Tuesday, April 13, 2010

How Are You Doing?

As part of a project we are doing at Demos Helsinki, I have spent time reviewing and reading various future reports on the competencies and skills the Finnish society and Finnish companies need. One of the big issues seems to be the need for better people skills. Companies and experts see that customers are more and more demanding year by year. Simultaneously companies need to make sure that the best people really want to work for them. This means that understanding people is broken into better HR, better customer understanding and better self understanding.

One of the ways to support better self understanding are the annual evaluation talks that managers are required to give to the staff. I have taken part in two of them in the last two weeks. In one of them I was the one interviewing, in the other I was being interviewed.

These talks usually get quite a bad rap. Most of my friends are able to tell horrid stories of a boss who really does not listen or continuously interrupts the staff member. I have also taken part in a talk where the boss starts the discussion by saying:"Well, we have two hours reserved for this but I don´t think we need all of that." In another case the boss had left most of my critical comments on her performance out of the report. Experiences like these or not letting the employee talk send a clear signal of inequality.

I do understand that experiences like these make a lot of people frustrated. However, I would encourage both the boss and the employee to take this experience seriously. This builds from the amazing two positive experiences this week.

At Demos Helsinki we do not have a clear hierarchy, which means that we have divided the responsibility to give the evaluation talks amongst the staff. This means everyone gives and everyone gets a talk. Especially in an organisational culture like ours a structured question list really helped making the discussion useful for both parties. When you are asked to evaluate your own competencies and get feedback on them and your performance, you are also given a chance to recognise how you could develop yourself. Somewhat formal questions on your development ideas for the organisation are actually somewhat challenging.

At least I noticed that my own view on my work and my colleague´s view differed quite a lot. I was quite surprised by the things mentioned as my strengths and as areas that need improvement. Discussing them through and searching examples that prove the point makes one realise how others see you. The talk made me like my place of work more. When a person you value tells you what you are good at is incredibly empowering - and useful. I left both of the talks smiling, feeling like I learned something.

The views in the reports I have gone through paint a picture of a working life where the need to develop and renew oneself is continuous and never-ending. If this estimate is correct, the need to know oneself becomes crucial. But we too often think that all this needs to be done alone.

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