Note to readers: Hello world is a program developers run to check if a newly installed programming language is working alright. Startups and tech companies are continuously launching new software to run the real world. This column will attempt to be the "Hello World" for the real world.
It’s that time of the year when workers of the world unite in anxiety. The human resources departments have begun sending out emails about performance appraisals. The idea is to make it free and fair for everyone. So you have committees, and sub-committees, and so on. But no system is perfect and often, biases creep in — especially if you’re at a startup that’s moving fast.
A common form of bias is availability bias. It is the tendency to give more weightage to readily available memories and decide that it is more representative than it really is. For example, if you’ve just delivered a big project just before the appraisal cycle, you’re very likely to get a free pass for the mistakes you made at the beginning of the year. Or if you messed up around the time when the appraisals begin, your past success may not have too much of a bearing on how the appraisals go. A newsroom cliche is ‘you’re only as good as your last story.’
Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman illustrates this bias beautifully in his book Thinking Fast and Slow: People likely think that Hollywood is full of divorces and sex scandals. And that’s because it has grabbed your attention more than anything else. It’s in the news all the time.
By corollary, availability bias works the other way around too. That is, it is possible that each member of a team ends up feeling that their contribution to the project was more than everyone else. So if you tally it up, you end up with more than 100% credit that needs to go around, Kahneman notes. Which means some people will always be unhappy. And that brings me to the import of this column.
Measure of Life
mes to money and career? How can you be happier at work? Late management guru Clayton Christensen’s essay, ‘How will you measure your life?’ offers some answers. Your happiness with your career depends on two factors. First — we’ll call them hygiene factors — are money, a decent workplace, co-workers, and so on. It’s really motivators — the second factor— that contribute to your happiness. Christensen notes, that you can understand if you have enough motivators by asking yourself questions such as: is this work meaningful to me? Does the job give me a chance to develop? Am I learning, being recognized for achievements and given responsibility? If the answers to these questions are mostly no, you’re likely to be unhappy and work. Hygiene factors like money don’t contribute to your happiness as much as you think you do.
Moreover, performance is never as binary as a good performer or a bad performer. It’s often relative. And also, time-sensitive. Someone who performs well in a year may perform poorly in another year. And someone who performs poorly in a year may perform really well the next. The key to your happiness is how much you internalize this and don’t let performance ratings define your identity. People are not winners or losers. We’re mostly winners, losers, and everything in between. As they say, you win some, you lose some and life happens between.