• May 20, 2013
Somewhere over the rainbow...

Somewhere over the rainbow…

In the perfect work-place all hiring, all promotions, all compensation decisions would be made through scientifically precise and objective metrics.  Not only would no one be hired or fired etc. for inappropriate or discriminatory reasons in this work place but all such decisions would be so empirical, so data-driven, that no one would even have any dispute over these decisions.

This will not be happening any time soon anywhere on earth.

But this is plainly an ideal to which many employers, large and small, aspire to.  Many if not most or even all law firms, for example, look at billable hours, pro bono hours, business development hours, internal firm administrative hours, collection ratios, and other data, of course — hard data on which to make employment decisions.

But what if one worker is a nasty, unpleasant, and mean person who goes out of her way to stab co-workers in the back, subverting rather than encouraging their projects, (hurting the organization, of course) but who has “great numbers”?  (Think of this kind of worker as a selfish opportunist or  “a Taker.”)  What if another worker’s hours are low, everyone knows, because she is constantly mentoring lawyers, both junior and senior to her, relentlessly sacrificing herself and her self-interest for the good of the firm? (She’s a “Giver.”)  What is the metric for that to measure these qualities in these workers?  A popularity contest?  How objective is that?

Some will answer that the Taker will rise to power and that Giver is a chump.  Others will call that point of view cynical.  Some will answer, “Cynical? Come see where I work….”

A recent book that is getting a great deal of attention, Give & Take, by U/Penn Wharton School of Business Professor Adam Grant, argues that the Giver regularly beats out the Taker in organizational success and rising to the top.  (Prof. Grant calls a third intermediate worker-type the “Matcher.”  This is the “go along to get along” “scratch my back and I will scratch yours” “tit-for-tat” person.  I speculate that most people see themselves as in this category and I expect most people are matchers most of the time.)

Paradoxically, Grant’s research suggests that some “givers” end up as the most successful cohort in organizations and other “givers” end up at the bottom — the door-mats, the exploited, and the denigrated.  His book, which I am reading now, seeks to clarify this situation and to create stronger, better, more successful businesses that recognize the value of the givers and the costs of the takers.

I am still reading it so I do not know how he helps givers end up on top rather than on the bottom.  I wonder whether it depends on whether givers are at the top of the organization in the first place.  If not, subordinate givers might be in for hard times (or, at least, permanent subordination) where takers make up the rules of the game.

Finally, here is the Minnesota litigation “tie-in” for this post:

Jack Kirsch worked at St. Paul Motorsports until he was terminated.  As part of a RIF (reduction in force) based on non-discriminatory metrics or based on the fact that Jack was in his late 50’s when they canned him?

U.S. District Court Chief Judge Michael J. Davis (D. Minn.), in response to defendant’s motion for summary judgment ruled that there was ambiguous evidence as to the “true” reason for Kirsch’s termination and therefore denied the defendant’s motion. (Congratulations to preeminent Twin Cities employment lawyers at Nichols Kaster for prevailing (so far, at least)).

I noted in the decision that Kirsch had a relatively low “proficiency” score, which compared available hours for work and hours billed.  This may have been due at least in some part because Kirsch was a “giver.”  Kirsch explained that, “[H]e spent time mentoring and assisting other technicians, and …he was given difficult diagnostic jobs…[O]ther, more experienced technicians had historically low proficiency ratings as well.”

Science and metrics will never be able to quantify workers’ contributions to an organization for any job that includes any significant degree of higher-level interaction, problem-solving, team-work, or complexity.  (It will work, however, for document reviewers or delivery truck drivers.)

Therefore, there will always be very difficult decisions that employers have to make and employees who will have bases to question, “Why me?” undoubtedly sometimes with legitimate concern and other times, not.

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