ElfOnShelfBy Michael Fritsch, ISPI Texas
Image Source: Elf on The Shelf®
When I think about human performance technology, I always think about the Elf on the Shelf®. With Christmas upon us, many of us use the “Santa is watching” technique to motivate our children. The folks at Elf on the Shelf® have taken that up a notch. For those not familiar with the tradition, the Elf on the Shelf® is a small pixie elf doll that parents can place throughout the house (on top of a shelf, for example) during the holiday season to keep a “watchful eye” over the children.

The Elf on the Shelf® appears to be a powerful motivator; so how can we apply the concept to organizational effectiveness? To answer that question, let’s look at how the elf does a number of things right:

  • Monitors performance: the elf is watching
  • Provides reporting: tells Santa Claus
  • Has a performance standard: naughty or nice
  • Has a reward structure: toys or a lump of coal
  • Works in “matrixed” organizations: children are not direct reports of Santa Claus

While this is not bad for an 18-inch stuffed doll, it is not really adequate for true performance improvement. The elf falls short in a number of ways:

  • “Naughty or nice” is an inadequate set of performance goals. It is too vague, too subjective, and not readily measurable. The elf would be well served to follow the SMART format (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and timely).
  • Like the lazy manager, the elf is only measuring performance around review time (i.e., Christmas) and giving feedback only once a year. We know the best practice is to have regular and ongoing monitoring and feedback.
  • The elf appears to only monitor those things he or she can see from his or her own shelf, which limits the ability to monitor cross-functional or cross-organizational goals.

Best practices for individual and organizational performance require more. For individuals to perform well they must:

  • Be capable
  • Have clearly defined job roles
  • Know what is expected of them
  • Have the knowledge and skills to perform the job
  • Have the tools to do the job
  • Receive feedback on their performance

For the best organizational performance, individual performance needs to be strategically aligned across the organization, but that requires many more elves and many more shelves!



 MikeFritschAbout the Author
Mike Fritsch, PMP, is president and COO of Confoe in Austin, Texas. Mike is also president of ISPI-Texas, the Texas-wide chapter of ISPI. Mike has appeared in numerous publications including Fast Company, U.S. News & World Report, Univision, The Christian Science Monitor, and Renewable Energy World. Since 2002, Confoe has provided project management services and performance consulting for clients ranging from the Fortune 50 to new venture start-ups. Clients have included Whole Foods Market, Intel, Dell, HelioVolt, and the Environmental Defense Fund. Mike has an MBA in technology management from the University of Phoenix and a BS in engineering from the U.S. MilitaryAcademy at West Point. Mike can be reached at michael.fritsch@confoe.com.

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