By ROBERT JUMPER
ONE FEATHER EDITOR
Stuart: “I am afraid you couldn’t be more wrong”
Sheldon: “’More wrong?’ ‘Wrong’ is an absolute state and is not subject to gradation.”
Stuart: “Of course it is. It is a little wrong to say that a tomato is a vegetable. It is very wrong to say it’s a suspension bridge.”
Excerpt from the television show “The Big Bang Theory”
How do you measure the performance of an employee? Managers struggle with this question. Why is it difficult to measure the worth of an employee? When confronted with behavioral or performance measurement challenges, we tend to think black and white, no shades of grey. The person is either a good employee or a bad employee; nothing in-between.
Some think that time is a primary standard. If an employee knows how to punch a timeclock and can walk or drive themselves to that timeclock, a manager might consider that person a great employee; always on time and in their “workstation” when the whistle blows. The community and the levels of management feel they are “getting their money’s worth” if they can verify and quantify time-in-service.
Some think an employee that is always busy, or appears to be busy, is a good employee. Unfortunately, a person can work themselves to exhaustion, and not be a truly productive employee. Some may not be trained properly and are busy with functions that will not benefit the goals of the business or entity. Some are dodging work that they should be doing, and either don’t like or aren’t qualified for the work they are supposed to doing. We live and work in an environment with some individuals who, when they cannot perform or produce, will look for ways to minimize others to move the spotlight from their poor performance by belittling someone else, making it appear that others are lazy, not working or contributing, when it simply may be someone is being critical of their performance to mask their own deficiencies.
Because of the relationships of family and longstanding friendships, leaders tend to delay addressing issues of substandard work. Some families tend to facilitate their family member’s poor performance and behavior rather than help their family member to identify a need for change. This “he/she is a good person so we should overlook their laziness or inadequacy” mentality is detrimental to the employee, the company or entity, and the community who is looking for a need to be met.
When it comes to the government, we, as the community, sometimes have unrealistic expectations of our government employees. A specific need by an individual goes unmet, and the entire family might turn on an employee who didn’t meet the need. That employee’s entire career might depend or end based on that one unmet need. The problem is that it is not always clear where the “buck stops”. Tribal employees are bound by confidentiality and chain of command by the Tribal Code. So, the person you are upset with, who you think didn’t address your need, might have his hands tied by policy or a superior.
Even within the tribal government, there are possible signs of favoritism; alleged job descriptions used to eliminate or relocate employees by renaming jobs or changing job scope; loose adherence to human resource policy or exploiting impreciseness in the policy to give advantage for personal reasons; subtle “suggestions” to managers from superiors on who to hire during a hiring process.
What is the mark of a good employee? Certainly, the tribal human resource department plays a significant role in reviewing job descriptions, helping to access relevance of the work scope to the program, division and ultimately the government’s mission. Having a clear understanding of the work assignment is critical to a person’s ability to do good work. The hiring supervisor has a responsibility to clearly lay out what a job requires and then, impartially, seek candidates whose education and experience fit the need. After the hire, the supervisor has a duty to ensure that the employee is monitored for performance and has the resources to accomplish the work.
Back in a former business life, we used to use three “P’s” to guide our evaluations of employee behavior; passion, performance, and productivity. If you love what you do, you will do it. If you know what you are doing and what you are supposed to do, you will perform. If you are given the necessary materials and motivation, you will produce.
It is impossible to label a person based on a job. All people have value. So, there is no worthless employee. The job that they are doing, however, should and must be evaluated. And, to the point of the characters of Sheldon and Stuart’s conversation concerning the gradation of wrong, people have different skills and work ethics. There are no absolutes when it comes to the performance of an employee. Many of the assignments within the Tribe are unique; there are no other positions to compare with them.
Even the worst performers have value and potential. They may not have been given proper direction on their scopes of work. They may be in the wrong line of work. They may have personal challenges to overcome. While it is their responsibility to identify their passion, it is up to us, the prospective coworkers and community clients, to get the best qualified performer and the best equipped producer for the needs of our community. Selecting staff on any other criteria couldn’t be more wrong.
As an aside…Scientifically, tomatoes are classed as a fruit. Legally, at least in the US, there is a Supreme Court ruling instructing the US Customs Service that tomatoes are to be treated as vegetables [Nix v. Hedden, 149 U.S. 304 (1893)]. Some interesting trivia that you may share when you see the award winning tomatoes grown on the Boundary at the Cherokee Indian Fair.