The Teacher Who Lurks Outside The Classroom

What problem does the teacher lurking outside your classroom reveal about the current evaluation and performance management strategies?

By Pang Zijun, Facilitator/Implementation Consultant, Arbinger Singapore/Malaysia | February 4, 2020

How many of us have had a teacher who lurks outside the classroom and peeps into the window, or eavesdrops behind the closed classroom door, spying and trying to catch any misbehavior in the classroom? Did our parents do that? Or as grown-ups, what about our bosses and our colleagues?

Sometimes, these people even stop by and pretend they have some other business to do and then surreptitiously scout the place for signs that all is not well!

There is no doubt that no matter who we are, we will be observed from time to time by someone else, in order to evaluate our performance. In the meantime, we might also do these behaviors ourselves, to evaluate others.

But the question is, do these approaches of observation and/or evaluation always work? Do people always improve performance and behavior, and ultimately strengthen working culture and ethics, when constantly being, at least, watched and guarded against, or at worst, made to feel psychologically insecure?

The answer is obvious. People don’t always react to these kinds of fault-finding observations and evaluations positively. To explain this phenomenon, let me first share this story from the book Bonds of Anguish, Bonds of Love, by C.Terry Warner:

“… My sixteen-year-old son asked to use the car. I didn’t want to loan it to him. I wasn’t sure he’d treat it right. I paid for the car, he didn’t. But he asked: “Are you going to use it? Is that why you don’t want me to take it?” He was trying to make me feel like a skin-flint. So, I reluctantly said all right.

“You be back by 10:30, you understand?”

“Yeah, sure, dad.”

“Or else there’ll be serious consequences, y’hear?…”

Watching the 10 o’clock news, I was fuming about his having the car. About 10:20 or whenever, the weather report came on, then a commercial, and then the sports — I guess at about 10:25.

Then I looked at my watch. 10:28. I was regretting having let him use my car and shaking my head knowingly.

10:29. I began recollecting in my mind the irresponsible things he’d done lately. I can remember feeling determined not to loan him the car again.

I looked at my watch one last time. Still 10:29. Suddenly I heard a sequel of tires in the driveway.

He made it home before the deadline. I felt a keen pang of disappointment…

When he came in, I said, “Sure cut it close, didn’t you.”

Coming back to our earlier discussion, the fault-finding approach does not work well, simply because when our focus of the observations and/or evaluations is to find fault, then it means we actually “value” fault/problems more than we value merit/solutions. We end up putting more energy and resources into seeking problems to meet our “KPI” and/or feel “satisfied” to show we get the “job done”, while the same energy and resources could have been used in innovation, creativity, collaboration, solution seeking and so on.

However, to change the way observations and evaluations are being done takes more than simply having different policies, strategies and behavior, or redefining our job scopes and resetting KPIs. It requires a fundamental shift in the way we see and regard our work and the impact of our work on others, as well as the collective results of the organization.

Specifically, when what we do (such as our job scope and KPIs) only focuses on what we can achieve and how others are impacting our objectives, we invite conflicts, mistrust, unwillingness and micromanagement. However, when we focus on how we are impacting others and their objectives, we invite collaboration, trust, willingness and accountability.

Now, to be the teacher/boss who lurks outside the room looking to spot problems, or the one that sits inside the room recognizing people’s input, the choice is yours.

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