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    « Guess the Corporate Support Function | Main | Human Resource Executive Forum 2011 »
    Wednesday
    Mar162011

    Imagine there are no 'A' Players; it's easy if you try

    Peter Cappelli, Professor of Management at the Wharton School, delivered the closing keynote, 'Managing Performance in a Post-Recession Workspace' at the end of the first day of the Human Resource Executive Forum.

    The presentation was equal parts entertaining, engaging, and challenging; in particular the preliminary results that Professor Cappelli shared around his analysis of the consistency of employee performance over time. 

    Essentially the question that Cappelli's research aimed to answer was this?

     

    How much does last year's performance appraisal tell you about what this year's will be?

    Here is the basic methodology - obtain the performance review scores and results over a period of years from a large, established organization, thousands of performance reviews, and examine these reviews and scores to see if there is consistency and predicability in individual's performance reviews over time.

    So back to the question - How much does last year's performance appraisal tell you about what this year's will be?

    If you are like most of the audience, I'll bet you'd say that last year's review would tell you quite a bit about this year's review, most of the attendees felt like about 75% of the time performance results would remain predictive and consistent; i.e., last year's best performers would almost certainly be this year's best performers, and middle of the road performers tend to plod along year after year.

    But according to the research, Cappelli indicated that only 25% of this year's performance review could be predicted from last year's results. The data set suggests that performance fluctuates much more widely over time that we tend to believe, and that he has found no evidence to indicate otherwise.

    Cappelli elaborated on the implications of these findings, offering a series of smart, common-sense approaches to managing performance that would, if skillfully implemented, tend to improve performance over time, particularly performance for so-called 'troubled employees'.

    But the most interesting observation was this - if performance does indeed vary widely over time, the entire idea of 'A' players and 'B' and 'C' players is overblown, if perhaps almost irrelevant.

    If the data suggest that this year's top performers, those 'A' players that we constantly talk about, turn over every rock in the recuiting process to uncover, attempt to nurture and coach up through our organizations with 'special status' and development plans, might only be 25% of next year's 'A' players, well then, the entire notion of 'A' players doesn't make any sense at all.

    If performance is highly variable, highly situational, and difficult to predict based on prior year data, then what does that mean for talent and performance management?

    Is recruiting 'A' players highly overrated?

    Are there really 'A' players and 'C' players?

    What do you think?

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    Reader Comments (5)

    Steve:

    Great recap of Peter's presentation. I was watching your Twitter stream yesterday to keep up.

    The one variable I believe has a profound impact on this theory is the sophistication (or lack of) of the manager(s) responsible for providing performance feedback. In my experience, managers get caught up in three common rating errors that can negatively or positively impact a person's performance. The Recent, Lenient and Halo factors are very subjective and can take a person from the bottom to the top or vice versa. So, while I support Peter's theory that your past performance doesn't necessarily drive your current or future level of performance, I don't believe there aren't "A" players. I simply believe "A" players can be identified or not identified by ineffective or inexperienced management.

    Thanks for posting this blog. It's another that supports my theory of performance not being an event but ongoing process. May avoid these issues if it was transformed over time.

    Lisa Sterling

    March 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLisa Sterling

    Hi Steve:

    One of the fundamental issues with recruiting “A” players is that everyone seems to have their own unique idea of what an “A” player is both on paper and throughout the interview process. Even with topgrading process in place to move towards a more objective point of view, one factor will always remain present in the decision making process - “we’re all human and we all make decisions based on that simple fact”. So if you’re looking for only “A” players and want to hire at a rapid pace you’re in for a long haul, because in a room of eight interviewers reviewing a candidates key attributes during a feedback session you will many time have mixed reviews, 50/50 split decisions, and instead of an action item you’re left with a maybe at best.

    The second flaw with looking for only “A” players is that they may be elitists who sound fantastic during the interview process but not exactly what you would call hard workers when faced with the day to day grind of working fifty plus hours a week. On the other hand, “B” players are often much easier to work with in terms of personality and not having an overbearing ego. They quite often make better team players and usually have an incredible work ethic - you know, the thing you hired them to do … work.

    And last but not certainly not least “A” players demand A-pay which is fine if you’re working for Google or Microsoft but not so good if you’re a small to mid-sized company in growth mode.

    Thanks for the post, great topic!

    Joe Noonan

    March 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJoe Noonan

    Very interesting study. Performance Reviews are based upon goals. Managers and employees may have input, but goals should flow directly down from the business objectives if done correctly. If the goals are too high, too low, or not related to the business objectives, the goals are not accurately reflecting performance as related to the overall business. In my opinion, the review means little if you do not have accurate goals. I would expect performance to vary if the goals stink.

    As business needs change (increase in volume, decrease in volume, new technology, acquisition, new product, etc...), I have seen performance change as well. The once A player cannot adapt to the new business condition and performance falls. This says to me that this person was really not an A player. Perhaps we use the term A player too loosely because a true A player will adapt to the changing situation, if his or her goals are aligned with the business.

    March 17, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterBonita Martin

    @Lisa - Thanks very much - you raise some great points about whether or not improvements in the process could indeed produce more predictive results. The argument was so interesting because it was counter-intuitive. Cappelli definitely did stress the need and importance of ongoing and regular feedback in the presentation as well.

    @Joe - Thanks very much Joe for those observations and comments. Super points that also help to make the 'A' player discussion even more interesting.

    @Bonita - Great point about the situational aspects of performance. Cappelli I think was hinting at that reality as well during the talk. Thanks for sharing your thoughts here.

    March 17, 2011 | Registered CommenterSteve

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    March 21, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDon York

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