There is welcome transition happening in IT outsourcing world as companies move from  ‘Bell-curve based’ performance system to ‘Contribution-based’ performance system.

Does it mean that IT companies have finally cracked the code to properly assess IT workers ?

As mentioned by one of IT executive I met recently  –

No one knows the answers yet, as many pretend so. For example, how do you assess an IT beginner who spends two months to set up Hadoop Server (data analytics tool) vis-a-vis an expert who probably takes a day to get it done ? There is no straight answer to it.

Here is key piece of the IT worker assessment puzzle. It is called ‘CRAFTSMANSHIP’.

Centuries ago, most of the people were governed by kings or gods. Kings/Gods added meaning to whatever work they did. Utmost loyalty to the king/religion was important part of their ‘contribution’ and added meaning to overall life. So, it dint matter whether you are small peasant or soldier or blacksmith, as long as you were serving king/god. ‘Craftsmanship’ (or excellence) was always role-based, as people found meaning in respective jobs – blacksmith, wheelwright etc. .

Advent of Industrial age  inadvertently shifted focus to the ‘person’. Output was assessed in terms of easily measurable units  – parts/hour or time spent per process step. Since, it was not feasible to apply same metric to wider group of people, organisations introduced to concept of Bell Curve. It was like ‘Limited Parking Lot’ theory i.e. whoever parks his car in specific slot, wins.

Knowledge(IT) age  kicked off  with internet, as more and more people got engaged into technology/machine enabled work. It also caused dilution of contribution for people involved in Knowledge jobs since it was difficult to clearly outline machine output vis-a-vis people output.

After-all, how can you correctly measure output of knowledge worker ? For example, if a person who is mostly working on power-points or excels doing data analysis, do you attribute it to better software capabilities of MS Office or person who is using these tools ? One catch is – if you  attribute it to software capabilities, it would inherently mean that you can easily replace the person with another one and still get same quality output.

Answer lies in concept of ‘Craftsmanship’. It can be applied to any field of expertise, not just to the artists/sportsmen.

As mentioned in book – ‘Pragmatic Programmer’, Andrew hunt makes interesting point about craftsmanship.

Within the overall structure of the project, there is always room for individuality and craftsmanship.One hundred years from now, our engineering may seem as archaic as the techniques used by medieval cathedral builders seem to today’s civil engineers while our craftsmanship will still be honoured.

Now next question is –

Are you able to achieve in such levels of excellence/craftsmanship only in specific knowledge jobs ?

Some might even argue that their job is too much mundane to generate such levels of excellence. It is due to popular culture in IT which focuses too much on job descriptions. So, it enforces a viewpoint that certain jobs (‘Digital’ as flavor of the season) are ‘preferred’ , while others are too much mundane to even considering reward.

Craftmanship does not distinguish between types of work done. It focuses on ‘how’ rather than ‘what’. During early days, it hardly mattered whether you were blacksmith or wheelwright. Meaning was always derived from skill and appreciation inherent to the craftsmanship, rather than actual output generated.

So, here is the solution to performance assessment puzzle specifically for IT/Knowledge workers.

Craftsmanship always comes from commitment and sustained/focused effort on specific tasks. These two qualities are quite a rare commodities in today’s employment scenario. So, if you are ‘honestly’ moving towards contribution-based culture, please identify and reward ‘craftsmen’ within your workforce.

After-all, clients are hardly concerned about amount of  email traffic generated, they care much more about ‘job well done’. Craftsmen are ‘KEY’ to achieve such levels of sustained excellence.