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Scientific Performance Technologies for Business

Here are some answers to some frequently asked questions about Performance Management and how companies currently manage their organizations. The information is intended to clarify what Performance Management is and what it is not. The information can be used to help interested readers assess traditional approaches to managing performance:

Q: My company has a Performance Appraisal system already. Isn’t that what we are talking about here?

A: Performance Management (PM) is not a traditional Performance Appraisal. PM is a scientific, systematic, data-oriented approach to managing people in day to day operations. In a traditional Performance Appraisal (PA) a manager judges a performer once a year, and sometimes once a quarter. The PA measuring instruments are crude and cannot objectively measure performance of an individual or a team. PM measuring instruments are often designed to accurately measure performance daily so people can gauge progress each and every day. PA systems often have managers rank employees against each other and the consequences of bonuses, salary increases, even promotions typically follow suit. In PM we typically rate people’s performance against pre-established performance criteria, so everyone can become a high performer. Behaviors, and even results occur every day and the measuring instruments should be capable of gathering data at this same frequency for them to be effective. In PM this data is used to provide immediate feedback and positive reinforcement on performance to enhance individual’s progress . Contrast that with a traditional PA system where feedback and recognition is provided quarterly or annually. A typical argument in support of PA systems is to simply do them more often. However, if the measuring devices, feedback systems, reinforcement plans, and even the performance itself are not accurately constructed then doing something that doesn’t work more often will not improve it. Performance Management understands and defines critical variables to performance like pinpointed results and behaviors, measures, and positive consequences, and uses accurate instruments daily to manage performance as it occurs.

Q: Are you talking about popular psychology? Do I have to get into people’s head and become a shrink to manage performance?

A: No. This is one of the greatest misconceptions about the science of behavior even among scholars in several professional disciplines. Behavioral Analysis Science is as scientific as Physics, Chemistry, or Biology. Behavioral analysts often view it as a branch science of biology. How it is classified as a science is in the same way we classify all other physical and natural sciences. For example, the functional and lawful cause-effect relationships are based on measurable, observable, physical, and natural variables (external variables) related to the variable of behavior. Unlike most of psychology, behavioral analysis rejects the notion that we must stay solely inside the person to do a proper functional analysis (in their “minds” so to speak). Internal causes that cannot be measured or observed cannot be safely entered into a scientific functional analysis. For example, how do we measure or observe an “ego”, “id” or even a “personality”? On the other hand, we cannot reject external operational variables like “lack of recognition, money, food, water - or deprivation” to understand the cause-effect relationships on behavior. Through more than one hundred years of precise scientific experimentation the fundamental cause-effect relationships of behavior derived from behavioral analysis science have been consistently validated. It rejects the notion that you need to get into someone’s head to interpret, predict, or influence their behavior. It should be relieving to know that managers do not need to know psychology, or get into employees heads, to manage them effectively. Performance Management uses the lawful relationships derived from behavior analysis science to manage performance. And you can too. The results will amaze you.

 Q: I like to think I am a good Manager. I get along with my employees and I try to motivate them each and every day. Isn’t that what Performance Management is really all about?

A: The interesting part of this question is that actually motivating people is a large part of PM, but not all of it. The real question is not whether I motivate my employees, but “how” does management motivate? The answer often defies common sense. People typically assume we know how to motivate others just simply by casually observing what works during our living experiences; that’s actually what common sense is. Often, we think what motivates others is what typically motivates us. Or often we assume because we are in management roles and have an “outgoing personality” we naturally get along and know how to motivate employees. All of these notions are simply not true. As a matter of fact, like most sciences, the findings of Behavior Analysis fly in the face of common sense. How we motivate people, anywhere in life, or organizations is a good case in point. Behavior Analysis science tells us we can only motivate or bring about behavior (actually increase the rate of behavior technically) through two processes - Positive Reinforcement and Negative Reinforcement. Although the definition of each of these processes is technical in nature, simply think of one as “reward” and the other as “relief” respectively. In positive reinforcement we reward people with what they want “contingent” on and “only” after a behavior is performed, not before (not possible because of the contingency aspect of the process). Negative reinforcement is a little tricky. Most people interpret this process as Punishment, which it is not. Think of negative reinforcement as a behavior which is strengthened because it ensures “relief from being punished”. For example, like making it to work on time (behavior that is strengthened) to avoid embarrassment from your boss or peers (punishing consequence for some people). Both processes can motivate people. In other words people are not typically motivated by what we say to them like pep talks, their behaviors are “motivated”, or more technically controlled, by the history of their reinforcing consequences. It’s not what we say that motivates, it’s people’s past experiences of what happens to them after they do the things we want them to do (consequences that follow behaviors). Reinforcement processes in the workplace are often misinterpreted. Are people motivated to come to work to get paid (positive reinforcement) or to avoid losing a paycheck (negative reinforcement)? The effect of motivation on performance through these processes is also important. Both are motivating, but negative reinforcement limits performance, as you may have already figured out. Negative reinforcement feels like “I have to”, positive reinforcement feels like “I want to”. So, if we motivate correctly we can have tremendous effects on performance and that is a big part of Performance Management. There are also other important techniques that Performance Management uses to have positive effects on performance like pinpointing (results and behaviors), performance measurement, and performance feedback systems to name a few.    

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