Chris Mudiappahpillai has been with Big Bang Technology for one year. Because I love Chris and the contributions that he has brought to our team I wanted to do the right thing and give him a proper performance evaluation. As his anniversary was approaching I began to reach out to our advisors and research how we should be assessing his performance. I saw that there were a million processes and procedures for evaluating an employee and it got messy. I decided to get back to the basics and form the basis of his evaluation upon a single question: How does Chris know he is succeeding each day? Read more...
I started to wonder if this question was even important. Does it matter if he knows whether he is succeeding? My instincts told me that this was very important but I had trouble when it came to articulating it. Like usual, my mind began drifting towards video games.
Modern video game design is essentially the act of balancing a set of feedback mechanisms in response to user gestures. Studies have shown that pure positive feedback mechanisms yield the highest rate engagement for video game players. You don’t have to be an expert to see that games like FarmVille or World of Warcraft are extremely engaging. I was surprised when I realized how engagement affected employees as well.
Engagement is almost like being turned on. An engaged employee is fully involved, enthusiastic, and will act in any way that they can in order to help the business. What this means is that if frequent positive feedback has created high levels of engagement in video game players, it should theoretically do the same thing for employees. So how does an employee get feedback in a typical company?
Inside of many large companies (or small business trying to emulate large ones) employee's tasks are fairly independent. There might be a weekly stand-up, or town hall where companies rally around common objectives. A team meeting will be called where people announce factors that are “blocking” them from proceeding on a task, or that might be jeopardizing a deadline. The problem is that there isn’t enough positive feedback and it’s also not the right kind.
There isn’t enough feedback because of what catalyzes it in the first place. Most managers don’t want to get involved until there is a mistake. A friend who is a manager once told me that “standing there with their arms crossed while the well oiled machine went to work” was the ultimate goal of a manager. That is great except the manager is missing so many opportunities for positive feedback.
The feedback is also the wrong kind because of where it comes from. Positive punishment is doled out when an employee makes the mistake and it usually resembles something like “Bad dog!”. Negative reinforcement is also used frequently: “If you mess up, we are taking away your bonus.” Nothing disengages a person more than positive punishment and negative reinforcement. And when an employee does something great? Well finally, that is their job anyways isn’t it?
There is a better way. We shouldn’t be looking at big companies as a model for us. Small companies aren’t the same as big companies anyways. How can we use the fact that we are small to our advantage and leverage that uniqueness? Giving constant positive feedback should be the mission of every start-up founder. Here at Big Bang Technology, we’re already using a process called Doing the Board which gives feedback every morning as the team gets to work. Moving forward it’ll be our job to make sure that feedback is as positive as possible. Whatever you call your process, it literally doesn’t matter as long as you as your giving positive feedback.
So after all this work to figure out how I’m going to review Chris, I realize that we’ve been doing it already one day at a time. That might explain why he seems to be very engaged. But what about the bigger picture? How do we plan for the longer term things with our employees and how do we make sure that they know they are on track? These are great questions and I will try to answer them in the next post.