A few years ago, Anthony Tjan, founder of the venture capital firm Cue Ball, wrote an HBR Blog post titled The Challenge of the Average Employee. In it, he addresses one of the many performance management conundrums we struggle with, which is tailoring the experience to the needs and possibilities of different employee groups. In particular, he examines the challenge how to bring out the best from the "thick middle", the 80% or so of "Steady Eddies" who get the job done, but don't necessarily stand out in their roles. One particular idea worth noting is what he calls a "Fit Point Test." Tjan argues that we may be spending too much time discussing performance and not enough time discussing job fit in our regular conversations with employees - a particular pitfall for those in the middle of the pack.
...at regular intervals of a person's career, there should be not just "performance reviews" but also what I call a "Fit Test Point." Too many times we see someone who can do the job, but if we are truly honest know that in the long-run they will be stuck in the middle of the organization. My sense is that companies spend more time discussing performance than they do "fit." Performance reviews are biased towards looking out for the best interests of a company — as long as someone is doing their job they have a place. A "Fit Test Point" is a tool to carefully consider the best interests of an employee. Is this person in product development really better served finding a position as an industry or market researcher, or is that analyst who can clearly make the next two rungs of the management track better served making a switch in her career now given the opportunity cost of time? We all know situations where instincts and experience alerted us that a job was not the best fit for someone, yet we let the person continue because they filled a short-term need or because we lacked the courage to have the honest "Fit Test" conversation. Consider key inflection points of one's career advancement and have the parallel conversation of performance and fit reviews.
What do you think of the idea of a regular Fit Test conversation - above, beyond, distinct from or even in lieu of a performance review process? While many organizations may capture aspects of this in the "development" portion of performance management, in my experience, most developmental reviews don't really deal with job fit in the manner that I think Tjan is advocating. They may cover an employee's particular career aspirations and potential promotion paths, but they often dodge the different, more difficult and honest assessment of an employee who is doing the job adequately and doesn't express an explicit wish for advancement - yet may need to consider alternatives for the employer's sake as well as their own long term success.
Food for thought?
Image: Creative Commons photo "Square Peg in a Round Hole" by danstorey14