More Than Words

Eighty-seven letters from theeditor: 62,250 words and 348,000 characters.

Give or take a few, those are three reasonably accurate measures of my accomplishments since Ibegan writing this column in Talent Managementmagazine back in September 2007.

Every month, I’ve put virtual pen to paper to crank out 750 words and 4,000 characters with observations, criticisms, encouragements and recommendations for managing our most precious — and misunderstood — organizational asset.

As I hand this page’s reins to Senior Editor Frank Kalman (see page 14), I can tell you with absolute certainty that I completed those tasks and delivered those results. Whether all those words added up to anything good remains an open question.

Did I have a meaningful message? Did they spark an idea or conversation? Did anyone even read them? Without answers, it’s all just words and numbers. The numbers tell you what I delivered. They don’t reveal what, if anything, I accomplished.

Activity, as a writer or talent manager, is easy to measure. An ever-evolving set of sophisticated tools and technologies provide a remarkably detailed picture. I can (and did) tell you how many articles I’ve written and how many words and individual characters that adds up to. With a quick look at our website analytics tool, I can tell you how many people read them, for how long, what country they came from and even what Internet service provider and browser they used.

Likewise, you can tell me pretty easily how many people your organization hired, how many you fired and how many left for greener pastures this year. With the right tool you can get more detailed without breaking a sweat, telling me how long on average it took to hire a new person, their time to productivity and under which managers they are most likely to thrive.

We can measure efficiency and output with speed and accuracy. But what’s the point?

Take everyone’s favorite HR punching bag, the employee performance appraisal. Every year around this time, legions of HR managers coast to coast distribute performancereview forms to reluctant middle managers and map out the battle plan. Supervisors dutifully sally forth to the front line to spar with employees in a skirmish that just about everybody hates and pretty much nobody wants.

And for what? A mishmash of objective and subjective data more likely headed for a file cabinet than the generals’ war room. We end up with accurate counts of development hours delivered, detailed ledgers of performance ranks and a comprehensive catalog of managers’ remonstrations and employees’ frustrations. All necessary stuff but it’s not going to win the war.

The performance review process is emblematic of HR practice that more often serves the process at the expense of the result. All too often we mistake the outcome of the process as the goal we’re trying to achieve. It would be like me saying my goal is to write an article of 750 words. If that were it, I’d fill this page with random words and phrases with no real meaning and call it a day. Smart aleck readers would say I’ve been doing that all along.

Real outcomes aren’t just words or numbers. Real outcomes are dollars generated, costs avoided and new business. Real outcomes are lives changed for the better through challenging work and meaningful careers.

Just cranking out words isn’t why I write and managing performance reviews, and developing dashboards isn’t why you do what you do. You do what you do because you believe your contributions make a difference for employees and employers. You do what you do because there’s a need to constantly examine and adjust the work of talent management to ensure its relevance and continued value. Words and numbers are part of that story, but they’re not all of it.

While I’m stepping down from filling this page after 87 letters from the editor, 65,250 words and 348,000 characters, I continue to look forward to seeing how that story unfolds.

Image courtesy of Pixabay.