We all have some type of value assigned to us based on how others perceive us. Whether we buy into these perceptions or not depends on if we are intrinsically or extrinsically motivated. For those who are intrinsically motivated their personal value is internally defined. It is unwavering in the face of other’s opinions. For those who are extrinsically motivated, they try desperately to navigate the landscape of public opinion, which can sometimes be quite demoralizing.
How persons can devalue others
Sometimes persons hold biases and devalue others deliberately, sometimes bias emerges unintentionally. Here are a few examples of how persons tend to devalue others.
Background checks: When an employee’s contribution is devalued by powerful stakeholders both within their organization, and externally, this can become crystal clear if they decide to shop for another job. The potential employer contacts your current or last employer who is less than complimentary. This causes you to become less interesting to them. Unfortunately, a single background check can impact a person’s brand if the person asking the questions does not ask further questions to understand what is being said and the context of the viewpoint being shared.
Rater Bias: When managers rate employees for the most recent period of performance, there are some who are not as disciplined as they should be about monitoring their own biases. Sadly, because these managers are working from memory they may allow the most recent experience with the employee to carry disproportionate weight in the rating process.
There may be circumstances where this is appropriate, at other times this approach discounts the full value of the employee’s contribution for the entire year. A similar dynamic can occur when there is a positive bias and the last act was so overwhelmingly positive that unproductive behavioural patterns are ignored despite the inherent risks.
Promotions: Devaluation can be attempted when decisions are being made about promoting or developing employees. In the decision-making meeting, a contributor reminds the committee the employee made an error 10 years ago that created multiple costs for the organization. This information was mentioned despite the fact that the employee is a strong performer who, for the last 6 years, has consistently impacted the bottom line positively.
Speaking Up: Devaluation can happen when an employee expresses a point of view that contradicts the opinions of decision-makers. This is because the employee making the statement is perceived as a threat. In an environment, that values speaking up the same statements may be viewed as creative or insightful.
The Costs of the “Last Act” Phenomenon
When an employee realizes she is as good as her last act, she may become conservative and focused on doing things according to generally accepted practices. This slows down productivity and impacts morale.
When employees realize they are as good as their last act this puts the majority in survival mode. When self-preservation is the highest priority transparence is sacrificed and this can lead to unwanted surprises for decision makers.
Another way costs manifest, is through performance management. When positive bias seeps in and persons receive more than they earned, this creates morale issues among the true performers, because they are pulling their weight in addition to the weight of the persons with inflated performance ratings.
Neutralising the “Last Act” Effect
If being as good as your last act is an accepted practice, leaders and other cultural architects may want to consider creating a strategy to neutralize the devaluing effects of bias. It means being deliberate about your brand, taking your brand into your own hands. It also means creating a branding strategy that will not attempt to change who you are, but one that will refine your strengths and more effectively manage your areas for improvement.
I have encountered several situations where persons were being judged based on circumstances that caused their last acts to be perceived as unproductive, regardless their positive attributes and track record. In fact, in some cases, no positive attributes were being perceived at all because of overpowering bias.
I have also encountered a situation where even when it seemed impossible for a leader to turn his brand around, he was able to establish a new one. In this case, the leader identified something the employer valued much more, causing decision-makers to re-evaluate the value he was adding, making him as good as his last act.
Manage Your Value
As a leader it is important that you manage your own brand, not letting others do it for you. It is also important to understand how the culture of your company may be contributing to how you are being perceived and valued. When persons are outliers and the culture values homogeneity, as already established, some persons submit to the pressure, others decide what they will do, despite the pressures because it is more important for them to be able to live with themselves after everything is said and done.
Yvette Bethel is CEO of Organizational Soul, an Organizational Effectiveness Consulting and Leadership Development company. She is a Consultant, Trainer, Speaker, Facilitator, Executive Coach, Author, and Emotional Intelligence Practitioner. If you are interested Yvette's ideas on other leadership topics you can sign up for her newsletter at www.yvettebethel.com or you can listen to her podcast at Evolve Podcast.