Applying the wisdom of crowds to employee evaluations

What if companies passed around the following mini-survey to all their employees every quarter?:

  1. If the company were to give a bonus to only one employee (the one who contributed most to the company’s success) – who should that be?
  2. If the company were to promote only one employee (the one who could contribute to the company significantly more as a manager or in a position other than the one s/he’s holding onto today) – who should that be?
  3. If the company were to fire one employee – who should it be?

In so many cases, employees are evaluated, compensated, bonused and promoted based exclusively on management’s perception of their performance. This has merit to some extent, but it throws into the evaluation formula an inevitable factor – the ‘upwards communication skill’ factor. A mediocre performer with excellent upwards communication skills will almost always get more management recognition than a great employee with crappy upward communication skills. This factor is almost impossible for management to discount[1], while at the same time being extremely easy for a broad peer survey to completely ignore.

BTW – this is not to say that upwards communications is necessarily a bad thing. When combined with great performance, an employee that can properly communicate upwards is a great asset to the company. However, these two factors rarely appear together. The reason being that for a mediocre performer, upwards communication skills become a necessary survival mechanism. Similarly, great performers many times feel like tooting their own horn is a waste of time and effort.

So the question is – can the wisdom of crowds be applied to internal employee evaluations as a means for identifying and retaining those employees that really contribute most to the organization?

[1] Most managers (myself included… 😉 will deceive themselves to believe that they can actually ignore the upwards communication skill factor while considering only the ‘real’ factors. That, in fact, is bullshit.

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