Friday, July 07, 2006

Perception is inherent part of working in organisation system

Harish, a marketing support, was complaining. “Everyone blames me when the order is lost. However, when the order is won, sales and marketing take the credit. I work in a thankless job".

Jeevan, a programmer, was telling a new colleague of his, “If you have to succeed in this organisation, you have to butter your boss. Or else you get consigned to assignments which no one wants to do, or get the worst jobs in the group".

Both Jeevan and Harish are complaining about the system's inability to evaluate their work objectively and the consequent reliance on 'perceptions' in evaluating them and other people. Why does this happen in any system? Is it an inherent characteristic of a system or a flaw in a system that can be corrected? Let us use systems thinking to understand.

When you are working in a company, you are working in a group: group consisting of bosses, colleagues and subordinates. Barring few colleagues working in the same function, all of them are specialist in one area or another: sales, delivery, quality, finance and so on. Because each one is part of a function, one works to fulfill the function's purpose. If it is sales, the primary purpose of the system is to bring in new customers. If it is delivery, the primary purpose of the system is to deliver the 'promised' proposition to the customer. Further, each person may have got specialised in different fields: engineering, accountancy, and others.

Working in a function and fields makes it difficult for us to evaluate each other. For me, working in sales, evaluating my colleague Daniel in other function like hardware support, needs information about Daniel’s system, purpose, characteristic and so on. Morever, I need ‘time’ to do this evaluation. Neither I have information, nor time, to evaluate Daniel. In such cases, how do I evaluate Daniel?

You are right. I rely on perception markers. I rely on how Daniel talks, walks and presents himself. If he is untidy fellow, my perception is likely to be ‘Daniel is a shoddy performer’. I evaluate on how Daniel communicates. I evaluate Daniel by how other colleagues evaluate him. Or his colleagues evaluate him. In short, I seek ‘perception markers’ to evaluate him. If you do not believe me , take a pause, and think of how do you evaluate your doctor, TV mechanic, or your auto mechanic. You will realise the power of perceptions.

Imagine bosses who want to evaluate me, Daniel and others. Besides barriers of specialization and fields, they face another barrier: too little time. But they are the ones who decide ‘who should go for this important assignment’, ‘who amongst others should be promoted’. When something fails, they are ones who decide ‘who could have gone wrong’.

In an organization system, where cause and effects are related with each other loosely, how does one decide ‘what and who performed well’ or ‘what and who performed poorly’. Both credit and blame cannot be ascribed easily in an organization system where ‘cause’ of performance is loosely coupled with ‘result’. In such a situation, the only way to ascribe ‘causes’ to a good or bad performance is through ‘perception markers’.

That is what bosses do. And that is why it is necessary for every one of us to understand and become ‘part’ of a perception system of an organization. We do not have any choice. Perception is an inherent need of a system. If we ignore it, we get evaluated by others. If we consciously become aware of the perception system, we can at least ‘influence’ our evaluation.

If we are good performers, it is all the more necessary to be part of perception system to ensure that we get the rewards what our works deserve. If we choose to ignore it, we can only complain that less deserving are getting the rewards.

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