Does measuring performance have to import the world’s target culture obsessed with achievement? If we do measure performance, how do we avoid making people feel judged, driven and devalued? Is it really possible for leaders in any workplace to measure in ways that encourage human flourishing?
This event launches a new booklet by Paul Valler in the Grove leadership series: Using Measurement Well (focusing on purpose without damaging relationships). Paul reviews the theological arguments for and against measurement and explore how a biblical framework can help us to understand what ‘good’ looks like when measuring performance. Showing how the way we measure can improve our organisational culture, this is for leaders in all types of organisation.
Paul Valler is a former Finance and Operations Director for Hewlett-Packard Ltd. With over 25 years of church leadership experience, he is now a mentor for ministers and Christian business people.
UCB got in touch to ask Neil Hudson his thoughts about a US study that investigated which leadership quality is most important to Christians? The results suggested that some Christian adults primarily believe integrity, not “passion for God,” is the most important quality in a leader.
In this 9 minute interview Neil discusses how integrity, leadership, the sacred-secular divide and a good dose of humility all shape Christian leadership both within and outside a church context.
Mark Greene sees a project manager change the law of the Medes and the Persians. This article was originally published in EG Issue 33.
New year, new appraisal system: could be helpful, could be wearisome, could be liberating, could be destructive. This one, as far as Peter is concerned, is likely to be as beneficial as playing pass the parcel blindfold with a live grenade – everyone is going to suffer and someone is going to get badly hurt. In the new system 15% of employees have to be ranked ‘below standard’. And if you are ranked ‘below standard’ you lose your bonus and most of your inflation linked pay rise.
Peter (all names changed), is a senior project manager in a multi-national manufacturing company, and he has three issues with this system.
It arbitrarily changes the terms of everyone’s performance evaluation. Up to this point you could be the least talented member of a team and still be performing well above standard – a mere Christiano Ronaldo in a team full of Lionel Messis. This, after all, is a blue chip company making outstanding products for a discerning global market. It’s one thing for a company to seek to improve the quality and performance of its people, it’s another to arbitrarily call their work ‘below standard.’ It is unjust.
Secondly, Peter feels it will corrode relationships and team morale since it is likely to set up unhealthy rivalries within previously harmonious teams: people’s focus will no longer be on doing the best they can for the team but on doing the best they can to ensure that they are not in the bottom 15%, and that someone else is.
Peter’s third problem with the system is a practical one: no one in Peter’s team is actually performing below standard. If Peter complies with this process, it requires him to lie and to be involved in unjustly punishing a valued member of his team.
However, HR systems that are rolled out from the mountain tops of multinational companies are, like the laws of the Medes and Persians in Esther’s time, rarely amenable to change.
Someone is going to be hurt.
Peter prays, Peter ponders, and Peter, who happens to be on LICC’s Executive Toolbox, seeks advice from the other delegates. He returns to work and makes his views known to those above him. He knock, knock, knocks on heaven’s door in prayer but the system is not for turning. And so, he assigns Richard to the ‘below standard’ box. No bonus. A below inflation pay rise.
And we could leave the story there.
Peter has discerned injustice, prayed, sought advice, made a stand on someone else’s behalf, and he’s taken a risk by challenging the law of the Medes and Persians. He’s done what he could. Praise God for all of that.
And sometimes that’s where things end – in injustice. And sometimes one injustice can lead to another.
Peter’s senior manager has acquired an over-negative opinion of Richard. Peter fears for the employee’s future, particularly because this senior manager has a particularly forceful and intimidating communication style. So he prays and he consults his wife. She comments, “If your boss communicates forcefully, then, when the time comes, you too will need to communicate forcefully.” Which, if you knew quietly spoken Peter, is like asking a breeze to behave like a typhoon. Certainly, a whisper can be as effective as a roar but it’s harder to hear a whisper when someone is roaring. But Peter wasn’t just trying to salve his conscience he was trying to win justice. As Jeremiah 5:28 reminds us: it’s one thing to plead the case of the fatherless, it’s quite another to plead it to win.
So Peter prays. And he prays to the point where God says, “I’ve heard you on this one. Enough already. Leave it to me.”
So time passes and then on a particular day, the forceful manager explodes at some work done by Richard.
Before he knows it, Peter finds himself exclaiming loudly: “You’re out of order. You’ve gone too far this time.” He can hardly believe what he’s done. And he waits for the typhoon.
But his boss draws up a chair, sits down and quietly asks, “Do you think so?” And they talk about it.
Peter reminds me of Nehemiah.
Nehemiah was really exercised about something that was not right in the world – the devastation of Jerusalem.
Nehemiah prayed about it, for a long time.
Nehemiah didn’t have the power to change it himself but he had a boss with power. And a God with more.
Nehemiah prepared himself for an opportunity, and when the time came, Nehemiah, like Peter, acted boldly and unusually. In Nehemiah’s case he allowed the Emperor to see that his face was sad, something that those who served the Emperor were forbidden to do. And because Artaxerxes expected him and cared about him he noticed and enquired:
“Why does your face look so sad when you are not ill? This can be nothing but sadness of heart.” (Nehemiah 2:2)
And he and Nehemiah had a conversation. The rest, as they say, is history.
Well, we could leave Peter’s story there with his bold defence of his team member: Peter’s been prayerful, Peter’s been faithful, and Peter’s taken initiative. He’s taken a justice-driven, selfless, prayer-drenched, community-supported bold risk for the sake of another person. Praise God for all of that. But that was not the end of the story.
At the final Executive Toolbox workshop Peter told us that the company had changed the language
and terms of their ranking system: the percentage of people ranked in the bottom box would be 10% not 15%, the language used would be ‘below peers’ not ‘below standard’ and those so rated would receive half their bonus, as opposed to none, and would get half the inflation-linked pay rise.
Maybe it’s possible to change the law of the Medes and Persians. Maybe God really is interested in the inner workings of business. More specifically, the change in language reflects a change in philosophy. I can accept that I am not as good as others in my team, I can accept that though I have made a contribution to the business I may not deserve as much as others but I still deserve something, don’t I? And I do not deserve to be punished with a below-inflation rise if I have done a good job.
Peter accepted his calling and called on his God. The ethos has shifted. Not as much as Peter would have liked because he still felt that their forced ranking system could lead to unjust outcomes. Perhaps in the fullness of time it will shift some more. Still, progress has been made. God told Peter to leave it to him… and something remarkable has happened: a system has changed for the better.
And God spoke. And Peter heard him. And God acted. And Peter saw it.
And we could leave the story there and just reflect on the truth that God is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow, that he answers prayer, that he can find ways round unjust human laws and unjust human practices, that he not only tells us to be faithful in the little things, but that he too is faithful in the little things.
And we could leave the story there.
But life is sometimes not that simple. The HR department came back to Peter and asked him to increase the percentage of people in the ‘below peer’ box, and Richard would have been the one to fill it. Enraged and saddened, Peter told his boss, the very boss who had had such a negative view of Richard. And Peter’s boss told Peter that he had already informed HR that no such thing would be happening. Peter’s boss had become Richard’s champion. As Proverbs 21:1 says: “The King’s heart is in the hand of the Lord, he directs it like a watercourse wherever he pleases.”
And we could leave it there.
But I don’t suppose that Peter or God will.
Jill Garrett is passionate to see Christians become better equipped as managers in the workplace wherever we fit in the hierarchy. Drawing on her experience as a Christian manager and leader, as well as her extensive involvement with managers across a broad range of organisations and sectors, Jill helps us think about how good management can put love where love is sometimes not – at work. Neither soft nor sentimental, love is the lens that helps us refocus our key relationships and manage them more fruitfully. This seminar is designed to challenge our thinking about people management and provide skills by which we might enable others to flourish in the workplace.
Love @ Work – Listen here
Click to view the corresponding PowerPoint Slides whilst listening.
Paul Valler examines a significant force that is shaping workplace culture today, exploring how a gospel of grace engages with contemporary performance assessment. Introduction by Mark Greene.
Measuring Performance: Making the Most of it – Listen here
Click to view the corresponding PowerPoint Slides whilst listening.
In this book, aimed primarily at leaders and managers, Schluter and Lee apply the thesis for success they first developed in The R Factor almost twenty years ago: the belief that relationships are the key to superior and sustainable results. Here is a leadership and management philosophy that challenges the short-term incentive culture of business today.
The market driven culture keeps telling us that the bottom line is financial, and most of the opportunities on offer have to be bought with hard cash. But the authors show that markets and companies are, in the end, only groups of people working with one another, and it is the so-called ‘soft’ issues that are in fact the hard issues. Relationships, within and around organizations, are an intangible asset that drive the whole enterprise and make a huge impact on performance.
So many conversations about performance are backward-looking – focusing on records of achievement – often for the purpose of assessing performance-related pay. Yet conversations that guide the future of the business and of the team, conversations about shared goals and development, are being neglected. Management that only rewards individual and short-term performance risks stifling behaviours that build long-term stability.
After a summary of how relational thinking totally changes our worldview, Schluter and Lee provide a practical tool to assess the quality of relationships – a five-fold lens of relational health (contact, time, knowledge, power and purpose). They look through that lens at many of the experiences of managerial life, including time management, finance, systems, travel, conflict resolution and the culture of the office, showing how relational thinking can make a big impact on the way organizations and individuals work.
The relational manager understands that the experiences of connectedness, belonging, mutual understanding and a sense of shared identity, produce better outcomes. Unproductive time – often referred to as ‘downtime’ is a hidden opportunity. Relational managers organize downtime – lunches, coffee breaks, social time – it’s one of the most important things they do. Why? Because in the rhythm of the working day, downtime plays a vital part in relationship building, and indeed in sharing information and opinions about the business that might otherwise find no outlet. Importantly, experience and research show that people leave managers, not jobs or companies. And high turnover is expensive.
We need this wake-up call showing how the so-called developed world is gripped by relational poverty – both at work and at home. Fractured relationships and fragmented lives are today’s norm, and pervasive communications technology that claims to enable more connectedness in fact limits real connectedness in a culture of ‘continuous partial attention’.
We are in a war over reality – a battle to understand and define the world as it really is. In this war, many still believe the lie that it is ‘Money that makes the world go around’. Schluter and Lee’s book unmasks the lie, and is a powerful revelation of the centrality of relationships in personal, business and global success. It will take, though, yet more evidence to convince everyone, and I would have welcomed a richer set of case studies.
What I especially like about the book is the way it subtly and progressively instils in the reader an altered perspective. It trains us to think relationally about situations and outcomes; to see our workplaces and our world in a different and deeper way; to get beyond the mechanics of measurement to the reality that is at the heart of organizations, and of life.
The Relational Manager is published by Lion, 2009
Relationships of authority characterise our working lives. And power, well-used or abused, is a hallmark of authority. ‘Power! It is more intoxicating than alcohol, more addictive than drugs’, says John Stott in his new book, Calling Christian Leaders (IVP, 2002). Our whole career structure is premised on it, giving more power (and usually money) to those who, for reasons of merit, experience or sheer influence, rise to the top. Those of us who are lower on the ladder often strive to get higher, motivated not only by increased power or salary, but also by increased opportunity to use our talents, to serve people, or to wield influence for good. Structures based on power are not all bad. Indeed, a system of delegated authority can reflect and honour God’s own created order:
You made [humankind] a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honour. You made him ruler over the works of your hands; you put everything under his feet. Psalm 8: 5-6
Genuine meritocracies can be efficient and make good use of God-given talents and skills. Yet ‘power’ has become a dirty word, because it is often misused – Mussolini, on our front cover, is but one example of its dark side. God’s ordered world is warped and marred by sins of pride, arrogance and an insatiable appetite for control. A common Christian response to abuses of power has been to reflect on Jesus and the appropriate use of power modelled by him. In Mark 10, he tells his disciples:
“You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” Mark 10: 42-45.
Superman vs the Little Child
Stott believes that our modern world has drunk in more of the power-philosophy of Nietzsche than we realise. Nietzsche dreamed of the rise of a daring ruler-race – tough, masculine and oppressive… The ideal of Nietzsche was the Übermensch, the superman; but the ideal of Jesus was the little child. In addressing the issues of authority and leadership, Stott contends that, ‘at no point does the Christian mind come into more violent collision with the secular mind than in its insistence on humility, with all the weakness it entails.’ And so he puts forward this challenge: we must choose between the superman (or superwoman) and the little child, but we cannot have – or try to be – both. ‘Weakness’? ‘Little child’? When ripped out of their biblical context, these concepts may make you bristle. After all, the term ‘servant leader’ is practically an oxymoron: how can you serve when you are obliged (and in fact empowered) by a position of authority to give the directions in the first place? Yet the oxymoron is a useful illustration of the internal spiritual collision course Stott has identified – as you may already know from trying to put Jesus’ controversial teaching into practice in your own working life. Jesus’ words in Mark 10 indicate that the basis of our Christian approach to authority will be radically different from our non-Christian colleagues’. One helpful way to think about the concept of ‘servant leadership’ is to recall Paul’s words to slaves at the end of Colossians 3: Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for your masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving (Col 3.23-24). This is true for us. Behind our bosses, colleagues and subordinates stands Christ himself. Behind our bosses, he is the One whom we are really serving – regardless of how they behave. Behind our colleagues and subordinates, he is the One who urges us to serve, just as he has served us – out of love, not because it is deserved. And service after Christ’s model transcends the authority we derive from our employment positions – or that we wish we had. As Richard Foster says in Money, Sex and Power (Hodder & Stoughton, 1985), ‘servant leaders are people who are servants before they are leaders and will be servants when the tenure of leadership is concluded.’
Problems in Practice
The internal spiritual collision course Stott has identified applies to all of us in our workplaces – whether we are subject to authority or wield it. Take Andrew and Tania. They go to the same church in a suburb of west London. Andrew feels his job is basically thankless. He’s part of an IT help desk team located in-house at a large accounting firm and he’s either managing the anger and frustration of internal clients who don’t understand the computer system and probably never will, or he’s trying to cope with the poor organisational skills of his line manager, Geoff. Andrew is fed up with Geoff’s inability to structure regular rosters which enable him to spend time in the evenings with his daughter. Tania oversees the ice cream production line at a food manufacturer. The employees under her control are largely immigrants whose English-speaking skills are poor, and who seem to rebuff her attempts to get to know them. She feels that she’s getting nowhere in helping them understand the occupational health and safety guidelines that apply to new equipment coming to the line, and she’s ready to give up on her attempts to protect them. Authority just isn’t working the way Andrew and Tania want it to.
Tania has a safety training video, and she knows she can force her employees to watch it, even though it’s likely that they won’t understand it. But she’s concerned to ensure that they really know how to work safely for their own good – and she also wants to guard her company against lawsuits. How can she use her authority to solve these problems?
1. Dealing with relationship breakdown.
Tania decided to ask a small number of those employees whose English is strongest to assist her in planning a tailored safety training program for the rest of the employees. She appreciates her employees’ need for guidance and protection, especially because of their weak English skills. She realised that a small representative group might assist her in forming real relationships with the rest of her employees, so that she can help them fulfil their God-given potential in her workplace – even though the language barrier gets in the way at times. Her approach is underpinned by the principle that her employees are each a unique creation of God, created in his image and with particular gifts. She’s also concerned to be a wise ‘shepherd’ of her team in the model of Jesus, the ‘Chief Shepherd’ (1 Pet 5.1-4).
2. Dealing with language barriers.
Tania prayed for God’s wisdom on how to address the language barriers between her and her team. It may seem too small an issue to seek God’s particular wisdom, but she was reminded of King Solomon’s example of leadership. When he became King, Solomon prayed to God for ‘a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong’, and God was pleased that Solomon had asked for this (1 Ki 3.4-15). And the answer came: with the support of her human resources manager, Tania decided to ask an interpreter to assist in the health and safety training, to ensure that her employees’ understanding of the issues is comprehensive. The interpreter will also return on the first day that the machines are installed. By doing this, Tania also followed Solomon’s example by practising protective leadership. He promised God that he would defend the afflicted, needy and weak people in his kingdom from oppression and violence (Ps 72). Indeed, this is God’s own model: he is the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes. He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the alien, giving him food and clothing (Deut 10.17-18).
3. Ensuring her employees are properly trained.
Tania is reluctant to force her employees to attend training sessions out of hours when they won’t be paid for the time. With the support of the new employee group, she has scheduled a training session during the standard factory lunch hour, and she is providing a free lunch to compensate. She knows she’s taking away her employees’ free time, but she has decided to put their safety – and her own honesty and impartiality – first. Therefore, all employees who fail to attend will face disciplinary procedures. Tania knows that she has a Master in heaven who requires honesty and fair dealing by bosses in relation to their employees (Eph 6.9; Col 4.1), including by speaking hard truths in love (Eph 4.15-19).
4. Using her authority for good.
Tania opted for a tailored training program instead of the standard video for her employees. She knew the video would have meant less effort, time and resources – but she also knew that she would not be providing them with what they needed. Instead, she chose to make her own task more burdensome so that others would benefit. Tania’s goal is to use the power God has given her for his glory, and for her people – she doesn’t want to use it in any way that might harm her relationship with God. She’s following Jesus’ example. Satan’s final temptation of Jesus was to offer Jesus the power of all the kingdoms of the world – but on the condition that Jesus must bow down and worship him. Jesus rejected Satan’s offer outright: ‘Away from me, Satan! For it is written: “Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.”‘ (Mt 4.8-10). Jesus shunned power which would harm his relationship with God, and valued the limits of his calling. He chose the humbler path, to protect the purity of his worship. In today’s world, this may mean turning down promotions or additional responsibilities that will fuel our pride or distract us from intimacy with God and his agenda. It may also mean taking a more difficult path to do what is right.
Andrew is committed to serving Geoff and his internal clients, but his time with his daughter is equally important to him. He whinges to his colleagues that he sometimes feels treated like a slave – but he’s trying to take Paul’s exhortations to real slaves seriously (Eph 6.5-8; Col 3.22-4.1). How can he solve his problems?
1. Being honest about the problems, and seeking practical and spiritual solutions to them.
Andrew is facing an internal spiritual collision over his lack of wholeheartedness in his work (Eph 6.7). He knows that he has been letting his frustration negatively affect his belief in the inherent value of his work, and this is having an impact on his performance. He has asked trusted friends in his home group to pray for him about it. Andrew also knows that wholehearted service will involve treating his colleagues and internal clients like he would want to be treated himself (Lk 6.31). If he was Geoff, he would want someone to explain the roster problems, and show initiative in working out a solution. So, he has decided to garner support for a fixed roster which allows for shift swaps to accommodate personal commitments, and then take it to Geoff. Andrew is also struggling to work out the boundaries of his job. On the helpdesk, he tends to get asked to do more than he can manage – and this damages his wholeheartedness. He knows that he needs to be realistic about his ability to serve others. With the help of a member of the human resources department, he has prepared a reference list of colleagues who might help do those tasks that aren’t within his brief.
2. Being realistic about the future and obedient in the meantime.
Andrew has accepted that Geoff may not change his ways and improve the roster situation, despite his own initiative. If this happens, he has decided to tell Geoff that it creates a serious problem for him personally. He will offer to draw up the roster himself in his spare time, and if this fails, he will think about taking the matter up with the human resources department. At the end of the day, Andrew knows that his employment contract obliges him to obey Geoff’s lawful orders and the rules and policies of his company. Indeed, the Bible also requires this of us – in Colossians, Paul exhorts slaves to ‘obey their earthly masters in everything’, reminding them that ‘anyone who does wrong will be repaid for his wrong, and there is no favouritism’ (Col 3.22, 25). It may seem obvious, but we’re also obliged to obey all of the law that applies to our employment, and this is backed up by Paul’s statements about obedience in Romans 13.1-7. The issue of whether or not Christians should stand up to abuses of power in their workplaces is outside the scope of this article. Ultimately, Andrew is glad he’s not really a slave – he doesn’t want to have to look for a new job, but he is grateful to have the option if it becomes necessary.
Real Power at Work
Our workplaces are evolving local communities, formed out of the space we share with our co-workers and the rules and goals of our employers. In these evolving communities, there is endless potential for Christians to have influence for good, in both small and large ways. J Oswald Sanders, in his book Spiritual Leadership (1967), says: Since leadership is essentially the power of one man to influence another, it is well to consider the almost limitless possibilities of a single life, for good or ill. Both Scripture and experience affirm that no-one can be neutral, either morally or spiritually. The way we do our work, and the way we relate to those we work for and with, can speak volumes about our faith – about our belief in God who created a perfect but now fallen world, and who has committed to us the ministry of reconciling the world to him through Christ (2 Cor 5.14-21). We are Christ’s ambassadors, and as Foster says, ‘all of us in daily life encounter thousands of opportunities to enlist power in the service of reconciliation.’ God’s incomparably great power is at work in us to restore and renew our work relationships, and that power is ‘like the working of his mighty strength when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms’ (Eph 1.19-20). While creation now groans under the weight of sin, we are God’s agents of change in Christ, showing his radical and transforming love in our own acts of selflessness, forgiveness, gentleness, patience, and our honest accountability. Is the question, ‘would you like fries with that?’ (with the cheesy grin, of course) the only way to serve people today? Of course not. We are all in the service industry. The focus of our service might be a line manager, the Executive Director, a factory overseer; or it might be customers or clients – particularly if you run your own business. But at the end of each day, do you pause to remember the One whom you’re actually serving – the One who’s your real boss – the Lord Jesus Christ?
“Behind our bosses, colleagues and subordinates stands Christ himself.”
“Jesus shunned power which would harm his relationship with God and valued the limits of his calling.”
“We are all in the service industry.”
If you’d like to read further, we suggest:
Chapter 16, ‘You’re the boss too?’ from Mark Greene, Thank God It’s Monday (SU, 2001, 3rd ed) Sherman & Hendricks, Your Work Matters to God (Navpress, 1988) Part 3, ‘Power’ (Chapters 10-13) from Richard Foster, Money Sex & Power (Hodder & Stoughton, 1985)
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