Work teams. Organizations are increasingly turning to the use of teams for task accomplishment and emphasizing team performance. These often autonomous employees work together toward a common goal for which they are jointly held responsible and plan and organize their own work in the absence of supervisory oversight. Shared responsibilities among team members present challenges as the supervisor is charged with evaluating an employee’s contribution to the team effort as well as the overall success of the team’s performance without having been directly involved him-or herself.
Geographically dispersed teams. Increasingly, work teams are composed of members who work in geographically different locations. Team members may work in different buildings on the same campus, different cities, and even different countries. Sometimes, team members live in different time zones and vastly different cultures. Because of the physical or temporal distances between supervisor and employee, direct methods of supervision no longer work. Often corporations construct these teams composed of employees from different locations due to the need for a particular expertise or because of the high cost, both in terms of dollars and employee satisfaction, of moving employees. In many global businesses, members representing all geographic areas are required to ensure the universal applicability of decisions made. These teams can be highly cohesive groups of people who interact extensively or a number of individuals who are assigned tasks that are part of a greater whole and work independently. Supervisors and team members may need to build relationships with people of diverse backgrounds without face-to-face contact or the benefit of informal opportunities for socializing. In some cases, team members will be vitally aware of each other’s performance; in others, team members will have no idea.
Flexible definition of a job. In the past, jobs were clearly defined as a set of related tasks that were performed to achieve a particular goal. Recent trends suggest that jobs are becoming broader in the scope of tasks to be performed and that workers are being asked to shift tasks more frequently. Whether or not the concept of a job has changed or the belief that jobs as they once were performed simply do not exist anymore is arguable. What remains apparent, though, is that more workers are being asked to develop broad skill sets and bring high levels of adaptability to meet changing work requirements.
Outsourcing. Many organizations are focusing on their core capabilities and outsourcing work that is not part of their main mission. Ongoing outsourcing can add another dimension to geographical dispersion within teams. Not only can team members be geographically dispersed, but they can literally work for another company. Concern regarding co-employment laws often results in strict limitations on who supervises whom, preventing supervisors of one company from managing performance of employees in the outsourced firm. Yet, in many cases, these are the very employees who are vital to the success of the team.
Remote work arrangements (such as hotelling and telecommuting). Another growing trend is the use of alternate work arrangements that allow some workers to work away from their “office” location some, if not all, of their work time. In “hotelling” arrangements, workers who travel extensively may not have a fixed office; instead, their company provides temporary offices from which they work when they have a need to be in a company location. “Telecommuting” arrangements allow workers to perform their jobs some place other than a company office, typically from their homes. These alternate work arrangements have multiple purposes, ranging from reducing expenditures for office space to enhancing the worker’s quality of life. All result in profound alterations to how and when employees and supervisors interact with one another.
Flexible work schedules. Another alternate work arrangements is flexible work schedules that may include undefined work schedules, schedules that require attendance only during core hours, and flex-time in terms of specific working days and/or starting and ending times. Similar to remote work arrangements, flexible schedules are often intended primarily to enhance the worker’s quality of life. The benefits to the employer may be less clear but probably include the ability to attract and retain capable workers. Regardless of the benefits, flexible work schedules can decrease the amount of time supervisor and direct report (as well as team members) spend with each other, changing how performance is managed and evaluated.
Job sharing. Job sharing allows two or more people to hold the same job. Typically, one person is available during normal work hours for part of the week and the other for the remaining time. For example, one person may work mornings and the other afternoons. Often, each person’s schedule allows some overlap time to share information and transfer responsibilities. Although a worker may be physically present, the supervisor has new challenges in evaluating each individual’s performance of the job. The amount of observation time for each individual may be cut in half, and there may be some lack of clarity as to which employee is responsible for what work outcome. In addition, the organization may need to redefine commitment to the job and reassess the importance of full-time work for career progression.
Flat organizational structure. A growing trend in many American corporations is the removal of layers of management, which usually results in increased numbers of direct reports for the remaining supervisors. The rationale behind the flattening of the organization varies. One reason is to move upper-level managers closer to their customers by eliminating middle managers. Another is that, by eliminating superfluous layers of management, the latter hierarchy results in significant cost savings and efficiencies. Implementing performance management processes can be challenging when a manager supervises large numbers of people who perform diverse functions. In addition, flatter organizations may provide fewer promotional opportunities. Those who are promoted may find that the reduction in the layers of management results in a substantial increase in the scope of the job and the commensurate skill requirements.
Matrix management. Matrix management, in which individual workers have multiple reporting relationships, has been used by organizations for many years. However, recent focus on cost efficiencies in many businesses may have increased the number of such relationships. One person often has multiple responsibilities and reports to multiple supervisors, each of whom must evaluate the individual on a subset of all the work performed. Therefore, no one supervisor has a complete picture of an individual’s performance. Often, there is no one supervisor totally responsible for helping the individual with all the aspects of performance management and career development. The diffused responsibility can lead to conflicting developmental advice or no direction whatsoever. From the supervisor ‘s perspective, matrix management can often confuse the responsibilities of performance management and lead to inconsistent messages being communicated to the employee.
Multi-media communication modes. Many of the alternative work arrangements discussed above are successful because communications are facilitated by different kinds of technologically enhanced media. Although some of these modes of communication (such as telephone service) have high fidelity, the face-to-face aspect is lost completely. Other modes (such as videoconferencing) are almost as good as being physically present but may involve technical problems that inhibit clear communications. Supervisors who communicate through these tools have to consider carefully the effect of the communication mode on the quality of the performance management discussions and decide whether anything is an acceptable substitute for a face-to-face performance discussion.
Global business. Another significant trend of recent years is the growth of international business in which an organization conducts its business around the globe and has employees from many different countries and cultures working together. Although cultural differences may be more difficult to recognize than language differences, the cultural differences may significantly shape what is considered acceptable performance and what is not. Supervisors and employees must attend to the effect cultural differences have on how work is accomplished and the implications for how individuals interact with one another. In addition, job requirements must be carefully differentiated from local customs that are followed despite actual job needs. For example, developing a relationship with a customer may be a requirement of the job; taking the customer to lunch may be a cultural expectation.
Technology. It is difficult to write anything concerning business in the 21st century without acknowledging the role of technology. Technology has significantly changed how many jobs are performed. Workers entering the workforce since the mid-1980s when the Internet became widely available have grown up with technology and are comfortable using it not only to perform their work but also to communicate with their colleagues, supervisors, and customers.
Change. Similarly, the workforce today has experienced radical changes in the workplace. These changes include what work is performed, how it is performed, and who (or what) performs it. Although employees may not be entirely comfortable with the nature and pace of change, most have adapted to it. In many cases, these workers have come to expect change in their work as a natural course of events.
The likelihood of change in the worker’s career is also very high. It seems rare today for someone to retire from a company with forty years of service. Although workers today may not expect to make a great many personal career changes, the reality is that many will have large numbers of jobs and several careers in their lifetimes. In some cases, these changes will be forced upon them; in others, they may be seeking different kinds of work and rewards or attempting to develop new skills.
Performance Management: Putting Research into Action
James W. Smither, Manuel London
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