Mary Jenkins: Statistical Approach to HR Systems

Guest post by John Hunter, author of Management Matters: Building Enterprise Capability.

Mary Jenkins gave this presentation on Statistical Approach to HR Systems at the Ohio Quality and Productivity Forum in 1992.

YouTube video

In the presentation, Mary provides a view of the organization as a system and the existing and possible systems to manage personnel. She details the poor ability we have to accurately evaluate people. Our psychology results in many biases in how we evaluate the performance of others. And our failure to understand the organization as a system often results in us crediting or blaming people for results they did not create.

Mary then shows that beyond our poor ability to evaluate people’s performance is our poor ability to effectively create systems that could use those evaluations to improve (even if we could correctly evaluate people’s performance).

The research would indicate that the environment a person is working within has far more to do with controlling their ability to expend effort than the person themselves. In a good working environment, people will naturally spend a great deal of effort. In an environment where they can’t to that — it is oppressive or they feel at risk to be able to be able to do that — that far more controls what an individual is able to contribute. And yet this is the thing that we think: by rating and ranking people we can motivate people to push up or push down.

This whole area of rating and ranking people is one that is very difficult for people to appreciate. Understanding the organization as a system, psychology, and variation make it much easier to comprehend how important it is to understand this issue for management. Some resources for more information on these ideas: Peter Scholtes on Managing People and Motivation, Performance without Appraisal, Total Quality or Performance Appraisal: Choose One and Dr. Deming Called for the Elimination of The Annual Performance Appraisal.

This is a valuable presentation. 30 years later we still need to understand the points she makes and apply them to the management of our organizations. I hope you take the time to listen, understand, and figure out how to apply the messages she provides to improve the management of your organization.

In the presentation, Mary also provides good thoughts on how to provide feedback effectively.

Related: Human Resources in the Post Deming Era

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