Crowdsource Professional Development For Your Team

Ben Olds Ben Olds, Recognition, Talent Management Power Rankings, Training and Development

Much has been said about the wisdom of crowds. Yet many managers still consider Performance Management and Professional Development to be their own responsibility—and don’t enlist the help of their colleagues when evaluating and developing employees. As a result, they’re leaving valuable insights on the table.

When evaluating and developing her people, a good manager should focus not only on what got done, but also on how the work got done. Chances are good that the manager won’t need much input on understanding what got done. A good manager should know what her employee accomplished. She should consider the goals established at the beginning of the period, adjust based on circumstances that arose throughout the period, and understand how close her employee came to goals.

However, in a hands-off knowledge economy where managers hire smart people and get out of their way, managers might not know how the work got done. And this matters. Examples? The bully who gets all of his tasks accomplished but works through people, leaving destroyed relationships in his wake and causes institutional damage that could completely negate the value of his accomplishments. Or the hard-working “yes-man” who takes on every volunteer workstream and might have accomplished all of his tasks, but failed to incorporate any input from anyone else. The passive supporter might have fallen short of his task goals, because he was constantly jumping in to help others solve their problems.

How the work got done is just as important as what work got done. This is where crowdsourcing can be helpful. Wouldn’t it be great if a manager could find out more about how her employee does his work, without micromanaging the employee? There are a number of ways to do this.

  • Annual 360s are a great source of developmental advice on how an employee might improve. Most experts would argue that the 360 shouldn’t also be used in evaluations lest respondents would be less candid and sugarcoat their feedback. Maybe this is true, maybe it isn’t, but depending on the cultural norms, 360s could be a way for mangers to learn how the work got done.
  • Amazon’ s “Anytime Feedback Tool” was recently examined in the NY Time’s scathing article on its culture and workforce practices. The tool itself, however, could be quite intriguing in the right environment: Anytime someone has a cold-prickly or a warm-fuzzy to offer, they could send to the employee (anonymously or authored) and a copy is stored for the manager to review. (If you were worried about one person inflating or sabotaging someone else’s feedback with dozens of comments, you could assign a code to each contributor so the employee and manager would know how many contributions were from the same unnamed source.)
  • A third idea is to tabulate a sort of Net Promotor Score on each employee. This tool asks colleagues to rate how eager they are to work with your employee again in the near future. The really low scores are subtracted from the really high scores and you’re left with an overall metric for how interested people are in working with your employees. Standard warnings about performance ratings and rankings apply.

There are pros and cons to these, and none of them offer the perfect solution. What other ideas do you have for crowdsourcing feedback?

Ben Olds
Ben works in HR/OD at Merrimack Pharmaceuticals, a Cambridge company dedicated to the simple goal of trying to cure cancer… no big deal! Ben’s on his second career, having spent his first in business/strategy consulting, mostly with Bain & Co and Monitor Group, which basically just means he relies on MS Excel to solve virtually any problem he faces. If he’s not coaching or working with colleagues on their approach to leadership, he’s helping teams create effective dynamics or planning a recognition program to motivate employees. And sometimes, he’s chasing his wife around the ice hockey rink in his weekly pick-up game, or playing tennis, squash, skiing, hiking, mountain biking, or anything else to expend his nervous energy!