The Free Agent System: How Asking for the Minimum Might Yield Maximum Results

Stuart Sinclair - September 23, 2016
Employee Engagement

Do you set goals that stretch your employees? Do you set high targets to be reached, and measure performance to ensure employees are on track?

That approach might be on the wrong track, according to Rajeev Peshawaria , CEO of the Iclif Leadership and Governance Centre in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Writing for Forbes, Peshawaria suggests that this process of putting the emphasis on managers to ensure performance, and expecting employees to constantly work at a high level, might be asking too much of too many.

The 80:20 rule

Peshawaria cites a major rule that business leaders accept for the delivery of performance. The 80:20 rule says that 20% of top performing employees deliver 80% of the results, with 60% being average performers and 20% poor performers. Often this is depicted graphically as the performance bell curve.

So, in any given business, there will be top performers and bottom performers, but does goal-setting and performance management actually affect that distribution?

Read What is Employee Engagement in Reality?

Turning logic upside down

Peshawaria suggests different approach: “It is time to turn this logic upside down. What if, instead of stretch goals, employees were given goals that only specify the minimum level of performance outcomes required, and leave everything else loose or undefined?” To illustrate his point Peshawaria describes the ‘free agent’ style of employment for über drivers - drive when they like and only when they like without penalty, self-regulate to ensure good feedback and reviews, and even have multiple income streams alongside taxi driving.

Peshawaria does not suggest that über drivers won’t conform to the bell curve, but the 20% ‘poor’ performers might be there because they only want to do the minimum, around other activities or family life.

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Full-time but not flat out

When taken into a full-time employee context, Peshawaria suggests that if minimum goals are set, the top 20% of achievers will naturally go above and beyond as required. The 20% poor achievers will attain the minimum required without the stigma and pressure of needing to exceed requirements. Peshawaria doesn’t suggest employees should be left entirely to their own devices. Indeed, he calls for ‘regular, honest and effective’ communication to ensure expectations are met on both sides of the managerial fence.

His argument is essentially that regardless of any system in place, performance naturally settles along the 20:60:20 curve anyway. So why not acknowledge it and turn it into a virtue, especially for female employees who might want to ease off while their children are young, and pick up the pace later? As Peshawaria says:

“By acknowledging (the bell curve), you set the right expectations and let people contribute as much as they want without stress or stigma. As the knowledge-is-free-and-abundant digital economy matures further, companies will have no choice but to give more freedom. The good news is that a free mind works and produces more than a forced mind, so no, work will not suffer.”

A bold way to motivate employees

It’s a bold approach for those who have always worked in a more measurement-based model, and does rely on effective and regular communication of what is expected. By communicating better with employees, and in turn allowing them to better communicate with others, a business could allow that degree of autonomy. The business would still benefit from collaborating, team work, setting challenges and more, but without the constant stress and pressure of regular performance reviews and the mad year-end dash to target set too high way back at the start of the year or the quarter.

Read Employee Engagement App? What to look for...

How TalkFreely can help

Our employee communication apps can give your employees the freedom to be anywhere on that bell curve. High achievers can collaborate on projects, or take on business challenges. The average achiever can receive help, guidance, feedback and praise from their peers. And the 20% ‘poor’ achievers can dip in and out as they will, without prejudice or resentment from fellow workers. Call us for more details, or try out Talkfreely today.

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