Companies can introduce a meritocracy based on the building and validating of skills. A meritocracy is “a system in which the talented are chosen and moved ahead on the basis of their achievement”[i], and attractive to modern companies because it incentivizes a workforce to produce based on their skills. It levels the playing field. Workers from different socioeconomic backgrounds take the same skills assessment or go through the same experiences, and the results indicate their level of expertise. One way a company can support a meritocracy is by having its workers share presentations and validations of skill sets throughout the organization – perhaps with personal websites or LinkedIn profiles.
Sharing skill sets creates transparency, an important characteristic of a meritocracy. Leader credentials are visible to everyone, so they better have experience and talent in their skill set (or there may be a revolt). And this is largely already in practice with leaders utilizing LinkedIn; skill sets are presented as a list and endorsed by a professional network. However, what is less in practice is reviewing skill sets of coworkers; but in a meritocracy, this can be helpful for a few reasons:
- Provides an example. Learn how a ‘star’ in the company built his or her skills.
- Shows incremental ‘merit bars’. Learn steps to improve status, such as taking courses, training, etc.
- Explains differences. Learn why a colleague has a different role in the company.
- Gives context. Understand coworkers better by reviewing a good presentation of a skill set – with demonstrations and explanations. (Participate in peer-to-peer recognition.)
Tying merit extrinsically to the building and validating of skills is common sense. For example, as you build a skill, once you pass an assessment you get a bump in salary. If you are at a later stage, you validate a skill by getting a certification (such as CPA) and this gets you a promotion.
In his book Achieve Brand Integrity, Gregg Lederman discusses his employee centric approach to company branding: a leader defines what the company should be (after a thorough investigation), and rallies his or her employees behind it[ii]. One thing Gregg hammers on throughout the book is the importance of getting employees to become intrinsically motivated to perform and behave according to predefined expectations. Gregg dedicates a chapter where he talks about the importance of ‘recognition’ and ‘reward’ for good behaviors and experiences (sounds like meritocracy). He says:
A peer-to-peer recognition program is the best investment you can make in your people. (pg. 193)
My support for meritocracy in a company is based on using it to motivate workers to reach their potential and remove a non-merit driven hierarchy. So I believe it is a tool for inspiration. However, I think an over-reliance on testing and assessments may have negative consequences and there are other factors in building a workforce. There is something to be said about working hard, showing empathy, and adhering to ethics – being a genuine good person. I think ‘likeability’ goes a long way in earning a spot on the team. Meritocracy should be an infinite game where players elevate each other to make a better move; there is no declared winner or loser.
[ii] Gregg Lederman. Achieve Brand Integrity. B&W Press, (Rochester, 2007).
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