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Overdosing on Shrugs and the Reputation Economy

A weekly post in which I share (some of) the most thought-provoking content I read this week(ish), which I am too lazy to write full blog posts about.

How was your week? We moved our clocks forward by an hour last weekend for daylight savings time, which meant the week got off to a groggy start, but also that spring is nearly here.

As always, there were more great things to read than I have hours to read them, but here are a few that caught my eye:

Performance Reviews and the Reputation Economy

J.P. Morgan Employees Will Soon Be Able to Give Co-Workers Constant Performance Reviews – Fortune

By now most people in HR will be familiar with the move away from annual performance appraisals that many organizations are ignoring, contemplating, or attempting. This often corresponds with a move toward a more frequent and responsive cadence of feedback and progress assessment. While some have claimed this change is driven by younger generations’ expectation for more immediate feedback, there certainly seems to be many good arguments for having more frequent discussions about what’s working and what isn’t.

But like so many things, Wall Street seems intent on taking this too far. This tweet crossed my feed earlier this week and just reading it made me feel exhausted:

Screenshot 2017-03-19 20.21.24

Constant performance feedback? J.P. Morgan, you don’t think that’s potentially distracting?

“We want people to act and lead in a way that creates an environment where folks are comfortable asking for, giving and receiving feedback,” managing director Michael D’Ausilio told Bloomberg. “If they walk out of that meeting, they should hear straightaway how they did.”

The changes were reportedly in response to surveys and discussions held among J.P. Morgan employees, who said they wanted constant feedback from managers.”

Truly, I think it’s great that J.P. Morgan is responding to employee feedback, but it’s interesting that they’ve chosen to place such an emphasis on peer feedback if the ask from employees was for constant manager feedback. I also have a nagging concern about what this might do to their culture. What happens when you approach every professional interaction as though you will be rated, or asked to rate the person you are speaking with? Surely this kind of constant monitoring of self and others impacts your ability to focus on your work, and changes the way you trust and value yourself and your colleagues.

A different, but very interesting post on Future Agenda speaks of the wider changes to what and how we value things given the changes wrought by globalization and digitization:

“In this new world, the breadth, frequency and volume of reputational data will grow exponentially. For every action we take, every movement we make, every trade we make, every like or comment we leave or friend we tag, we leave a reputation trail of “how well we can, and can’t, be trusted … how well we behave, or misbehave”. The reputation, of people, organisations and objects will become the dominant currency of meaning.”

“Indeed, such is the influence of the rising data swirl that “truth” may well become what the online crowds agree, a world where ‘crowd truth verification’ is prioritized…”

Well, what could possibly go wrong?

Habits and Success

Stop Reading Lists of Things Successful People Do – Harvard Business Review

I am gigantic habit nerd. The deep mechanics of how habits work is fascinating to me, and my life today is shaped significantly by many habits I have deliberately cultivated or rid myself of over the years. That’s all to say, I get it. These posts are powerful clickbait; who wouldn’t want to know what Elon Musk does every day before 5 a.m.?

They are also deeply unsatisfying, often including activities that are insufficiently magical to explain their role in bringing one closer to having a butler and pet cheetah. But my mild annoyance with these lists has never formed itself into a clear objection until I read this short article.

“In addition, half-baked analyses of anecdotal evidence often blur the lines between cause and consequence. Is someone successful because they avoided meetings, or are they able to avoid meetings because they are successful?”

Translation: it’s way easier to get up and peacefully drink a cold glass of water by the koi pond if you don’t have to claw your way through a 2 hour commute to get to your dead-end job…and also if you have a koi pond.

The authors also point out that the evidence behind these lists is often rather thin.

“As often happens with complex problems, the solutions and their applications are more nuanced than the forms they’re presented in and depend heavily on the context and circumstances in which people find themselves.”

Wait, is this like that time I thought that washing my face with fermented yak milk would make me look like Gwyneth Paltrow? (Reader, it did not.)

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the writers pause to plug a 2011 HBR list that is apparently superior, and includes such gems as “Have grit”, and “Be a realistic optimist”. Simple enough, I’m sure we’ll all be hanging with Elon by the koi pond shortly.

For me, the most interesting observation is the easy hunger that leads so many of us to click through to read these prescriptions for success without wondering what the author means by “successful people”. How might our expectations be subverted if we clicked through to find a list of morning habits carried out by fifth generation farmers, or a deeply content grandmother with a vast family, or a prolific stamp collector?

I’m not trying to get all philosophical here; but it’s an obvious parallel to how we treat people in organizations. Many of our HR processes are built on the assumptions that people want bonuses, promotions, titles, corner offices, and awards. We take as a given that these things equal success, and anyone who has the talent and will to achieve them will naturally strive to do so. Conversely, and perhaps even more dangerously, we also assume that anyone in the ‘seats of power’ in our organizations has arrived there deservedly, based exclusively on their superior effort and aptitude.


We’re Overdosing On Shrugs: 11 Strategies To Survive An Apathy Epidemic – Jessica Hagy – Forbes

This article is not, strictly speaking, about organizational apathy, but it’s so earnest and lovely and simply written that I had to share it with you. And I think that it applies to all people really, regardless of their context. Certainly if you have ever found yourself in an organization marked by apathy it feels like hopeless doom, and so I think Jessica Hagy’s words might be useful to many of us. I suggest reading and sharing the whole article with someone who needs it.

“A culture of apathy is culture of decay. Closed eyes don’t see opportunities or dangers. Closed hearts don’t build communities. Closed ears can’t learn new things. Closed souls give up. Apathy is dangerous. Apathy kills. And apathy is horrifically contagious. Here’s a list of simple, gentle, human behaviors that can build your immunity to it:

  1. Give a long and rambling compliment.
  2. Go outside where green things grow.
  3. Turn on music and attentively listen to it.
  4. Make a dangerous spot safe.
  5. Invite someone into your home.
  6. Engage with a topic you’ve dismissed before.
  7. Notice what your nose tells you.
  8. Attend a small, public event.
  9. Physically touch somebody.
  10. Dress like you matter (because you do).
  11. Find something small to take special care of.

That’s it for this week. Please feel free to share constant feedback with me about this post, or let me in on the habits that make you successful in the comments section.

Image credit: Austin Schmid via unsplash



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