The Near Future of Work
Remote work, automation, AI, freelancing, the four-hour workweek, and borderless talent acquisition are among the forces that are shaping the work methods and cultures of tomorrow. Many of these changes are well on their way. By the turn of this decade, for example, almost 80% of organizations scaling intelligent automation indicated they will permit intelligent machines to render complex or mission-critical decisions within a few years. 
Yet another force - tech-enabled Real-time Visibility (RtV) at work - is on a path to alter the methods and culture of work in the very near future. Remarkably, this force could more substantively impact how we work than all of the forces mentioned above, combined.
RtV in employee performance holds the key to dramatic improvements in productivity and fulfillment at work. That’s because RtV systemically aligns incentives at work and enables leaders to make much better decisions faster.
The employee performance conundrum
Employee performance is foundational to any organization's success. What’s more, workers’ productivity is a key driver of GDP.
“Productivity isn’t everything, but in the long run it is almost everything. A country’s ability to improve its standard of living over time depends almost entirely on its ability to raise its output per worker”
Paul Krugman - The Age of Diminishing Expectations (1994) 
Yet, our standard measures of individual employee performance, especially in the knowledge economy, are woefully inadequate. While we can easily divide total output by the number of workers to derive an average performance, understanding an individual’s performance is nebulous, at best.
Companies attempt to get at this from many angles: 
- Set measurable OKRs and individual goals;
- Benchmark performance by implementing "sprints";
- Utilize project or task management tools;
- Track training completion metrics;
- Perform a skills gap analysis; or, most commonly
- Conduct annual, highly qualitative, 360 reviews.
For anyone with practical experience in the corporate world, performance measurement is a painfully familiar problem.
Over-engineering KPIs to incentivize employee performance can stifle innovation - and it often fails to adjust quickly enough to dynamic environments. And we are not even talking about the tremendous effort required to engineer those in the first place, nor the corresponding motivations of employees to “game” these same KPIs.
On the other hand, relying on the traditional annual review cycles for any substantive signals is a fool’s game. After all, annual reviews are just that - once a year. As an exceptionally lagging indicator, annual reviews rarely come as surprises; and when they do, they are not helpful surprises. Far more typically, annual reviews consist of managers documenting myopic views of their direct reports’ performance for purposes of promotions and other incentives. This allows for the cherry-picking of examples of behavior to support a predetermined outcome or recommendation.
Even when comprehensive 360 review cycles are conducted, the inputs from colleagues are rarely an honest or timely representation of the consensus on one’s performance at work. This is chiefly because reviews are submitted by a small subset of coworkers and are neither trusted to be anonymous nor simple to complete.
Understand, a key component of corporate success - individual employee performance - is yet to be properly measured.
think their organization's performance appraisal system is useful.
17% of people think their performance appraisals are open, honest and meaningful.
Only 22% of people always think their leader distinguishes between high and low performers.
A Leadership IQ study, surveying 48,012 employees, managers and CEOs on their thoughts around their annual performance appraisal process (aka. performance review, or annual performance ratings, etc.). 
To paraphrase the old adage: What is not properly measured cannot be properly improved.
Real-time Visibility (RtV)
Fortunately, real-time insights about employee performance do exist. They already reside in the honest opinions of all coworkers with whom one interacts. To be sure, these opinions do change with time - just like an employee’s performance ebbs and flows. The complex and dynamic nature of an individual’s performance - the nuances of what it means to solve problems, support the team, prioritize accordingly, or show leadership - are indeed best represented by the sum total of honest, unfiltered, and recent perspectives of teammates.
Realize, a comprehensive view of an employee’s performance is already being collected, synthesized, and stored in the heads of one's teammates.
You could be the most authentic leader in your organization, and have honest, trusting relationships with all of your employees. Now, imagine that you had the time and patience to take every one of your employees out for a coffee chat. In the heat of open conversation, in the cold light of day, they each tell you about their coworkers, honestly. For instance, they tell you who they feel has really been pulling their weight on a project, or on the flip side, whom they perceive as corporate parasites - using others to advance personal agendas to the detriment of the team or company. In that same coffee-chat discussion, your employee also tells you how they really feel at work, and what they think is in need of change.
Imagine you had these chats with every employee, every week. In essence, such investment of time and effort would result in you, as the leader, completely tapping into the knowledge from "the grapevine". You would have reached near Real-time Visibility for yourself.
What if you could skip the coffee chats and still get to RtV?
Tech-enabled solutions - drawing upon cloud computing advancements, the latest in psychology and organizational behavior science, survey design, statistical and smart polling methodologies, and big data analytics - can theoretically bring out what is knowable in that Coffee Chat scenario to every decision maker in the organization. What’s more, the insights gathered can be appropriately disseminated to those who can benefit from it and those in a position to drive necessary change.
RtV in Employee Performance and Engagement means:
- Ongoing measurements of how every employee is doing at work - based on the honest opinions of everyone they interact with at work;
- Ongoing measurements of how employees feel at work and why - based on their honest feelings;
- Ongoing, uninterrupted feedback loops to all employees on how their work is perceived and what they can do better to improve it.
- The automatic, business-as-usual representation of insights to all relevant parties.
In short, RtV requires frequent, honest, participatory inputs to generate objective, automatic, distributed insights for relevant stakeholders.
Implications of RtV for Decision Making and
The impact of RtV in employee performance and engagement only begins with better decisions by leaders. The paradigm shift in visibility creates a whole new set of rules by which employees will get to play - rules that incentivize a virtuous cycle of cooperation, sincere contributions, and a focus on positive outcomes rather than good optics.
Fair, fast, impactful decisions:
RtV finally makes a leader’s job tenable.
In many ways, an organization behaves like a living organism. The organization’s health and performance changes over time, often deteriorating with age or weight. When people don’t feel healthy, they go to a doctor for help. For the organization - it is leaders who are asked to correct anything that is out of order.
Imagine having to find a cancer early, but having no access to any tests. Say you only have a seven-month old annual physical exam. Imagine having to conduct an open heart surgery, but you are blindfolded! Imagine needing to ask a patient about their intimate life - with their father in the room -and then expecting a truthful response!
This is akin to what we expect leaders to do every day for the organization. Leaders are supposed to find that cancer early - and remove it. They often have to make cuts - even if they feel blindfolded. They have to conduct some very uncomfortable conversations - yet hope for honest responses.
RtV ensures privacy in the room, removes the blindfold, and lets leaders have all of the tests and organizational scans they need to properly do their job. With RtV, leaders have a newfound ability to monitor and understand the organization’s dynamics, strengths, and weaknesses, with near scientific precision.
RtV unlocks decisive and timely leadership action, spanning:
- Aligning teams to tasks and managers to teams;
- Employee compensation and promotions;
- Performance improvement plans and terminations;
- Work culture and environment improvements.
Unlike the prevailing status quo, RtV enables leadership decisions that are grounded in the latest consensus view of employees - thus they come with a broad buy-in. With timely decisions aligned to employees’ true sentiment, the organization may consistently be steered to health.
From work to the work-ground
RtV enables employees to fulfill their true potential
The opposite of RtV is Informational Ambiguity (IA) - incomplete, biased, delayed, and debatable “truth” on which decisions in the organization are made. IA about performance and the true sentiment of employees towards the workplace is pervasive. Thus, employees must navigate IA in the organization to the best of their ability.
IA creates an environment wherein appearance is as good as, or even better than, reality. Accordingly, employees must focus their effort for maximum visibility to the people who matter - or sacrifice recognition and reward. Even more cynically, IA predicts that work efforts are less impactful to one’s advancement than personal favoritism. Within IA, mid-managers can successfully recommend mediocre but loyal (to them) employees for promotion.
Cumulatively, we have a name for the rule set created by IA - the game of office politics.
Incidentally, in this game of office politics, there are no real winners. Employees abandon their integrity and neuter much of their creativity. Office politics suffocates real feedback and corrupts sincere intentions. And after playing in this game, we often come home feeling fatigued or discontent, stressed or anxious, unappreciated or guilty. In the process, even the best of political players lose the real purpose of work and miss their chance to fulfill their own potential. Instead, employees commit much of their time and energy on things they never studied or hoped to do “when they grow up”.
As the antidote to IA, Real-time Visibility has profoundly positive implications on how employees experience work. By its very presence, RtV ends Informational Ambiguity. The very culprit of why employees must play office politics in the first place is eliminated.
Replacing IA with RtV enables:
- Employee voices - each and every one - to be accounted for;
- Work to speak for itself; certainly work that impacts anyone in the organization;
- Collaboration to be rewarded by the very way performance is measured;
- Efforts to focus on productive, collaborative work, rather than the appearance of work;
- Feedback to be honest, timely, and truly meaningful to employees;
- Employees’ values, passions, and natural talents to quickly align to the projects they work on;
- Leaders to be in sync with employees and enabled to consistently make the right calls.
It could be challenging to picture what RtV predicts for the workplace in the long run. For the closest analog of instant visibility and feedback, we may need to go back to our youth - when we engaged in play.
In play - be it sports, board games, or at the playground - we encountered none of the features of Informational Ambiguity. Indeed, games become unenjoyable at best and impossible at worst if they are subjected to unenforceable rules, poor measurements, or the resulting political gamesmanship.
In our youth, we brought forward our authentic selves - to have fun, make friends, test our abilities, and to improve as individuals and players. With clear rules, objective, measurable ways to win, and an instant feedback loop to understand how to improve, games are the best analogy for how work could feel when RtV is present.
The analogy of play fits for another reason. Objectively, work is the playground for adults: it is where we continuously master different skills, apply our talents, and make new friends along the way. The workplace is where we spend most of our productive waking moments, showcase our values, skills, and creativity and where we can strive for notoriety.
RtV holds the key to a new reality of the “work-ground”: where employees reconnect to the real purpose of work and have a clean shot at fulfilling their individual potential.
For organizations, a fully engaged, fulfilled employee base means a step-function improvement in productivity, retention, and operational efficiency. In the long run, RtV also promises to flatten organizational structures, produce more collaborative and empathetic leaders, and make organizations leaner - removing the vast majority of purely oversight roles and tasks required in the current paradigm of IA.