Here is an interesting personnel practice at a science-oriented organization: The names of candidates for senior promotions, and the positions where they are under consideration to be promoted into, are made known to members of the public. The suspense goes on for months following this outside disclosure. In the end, at least 2/3 of the people on the list will end up feeling disappointed, maybe bitter or angry, and possibly ready to look for another job. While a process of thoughtful consideration and deliberation is necessary for promotion, the general tenor of this particular process is rather like jury deliberation in this country. In fact, the jury process is almost the model which management in this institution tries to emulate. By this I mean that the management has abdicated its decision-making responsibility. Instead of exercising their judgment on their own people’s promotional eligibility – deciding whether the person is promoted or not – managers allow a much more complicated and cumbersome process to choose who to be promoted. And managers have also, ever so cleverly, informed key people outside the institution which of their best employees are now ripe for recruitment.
Jury process is designed to determine guilty or not guilty. Management concerns nuanced matters of human behavior and emotion. Management’s considerations require more wisdom and insight than due process. Due process will never eliminate subjective judgment, especially not in matters of human behavior and human relationships. Management has evolved to processes that protect itself against lawsuits, complaints or grievances. But in so doing, management has abandoned decision power in domains that require wisdom. As a result, managers focus their power on matters that devoid of human touch, such as abstract rules and regulations. But in actuality, managers are forced to pay attention to the full spectrum of behaviors exhibited by their direct reports: messy problems, minor violations, thoughtful analyses, to demonstrations of superior performance. And when managers can’t find “how to make a judgment call” in their manual, they feel uncertain and often end up making good situations bad, and bad situations worse.
If managers keep surrendering to manuals, rules, regulations, or precedents, why do we not simply institute computer programs to make these decisions?
But having made all these complaints, I have to admit that due process as the ultimate arbiter is what society at large has been pushing for. Our litigious practices have made all of us fearful of making decisions.
On the fifth hand, we need a much “wiser” organizational structure in which wisdom, track records of good judgment, empathy, integrity, and humility are part of promotional criteria. But faced with the expectations that we measure these criteria, how do we use them? I’ll keep thinking about these issues…if you have any suggestions, please share.
Till next week,
Staying Sane and Charging Ahead.
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