For the past several months I have been pondering over the topic of meritocracy. Meritocracy seems to be a hot button topic that goes between hot and cold cycles in various circles and climates for whatever reason. There seem to be quite a few political fires that can be easily stoked with this topic. For me, I haven’t been thinking of it from a political standpoint. For me, I have been pondering how the rat race of meritocracy has affected me unwittingly.
What is meritocracy? Well, there are a great many ways to describe this idea, but let’s just stick to the base definition.
Meritocracy: a form of social system in which power goes to those with superior intellects or ability.
I have no doubt that there is an absolute need for meritocracy in certain situations. For example, as a sports coach, you want your best athletes on the field in order to compete. The best athletes are determined through a series of assessments and monitored efforts and performances. They have earned their way into that position based on merit. Let’s be honest here, as spectators we also want to watch the best athletes and not the scrubs else we wouldn’t pay money to attend. It is a disservice in certain situations to not award those with the greatest ability the merit of more playing time in an athletic competition.
When we start employing a merit system to our personal lives or to our professional goals, things can get a little dicey. One of the major attributes of a merit based system is extreme competition. I view competition as a good thing. It keeps me on my toes and progressing personally. That said, there is a hidden undesirable impact that comes from extreme competition – and that impact affects interpersonal relationships.
As IT professionals (and the running joke even in IT is that DBAs are far worse than everybody else) we are far too often introverted. We are internally driven to achieve certain levels of success. Along with that internal drive, we far too often focus on the merits of the job that affect our career status and seldom pay adequate attention to those merits that affect our personal relationships and feelings as human beings.
You see, meritocracy is a rat race. In a meritocracy we are driven for results and in business the results frequently come at the cost of human interactions and relationships. How well do you know the people around you? Have you taken much effort to try and establish a rapport with your co-workers or clients – beyond the ones that sign the checks?
This is the serious flaw in a merit based system. One tries to climb the ladder of success but at the cost of being an approachable human being. Nice people don’t need to finish last. Maybe your merit review should have a line item about building relationships of trust and determine how well you have succeeded at that requirement (did you exceed expectations?)!
Put a bow on it
Merit based systems certainly have their place in business and in life. How well we govern our personal interaction with the merit based system and how we conduct our personal growth should matter more than most other achievements in life. Interactions with people is crucial to our growth as a professional and as a human being.
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This is the fifth article in the 2019 “12 Days of Christmas” series. For the full list of articles, please visit this page.