In the 2002 movie Minority Report, a trio of “precogs” predicted crimes before they occurred and the “pre-perpetrator” was arrested and convicted based on the premonitions from the “precogs.” Wouldn’t it be nice if we could do the same with talent in our organizations? Not the arrest and conviction part but the predict future performance part?
Unfortunately, we don’t have a way to predict performance. We do the opposite of what “precogs” do. We manage talent by watching, measuring and documenting past behaviors and performance and then devise interventions to “fix” any problems we uncover. No problems – no intervention. But this process has a major flaw. When you focus on the lower performing personnel (and let’s face it – we all do) the top performers notice. When top performers see you spend all your time with the non-performers, the message is – “if I want time with management – I better screw something up.” Management attention is a form of reward. Unconsciously, you are rewarding poor performance.
What to do?
Bring in The PreCogs
There is a site called The Situationist that is associated with Harvard Law School. Their mission is… “provide a forum for scholars, students, lawyers, policymakers, and interested citizens to examine, discuss, and debate the effect of situational forces – that is, non-salient factors around and within us – on law, policy, politics, policy theory, and our social, political, and economic institutions.”
Quite the mouthful. The bottom line is they study how we behave in different situations.
Recently, they highlighted a study that was designed to reduce the achievement gap in schools. They showed a significant improvement in student performance when one group of students took part in a series of 15-minute writing assignments. The assignments asked the students to choose from a list of values and write about the value most important to them.
The results were pretty impressive:
- The exercise reduced the achievement gap between black and white students by 40 percent over one term
- The benefits for low-achieving black students continued for the entire two years — students who completed the self-affirmation exercise raised their GPA by four-tenths of a point compared to the control group. They were also less likely to need remedial work or to repeat a grade — 5 percent as compared to 18 percent of the control group
They concluded that when people are reminded of negative stereotypes, the stress of worrying about confirming those stereotypes can negatively affect their performance. The self-affirmation exercise reminded students about what is really important to them and may have helped reduce that stress and therefore, helped increase overall performance.
Why This Matters in Business
Here’s where I think this can have an impact. Typically, new hires feel a bit disconnected and a bit overwhelmed with the new position. They have the impression they are “behind the curve.” But what if when new talent is brought on board at your company you had them write an essay about how what they do best will improve, enhance,and drive success for themselves and your business. This will “pre-affirm” their contribution and set the stage for greater performance – if the research holds.
This also ties into a principle of influence called “commitment and consistency.” This principle states that we want to remain consistent with past actions, and when we publicly put something out there, we are committing to it – and that has a huge impact on our desire to achieve those goals.
Worst case – you have a document that shows how well new talent understands the mission of the company and their role in it. Best case – you have improved performance in the future. Not a bad way to start the day, eh?