Many companies post documents comparing one employee, or group of employees, with their peers. Examples include sales standings, number of items packed, or how many calls are handled per hour. Is this a good or bad idea?
It turns out the answer is both, depending on your culture, according to a study just released by researchers at Colombia University and NYU. They compared groups of truck drivers at a large U.S. transportation company that has many locations to see if posting comparative information about their activities improved their performance or not.
The company had recently implemented Lean Management at some of the locations, which turned out to be a critical factor in the results. The training centered on teamwork, collective effort and the empowerment of front line workers. The effect of posting drivers’ performance hinged on whether or not their location had received the training.
Drivers assigned to the untrained sites responded positively to the performance postings, with fuel efficiency improving by 4.5% and reducing wasted fuel and idling time. However, there was a substantial decrease in performance for the drivers at the lean sites, with fuel efficiency dropping by 10.7% and an increase in wasted fuel and idling time.
The reason for this is that the lean training focused on making a team’s performance and satisfaction more important than an individual’s. Therefore the posting of individuals’ performance scores directly contradicted the training. But for the non-trained employees, the competition fostered by the posting of scores bolstered each employee’s desire to outscore the others.
This is a very interesting finding about workplace communications because it shows that the information that you’ve been posting may have a more positive – or negative – effect than you’ve been expecting.
The take-away here is that for highly collaborative work environments, managers should stay away from posting information that directly compares one employee with another. They should instead opt for information showing how collaboration benefits the teams. I’d also recommend posting personal profile and general recognition pieces to foster additional lean thinking.