Posted by: zyxo | August 22, 2010

Going home early : Is it impossible to evaluate a knowledge worker ?

Great ! The yearly evaluation !
Everyone knows that it is simple to evaluate objectively your coworkers IF the objectives were SMART :
– Specific
– Measurable
– Achievable
– Realistic
– Timed

Right !
In my whole career I never saw one single objectively measurable objective. Objectively measurable means : you give the objectives and measuring tools to a third person and he can accurately and objectively decide whether or not you attained the objectives.
This was only possible a 100 years ago, when you just could count the number of items your employees produced.
Nowadays people are knowledge workers. Programmers, designers, analysts … How on earth could you possibly define and agree on SMART objectives. Look at all the IT-projects that run over their deadline (“I like deadlines, I love the whoooosshh, when they fly by”).

Even Dilbert knows this ! 🙂

And this was only the “M”, from Measurable. I have a feeling we could say similar things about the rest of SMART.

Some people write seemingly intelligent papers on this subject, like this paper on Knowledge worker evaluation from Jay L. Brand or this one Evaluation an ranking of knowledge workers from Azizeh Teimouri.

Measuring performance means measuring not only the quantity but also the quality.
Example : some software. Quantity : number of lines of code. I am sure that the number of lines of code for the same functionality, programmed by two different persons can easily differ by a factor of two. Who is the better one ?
Quality : this is really hard. Do there exist objective quality measures of software ?

Example two : analytics, data mining. Quantity : the number of models ? The size of the models ? The complexity of the models ?
Quality : the AUC of the models ? This is only for a small part in the hands of the data miner. If there is no information in the data, it is impossible to extract some!
It is very much impossible to give an objectivevaluation of the quality of the work of information workers. Sometimes you see strange things happening : poor work, presented well is often mistakenly accepted as excellent achievements !

I use to say : you are as good as you can make your boss believe you are.
One can effectively use the anchoring effect : influence your boss, tell him it was incredibly hard/complex/ to obtain some results, to realize this model … and when you succeed anyway he will believe you are bright analyst.

My conclusion : an evaluation = subjective, based on the 1 % that they objectively know of your work.
If you are honest, always tell your boss the truth, even when you make mistakes, in 99% of the cases the evaluation will be rather correct. Simply because it was you who provided all the correct information.

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