I was recently told of an African tribe that does the most beautiful thing. When someone does something hurtful and wrong, they take the person to the center of town, and the entire tribe comes and surrounds him. For two days they’ll tell the man every good thing he has ever done.This tribal practice offers some important ideas for organizations facing the challenge of “performance remediation” and its many euphemistic incarnations with respect to dealing with problematic employees. It is essentially the basis of Appreciative Management practices.
The tribe believes that every human being comes into the world as Good, each of us desiring safety, love, peace, happiness. But sometimes in the pursuit of those things people make mistakes. The community sees misdeeds as a cry for help.
They band together for the sake of their fellow man to hold him up, to reconnect him with his true Nature, to remind him who he really is, until he fully remembers the truth: “I Am Good.”
Traditional performance reviews involve “checking the boxes” against achievement and development goals that are more-or-less arbitrarily set in an annual exercise (that is mostly dreaded by managers and employees alike). Such practices are based in a control and regimentation mentality that assumes that all achievements can be quantified (that is, they are measurable), that they can be translated into specific, observable “action,” and that they conform to deadlines (“timely”). Given the complexity that defines most that happens throughout contemporary organizations, such goal-setting exercises that to not recognize the fact of emergence are not really very “smart.”
Even worse is that the reward and punishment mechanisms that surround and support such performance management regimes more-often-than-not lead to abusive and non-productive behaviours that tend to diverge from the organization’s tactility – whom it intends to touch and how it intends to touch them – in favour of achievement of goals that are abstractions of what seemed like good ideas at the time. It is particularly authoritarian mechanisms of discipline and control that become problematic.
In contrast, Appreciative Management practices are inherently strengths-based and founded in continual reinforcement and support of “catching them doing it right”—especially important when part of doing “it” right involves organizational members autonomously determining what are the right things to be done.
Particularly, when traditional organizations are moved to discipline (or the very many euphemisms thereof), Appreciative Management approaches are far more effective in sustainable correction of problematic behaviours. When the “tribe” reinforces an individual’s strengths, and the good that they are and can bring to organizational environments, we see remarkable turnarounds in both direct behaviour and sustainable engagement and commitment.