This submission is copyright to Steve Jenkin, © 2010
Published May 2010.

Introduction | Keeping Promises | Back Office Paradox 
Non-Experts Judging Work/Performance | Another Example

Back Office Paradox

Having digested all of that, I told Steve that I was not sure that I understood his reference to "What of the 'Paradox', 'Back Office' and 'Professionals Performance'". Steve explained as follows:

The Paradox:

If you're very good at your job, you will do tasks quickly and efficiently and without obvious effort or panic, i.e. calmly and easily. You will often appear to outsiders to be "doing nothing", i.e. using (necessary) "Slack Time". Non-expert Owners/Managers will not appreciate your efforts. Hence, you're likely to be fired.

If you're not very competent, every task will be a "Mount Everest" and you'll spend a huge amount of time producing very complex, fragile and poor solutions. The harder it looks and the more effort (input = hours) you put in, the more likely you are to be promoted and rewarded. Bosses will look at your work and say: "We're very lucky to have someone who is so good at these tasks that we didn't realize were so hard". (See reference earlier to cases documented by Jerry Weinberg in 1971)

Hence the thesis:

Most bosses only look to input measures, not outputs, for Performance Assessment.

Here's a joke to illustrate the effect of looking only at the input.

It is the Winter Olympics Ice Skating Competition and the Judging Panel has one "Name-Your-Own-Simpleton" (NYOS) on it. A series of competitors come out to perform and show their talents. They get regular type scores such as: "4.2, 4.3, 4.1, 3.9, 4.4" etc. Then the Ice Skating equivalent of "Eddie the Eagle" (notoriously poor ski-jumper from UK) comes out. He can barely stand up, let alone show off his abilities properly, and none of the harder/more complex maneuvers. He falls over often, but "bravely perseveres".

The judges marks are: "0.5, 1.1, 0.7", but "4.9" comes from the "NYOS" judge. The other judges are incredulous and ask the NYOS: "Why did you give such a high mark?" to which the NYOS replied: "Didn't you see how slippery it was out there??"

This implies that:

  1. The other competitors didn't have the same challenge, and
  2. The incompetent person did a very credible performance "considering the conditions".

The joke is judging on effort not on outcomes.

This reminded me a little of today's state of the practice of project portfolio management. Today's approach is all about alignment with the organization's strategic direction (the input). Although there is some talk about the benefits arising from the resulting projects, few organizations are making any serious efforts to quantify the actual outcomes. One suspects that could eventually lead to a serious awakening - especially in the IT world.

Keeping Promises  Keeping Promises

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