we overlook parts of the performance. If we are to consider this piece of measuring using circles like shown below, we through overlooking would have shifted the 2 circles - actual and measured performance away from each other.

The overlap between what is actual and what is measure is what is truly assessed by the evaluator. This would definitely put you to think - What about the area which in the measured circle which is not the true assessment? We shall deal about this in the next byte.

Performance Management: Appraisal

In the last byte, we looked at the importance of defining performance before any performance management could be got in place. In today's byte, we attempt to understand performance appraisal in a greater detail.

Performance Appraisal essentially means the evaluation of an individual's performance.

As supervisors/first level managers in an organization, one could look at his/her role as dual fold - a mentors/coach and an evaluator. As a mentor/coach, the supervisor would be responsible for encouraging the employee (- individual contributor at the entry level). As an evaluator, the supervisor is responsible for making judgments that influence employee's roles in the organization.

The major purpose of performance appraisal is to give the employee:
  • feedback on performance,
  • identify employee's development needs,
  • to make demotion and termination decisions,
  • to develop information about the organization's selection and placement decision.
It is important next to really understand how one measures performance, we shall continue the discussion in the next byte.

Performance: Organizational Citizenship Behavior

In the last byte, we began our discussion on performance management and identified the various stages in it. In today's byte, we look at how do we define performance and set the stage for other stages in performance management.

It is very clear from the discussion thus far that employees need to understand their performance expectations very clearly to perform well at work. This process of getting the expectations understood falls under the performance definition stage. Expectations about an individual's performance will not be on any single dimension, but would be on multi-dimensions - these could include not just the task specific skill but others like interpersonal skills, administrative and finance skills etc depending on the stage at which one is in the career growth.

Let’s take for example - an individual doctor working in a hospital. In addition to knowing the necessary diagnostic and treatment skills, he/she would be expected to have good interpersonal skills (presented as bed-side manners) to enhance the healing process of a patient. Extending this to other professions, we can clearly see that each specific job in an organization requires its own definition of skills and behaviors essential for excellent performance.

It would be interesting to remind the readers here of the discussion we had on organizational citizenship behavior (OCB). OCB is a sought after dimension of individual performance that pans across jobs. It involves individual discretionary behavior that promotes the organization and is not explicitly rewarded! This is an important dimension of expectations that organizations look for and hence worth mentioning here.

Performance Management

In the last byte, we looked at how goal setting is related to performance. In today's byte, we begin our discussion on performance management and shall continue the same over the next few bytes.

Performance management deals with the attempt of an organization to achieve the best performance from its employees. Given this challenge, performance management could be thought of as having the following phases:
  1. Defining
  2. Measuring
  3. Appraising
  4. Providing Feedback
  5. Improving performance.
The above order is extremely important to be kept in mind. Only if the definition of performance in behavioral terms is gone well can the next few stages be really built on. Once defined, we could use the definition to make performance more measurable and then perform an assessment on the same. This information of the measurement and assessment could be fed back to the individual and used as basis for goal setting and establishing plans for performance improvement.

Coupling this with the way we can reinforce learning through rewards, poor performance can be corrected. We shall discuss some of these stages performance management as we move ahead.

Goal Setting: Summary

In the last byte, we looked at how goal setting improves performance evaluation. In today's byte, we look to summarize the discussion on goal setting thus far and then build the bridge for transitioning to the next topic of performance and its management.

We began with outlining the need for goal setting and identified the characteristics of an effective goal. We mentioned that the goals would have to be defined in a SMART method to make it more effective. The relation between a goal which is challenging and the manner in which an individual's task performance increases was briefly highlighted.

We then went on to explore the functions that goal setting performs. Broadly it performs 3 functions:
  1. Increasing work motivation and Task Performance
  2. Reducing role-stress, conflict and ambiguity
  3. Improving performance evaluation.
Goal setting programs are widely applied in the industry and the ease of implementation is defined by the state in which the company is - Companies in the stable predictable industrial settings would find it more easily implementable than those working in a dynamic environment.

As goal setting is related to the ability to improve performance at work place, we shall move the next discussion on to the issue of performance management.

Goal Setting: Management By Objective

In the last byte, we looked at how goal setting reduces role stress, conflict and ambiguity. In today's byte we look at how goal setting could help improve performance evaluation.

In effect, goal setting increases the accuracy and validity of performance evaluation. One example in such a goal setting process is the famous method - Management By Objectives (MBO) a concept originated by Peter Druker. This goal setting process could be called by various names like - work planning and review, performance planning and evaluation etc.

If we can categorize the stages of these goals setting process, we see two distinct stages:
  1. Planning
  2. Evaluation
The Planning stage involves the individuals and departments being given discretionary control to develop operational and tactical plans to support the corporate objectives. Clear, Consistent, Measurable and Ordered set of goals to articulate WHAT to do are the primary outcome, the HOW is generally determines by the operational support planning. Once the goals are set, the individual know both the WHAT and HOW pieces and understands that both are important.

The Evaluation stage consists of interim reviews of the goal progress. Typically a formal process, these are designed to help employees take self corrective action, and are not designed for the final evaluation. There is no "once size fits all" in this approach - these evaluation methods need to tailored for the business.

Goal Setting: Stress and Effectiveness

In the last byte, we looked at how we could improve the effectiveness of goal setting in an organizational context. In today's byte, we discuss regarding role stress.

It is not uncommon that once an employee joins an organization, he/she would be expected to do a lot of things in the work place. The individual is trying to exert pressure on self to perform to the expectations of all around, in many cases it also happens that there are conflicts that the individual would have to handle.
When an employee joins the organization, it is really the supervisors, coworkers and other employees that form important sources of task-related information.  Ensuring that these are communicated well is important to ensure that role-stress is not hard-hitting on the employee, which in adverse cases could lead to the employee leaving the organization.

Effective goal setting definitely reduces role stress associated with the conflicting and confusing expectations. Managers and supervisors play a major role in clarifying the task-role expectations that are communicated to the employees.

Improved communication related to the role-clarity leads to reduction in role-stress. It is the right communication that forms the source of success of any goal-setting process. Employee participation is a must to ensure that the goal is attainable.

It is just prudent for the manager to ensure employees are constantly in communication and there is a constant touch to really be successful!

Goal Setting: Work motivation and Task performance

In the last byte, we looked at aspects of setting up SMART goals the role these goals play in the context of an organization. In today's byte, we look at how to improve work motivation and task performance using goal setting.

In setting up the goals we mentioned that challenging goals achieve a better performance corresponding to the effort put in by the people. If we look at this aspect closely, in the context of organizations 3 important behavioral aspects are necessary to enhance performance these are:
  1. Employee Participation
  2. Supervisory Commitment
  3. Performance feedback
Employee participation in the goal setting process enhances their commitment towards the goal to be accomplished. Goal acceptance is the beginning of this commitment process and finally leads to goal accomplishment.

Supervisory commitment is the reflection of the organization's commitment too. It is only in ensuring that the commitment of the organization and the supervisors that would drive towards ensuring the success of any program.

The other important role that the supervisor plays is that of providing the employee performance feedback on the progress towards goals. These sessions of performance feedback are found to be most useful when the goals are specific.

Goal: Characteristics

In the last byte, we looked at how goal setting could help enhance motivation, and what would be the requisites from a goal in order to be effective. In today's byte, we look the requisite characteristics of a goal - SMART in more detail.

Specific and Challenging goals helps an individual focus his/her attention on what is to be accomplished and to arouse the person to peak performance. It has been observed in many occupations that people with specific and rather challenging goals outperform people who have easy or unspecific goals.

Goals must be measurable - these could be either qualitative or quantitative, and act as a basis for feedback about goal progress. Time-bound goals enhance the ability to make these goals measurable - the implicit time limit makes it more targeted and removes unspecificity.

Prioritization of goals allows for effective decision making and also allows better allocation of the resources. Individuals can direct their effort and behavior in case of resource conflicts - time, effort etc.

Goal setting essentially plays three functions at the minimum:
  1. Increases work motivation and task performance
  2. Reduces role stress in case of conflicting/confusing expectations
  3. Improves accuracy and validity of performance evaluation

Goal Setting

In the last byte, we looked at how personality differences influence the way individuals learn. This discussion was part of understanding how individuals learn. In many ways, learning is also influences by motivation and we have discussed about it prior to starting our discussion on learning. One way to motivate individuals is also by setting up goals. Over this byte and the next few, we shall look at understanding the process of goal setting its various dimensions.

Goal setting could be described as a process of establishing desired results that guide and direct behavior. Goals not just give direction but also help crystallize the sense of purpose and mission that is essential to succeed at work. This goal setting process helps get priorities and purpose aligned with the goals and there by act as important sources of motivation for people at work - this leads to collective achievement even in difficult times.

Let us begin with understanding how a goal is to be designed.

The way one defines the goal plays a very important role in the influence it creates on the team members trying to achieve the goal. A lousy, unclear goal could be least expected and in many cases also gets the team to lose its motivation with its shifting nature. Goals are best when they are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Time Bound. These could be remembered by their acronym - SMART.

We shall continue the discussion of these characteristics of the Goal in the next byte.

Learning: Personality Differences

In the last byte, we looked at how a manager could develop self-efficacy and encourage a particular behavior at work. In today's byte, we look at how individual personality differences can affect learning.

If we were to reflect to see if there exists any relation exists between the personality types - extroverts and introverts we begin to see some observations that are important. Introverts prefer quite time to study, concentrate and reflect on what they learn. Their ability to think is best when they are alone. Extroverts on the other hand tend to derive their energy from the surrounding - they think best in groups and while they are talking. They need to interact with other people, and generally learn through the process of expressing and exchanging ideas with others.

If we also look at other ways to classify people, we could classify them as: Intuitors and Sensors based on the way they prefer to gather information or as Thinkers and Feelers based on the way they prefer to make decisions. We find that people who are Intuitors prefer theoretical frameworks, and look for meaning in material; their constant attempt is to understand the grander scheme of things and is constantly on the outlook for possibilities and interrelations. Sensors prefer specific and empirical data. They look for practical applications of what they learn and attempt to master the details of a subject, they are constantly on the lookout for what is realistic and doable. Thinkers prefer to analyze data and information, work to fair-minded and even headed; they seek logical and just conclusions and don’t like to be too personally involved. The feelers are found to prefer interpersonal involvement, are seen to be tenderhearted and harmonious, they seek subjective, merciful results and generally don’t like factual or objective analysis.

It is important to understand form the above that each person has preferred mode gathering information and a preferred mode of evaluating and making decisions about that information! The functions of thinking and feeling determine how the individual evaluates and makes decisions about newly acquired information.

Learning: Self-Efficacy

In the last byte, we looked at social learning and the role of self-efficacy in the same. In today's byte, we look at how self-efficacy can be developed and used by a manager.

It is clear from the last byte that self-efficacy is an extremely sought after behavior. Managers who want to develop self-efficacy in their teams would need to work on their available people resources - give them challenging jobs then support them with time investing in coaching, counseling to ensure that the performance improves and finally reward the employee's achievement. It would be very important in this attempt that the employees are empowered, power shared with them - these help increase the employee's self-esteem and self-efficacy.

At this point it would be important to highlight that social reinforcement in combination with self-efficacy can have a very strong influence on the behavior and performance of employees at work. It was also recognized by Bandura that financial and material rewards often occur following or in conjunction with the approval of others and also, undesirable experiences often follow social disapproval.

The actual challenge in real life for a manager lies in selecting and developing employees to achieve higher self-efficacy at work! The remaining would pretty much follow...

Social Learning Theory

In the last byte, we looked at extinction and understand how it could be used to drive a desired behavior. In today's byte, we look at how people pick up things from others in their environment (this is part of the discussion we initiate today on social learning).

The Social Learning Theory was proposed by Albert Bandura; the underlying belief is that learning occurs through the observation of other people and the modeling of their behavior. An individual could learn from their surroundings, by looking at their parents, relatives, supervisors etc.

If we are to question, how this could be effective at all; we would quickly realize that it relies more on the confidence an individual has on his/her ability to perform a task. In this case, when the individual's beliefs and expectancies about his or her ability to perform a specific task, also called task-specific self-efficacy is the central underlying idea.

Self-efficacy has four sources:
  1. Prior Experience
  2. Behavior Models (witnessing the success of others)
  3. Persuasion from other people
Assessment of Current physical and emotional capabilities

Success is only possible when one believes in one's own capability to get something done!

Look at experiences around you or even within you to look out for examples of self efficacy... there definitely are many

Learning - Extinction

In the last byte, we looked at punishment and how it could be used to drive a desired behavior. In today's byte, we look at using extinction to weaken a behavior.

Extinction is a means of weakening a behavior by not attaching any consequences to the action. It is a bit unclear until we take an example to understand this better.

Assume you have a colleague who is generally passing around sarcastic comments - one approach that as a listener you could take is not reacting to it. This would definitely weaken the enthusiasm and the spirit of the colleague to continue using sarcasm. To reinforce the desirable behavior further, it would be extremely good if you could combine the use of extinction by using positive reinforcement. In this case, you could complement the colleague for constructive comments (positive reinforcement) and ignore the sarcastic comments (extinction)

The rationale for using extinction is that a behavior not followed by any consequence is weakened. One would require patience and time to see it really work.

If one is to decide between extinction and punishment as a thumb rule, one could check what the behavior is likely to be. If the behavior is dangerous, then punishment is preferred to deliver a quick and clear lesson.

Learning - Punishment

In the last byte, we looked at reinforcement schedule. In today's byte, we look at Punishment in detail.

Punishment could be understood as the attempt to eliminate or weaken undesirable behavior! A manager could punish in 2 possible ways
  1. By applying negative consequences
  2. By withholding positive consequences
Of the employee's actions.

Example of the first case could be a match ban introduced by the match referee on the player who violated the moral code of conduct in a particular game. Example of the second case could be considered in sales setting where, a sales associate who makes a few visits to companies and whose sales are well below the quota would receive a very small commission at the end of the month.

There is however one problem with punishment - it may have unintended results. Since there are discomforting experiences, it could lead to negative psychological, emotional, performance of behavioral consequences! It is also to be noted that, it is not just the punishment that raises fear - a threat of punishment may also elicit fear!

Learning - Reinforcement Schedule

In the last byte, we looked at reinforcement closely, in today's byte we look at the schedules of reinforcement and the effect it attempts to achieve.

The following diagram summarized the impact of different schedules of reinforcement. These diagrams are adapted from the Table  in the book Organizational Behavior Modifications by Fred Luthans and Robert Kreitner (Copyright 1985) page 58 by Scott Foresman and Company and the authors of our reference book. 

Learning - Reinforcement

In the last byte, we looked at graphical representation of the Reinforcement and Punishment Strategies. In today's byte, we attempt understanding the reinforcement better.

Reinforcement essentially implies the attempt to develop or strengthen desirable behavior by either bestowing positive consequences or withholding negative consequences. If the manager chooses to apply positive consequences to any desired action of his/her employees, then it results in positive reinforcement. These reinforcement take different forms in different organization - they could be bonus, awards, recognition, promotion etc.

Negative reinforcement is to be understood a bit closely - it results from a manager withholding negative consequence when a desirable behavior occurs. Example: A manager could choose not to exercise the choice of reducing pay for his employee who usually report late if the employee reaches office on time!

In addition to just these consequences, the schedules of reinforcement also play a very influencing role. These could be continuous, fixed, intermittent. Understanding the influence of these schedules for reinforcement would definitely be interesting, we shall make it the subject matter of the next discussion byte.

Learning - Reinforcement, Punishment 2

In the last byte, we looked at the strategies of reinforcement, punishment. In this byte, we look at the graphical representation of the same.

The strategies discussed in the last byte, were put up as a law of effect by Thorndike; we could summarize them as in the diagram below. (This is a modified version of Figure 6.1. from the standard reference book.)

Learning - Reinforcement, Punishment

In the last byte we introduced ourselves to the concept of operant Conditioning. In today's byte, we continue this discussion and delve deeper into understanding reinforcement and punishment.

In simple terms, reinforcement is used to enhance a desired behavior, while punishment and extinction are used to diminish undesired behavior. This theory of reinforcement is fundamental in organizations design of the reward systems. If these reward systems are well designed it would help the organization attract and retain the best employees!

If these reward systems are planned in a strategic way, they would help motivate behavior, action and accomplishments that would propel the organizations in the direction of its goals. These strategic rewards need not necessarily be cash but could be training, educational opportunities, stock options, recognition, travel etc. These sorts of rewards have a positive consequence on the employee's behavior.

If we revisit the last point and the one earlier, we realize that reinforcement and punishments are administered through the positive or negative consequences of the employee's behavior. Positive consequences are results as a result of certain behavior that the person would find more attractive or pleasurable. Negative consequences are results of behavior that a person finds unattractive or aversive. Examples of positive consequences include pay increase, bonus, promotion, transfer to desirable geographic location or even a praise by one's superior. The Negative consequences could include disciplinary action, undesirable transfer, demotion, harsh criticism by a superior.

One essential aspect that a manager would need to be aware of is the cultural differences and gender differences when providing reinforcement through positive or negative consequences.

Learning - Operatant Conditioning

In the last byte, we looked at classical conditioning as a means to learning. In today's byte, we look at operant conditioning as a means to learn!

The beginning would be apt if we first define what operant conditioning means before we proceed. Operant conditioning is the process of modifying behavior through the use of positive or negative consequences following specific behavior. The underlying belief is that behavior is a function of its consequences; it could be positive or negative. These consequences could be positive or negative and essentially leads to 3 possible strategies of creating the consequences:
  1. Reinforcement
  2. Punishment
  3. Extinction
These three types of consequences used in organizations to modify or influence the behavior people are: financial reinforcement, non-financial reinforcement and social reinforcement. Recent research has indicated that financial reinforcement is a stronger mode than a pay for performance and social reinforcement mechanism or even performance feedback.

Learning - Classical Conditioning

In the last byte, we began our discussion on learning. In today's byte we look at Classical conditioning.

Before we could begin with, let’s have a look at the following diagram: which pretty much explains the famous experiment that was associated with this theory.

The diagram here is the summary of the experiment where the behavior of a dog was changed! In summary classical conditioning deals with the modification of behavior so that a conditioned stimulus is paired with an unconditional stimulus and elicits an unconditional response.

Taken to the real world today, it is quite possible that an individual working for long hours in front of a computer may get lower back strain as a result of poor posture, If the person becomes aware of the strain only when the manager enters the work space, then the person may develop a conditional response of lower back pain on appearance of the manager!

The question one would also need to ask - is it so straight forward? No, for the following reasons:
  1. Humans are more complex
  2. Organizational environment are complex too!
  3. There is a phase of decision making that overrides simple conditioning.

Learning 1

In the last byte, we looked at how mangers can use motivation and summarized what would need to be considered when attempting to motivate employees. In today's byte we begin a discussion on learning.

It would be apt to being the discussion with an understanding of the definition of learning in the organizational behavior context. Learning is a change in behavior acquired through experience. If we have a closer look at this change based definition, we can identify 2 broad ways this change in behavior could occur:
  1. Through the cognitive understanding that translates into change later on
  2. Through the feedback method of consequence of a particular action.
Both these methods of learning are popular, but we would begin with the 2nd class of discussion over the next few bytes beginning with classical conditioning and then moving on to reinforcement strategies