Essential Readings for Managers I: Pay & Evaluation

I used to make my living writing code.  I was good at it. I was really good at figuring out the problem when the symptom and causes weren’t close together. So they promoted me to manager.

As a new manager, I was sent to a two-day Basic Management Orientation, where they taught me to how to fill out staff requisition forms in quadruplicate, who got the goldenrod copy, the blue copy, the pink copy and the white copy.

I think I could have figured out how to fill out the form on my own. I suspect that was all they knew how to teach, so that was what they taught. But it wasn’t what I needed to know. I suspect there are many managers in technical organizations who have similar stories.

I set out to learn about working with people and managing in a large organization. I sought mentors with in my organization. Many of the managers had never worked any place else or had only  worked for one other company. They knew a lot about “how we do things here,” and how to work within the system. They didn’t know how to work on the system. And most of them didn’t question the system.

My best teachers were from outside the company–professors in my Masters program, Jerry Weinberg and other folks I met through him. Those people got me thinking, learning, and seeing the system.

So in the interest of helping managers learn how to see and work on the system, I am starting an occasional series on research, references, and resources on management topics. For now, I’ll focus on practices that go unquestioned, but aren’t supported by evidence. I’ll share sources and authors that have shaped my thinking about management, organizations, and teams.

I’ll start some myths about pay and performance. The dominate model in the US is differential pay based on rating or ranking. It’s so pervasive, that many don’t even think to question it.  But as Jeffrey Pfeffer says,”diffusion and persistence don’t provide proof of effectiveness.”

Jeffrey Pfeffer: Six Dangerous Myths about Pay (terrible copy, but free).

Jeffrey Pfeffer:  Congressional Testimony on pay-for-performance systems.

If you are interested (and as a manager, you should be) in the effects of annual performance reviews, click “annual reviews” in the tag cloud.

If you are in middle management, you may think you can’t change HR policy. But if you band together with other managers and document the negative effects on productivity and the ability to meet the organizations goals, you might just get some traction.




3 Replies to “Essential Readings for Managers I: Pay & Evaluation”

  1. “I suspect that was all they knew how to teach, so that was what they taught. But it wasn’t what I needed to know.”

    Very true!

    Thanks for the pointers to the Jeffrey Pfeffer articles.

    A good book (mentioned in the “annual reviews” tag cloud) which explores these topics is “Measuring and Managing Performance in Organizations” by Robert D. Austin.

    I wish I could say I’ve been able to personally experience companies where the pay-for-performance HR policy has been changed, but I haven’t (yet?) had that pleasure.

    • That is a good book! Thanks for bringing it up.

      Another interesting topic is the idea that managers make “objective” assessments of employees performance. Perhaps an area for a future Essential Reading post.


  2. Thanks for these references. Useful and timely! I’ve seen all the tinkering and all the unintended consequences of these pay systems. I’ve started collecting articles like this to help steer client and friends in a better direction.

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