Perform or Perish

The sportsmen are well aware of the perform or perish culture. Each match, each tournament can make or break a career, whether it is the American soccer or European football, cricket, NBA or something else. Extreme competition and consistent high performance under severe pressure are some of the obvious points to consider while choosing sports as a career.

But what are the pros and cons of having such a culture in a corporate set up? Does it optimize productivity or hamper it? Does it motivate the employees or makes them live in a constant fear of losing their jobs?

The pandemic has thrown every known business principle into a tailspin. While astonishingly some startups and new business sectors emerged as profit makers, others suffered severe losses especially the small and mid-sized firms. Cost cutting was not a strategic tactic anymore but became a survival tool. Under these new circumstances, millions of people lost their jobs worldwide and several businesses had to shut down because no amount of measures taken prevented the inevitable.

Even under normal circumstances, redundancies in terms of people and resources are a burden on the organizations. Some are allowed to exist because further effort and resources will be needed to get rid of them, for some others a future use is anticipated. However, most of the time it makes sense to get rid of the redundancies and businesses do that periodically.

Performance thus becomes an important criterion to differentiate between performing resources and redundant resources. In the pandemic, the most job cuts happened in the fringe services providers in organization like entry and mid-level Human Resources, front line executives and sales workforce, even marketing jobs saw a downfall.

In the IT sector, the work from home option ensured smaller teams with diverse roles defined for each member in an attempt to achieve a leaner structure. It provided greater flexibility in terms of resource allocation and optimization.

While the workforce and employees had little choice because of the economic condition brought about by the pandemic. However, the question emerges, will this approach be relevant in the post pandemic world?

It is important to understand that people who were able to retain their jobs are highly skilled high performing employees. So, if the organizations continue to create an environment of high performance or letting go, they would also have to compensate adequately for the people who are indeed performing over and beyond. As the normalcy will steadily set in, the employees would have certain expectations from the management in lieu of the stringent performance meters.

Perform or perish appears to be a perfectly fair and objective way of business operations but it makes an organizational culture which may become toxic because profit over people is the message sent across. Some employees may perform well in a highly competitive space but most employees who perhaps are high performer otherwise may wither in such a culture.

Do or Die

The degree to which this culture can be beneficial is debatable and while a positive performance-oriented culture is what most organizations aim for, this perform or perish tone to the message may have more adverse effects than positive results.

The other downside is the organization’s reputation takes a hit and this becomes a hindrance in attracting right talent.

Having said that, it is also relevant to mention that if performance and appraisal are linked in a manner which organically fosters a climate of high performance then there will be no need for perform or perish. Rather a system of perform and progress will ensure that both individual and organizational goals are met effectively.

Adapting to changes however is nonnegotiable in the current times. It is pertinent for businesses to continue exploring ways to evolve and reorganize to survive and grow. A constant pressure to perform daily tasks and objectives, meet targets and firefight eventually has a bearing on innovation and new ideas. An employee busy performing daily tasks would have little or no time to contribute with new ideas and innovations. The trade off in the long run can be taxing, especially for sectors like technology where new ideas determine whether a business will survive or not.

Fostering an organizational culture of accountability and flexible hierarchy with more room for quicker decision making and a degree of autonomy at all levels will breathe fresh air into the performance of both individuals and teams.

Approaching a team-based performance management system rather than individual based will help identify and reward team contribution while inculcating a culture of “we” and create an ecosystem which ensures sustainability for all.

For organizations it also means allocating more resources to reskill, upskill and also cross skill their employees through a strategic talent management initiative to ensure high performance is integrated in the work culture for the long run. The post pandemic world will also see many jobs becoming remote permanently and therefore opening new possibilities to optimize time on the clock and provide greater operational flexibility and improve performances.

While in these uncertain times no approach seems sure way to achieve goals but an inclusive, positive culture placing emphasis on people will not need a perform or perish motto in the first place.

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