PBC’s and Behavior Modification

By a Boulder Alliance member


Remember PPC&E? Older employees may recall the Performance Planning, Counseling and Evaluation program fondly – especially in light of Personal Business Commitments or PBCs.


According to IBM, PBCs were a significant improvement over PPC&E. The big deal was that they would produce a straight-line connection of business objectives from the Chairman to the employee hired yesterday. The most senior managers would define their Personal Business Objectives and pass those down to the next level. At each successive subordinate level – on down to non-manager employees – PBCs would be developed in line with those of the immediate manager. We were, therefore, to believe that this set the tone for “We’re all in this together”.


Without even touching on the bizarre “360 appraisal feedback” that was part of the initial PBC program design, most of us who had grown up in IBM with PPC&E were rather taken back by this new approach. Instead of specific – defined and measurable – performance objectives by which both the manager AND the employee had a basis for a meaningful discussion of accomplishments, we now had a program that was overwhelmingly subjective.


PPC&E was relatively simple….

Work objectives, clearly related to the person’s assigned duties, were defined. Appraisals against the objectives were reasonably predictable because achievement levels were built into the overall objective(s). Accomplish such and such and your appraisal (for one or more specific objective) would be a “1” – the best. Though the process was never intended to be completely non-subjective, proper execution would (1) minimize controversy, (2) provide focus on those things that needed improvement and (3) ensure that subjective criteria were properly balanced and were secondary to the specific task objectives. In short, you could not be denied the recognition for your specific accomplishments. Subjective matters had to be rather serious and/or sustained in order to completely over-ride the objective results (i.e., appraisal is at a “2” level rather than “1”).


What do we have today in PBCs?

There are very limited statements of very high-level objectives. The on-line system only allows up to so many characters per category, and that’s just one minor problem. Statements of performance objectives – because they have to be tied to those of the immediate manager, they  must mostly of necessity, be vaguely defined (“Contribute to….”, “Assist in….”, etc.). If my manager, for example, can only “assist” in achieving the goals laid out by his or her own manager, how can I be expected to do more?

What’s the result? Well, how does one now define the difference between a “2” and a “1” performer? If all you’re doing is assisting, helping and contributing……what really makes the difference? In other words, there are no measurable criteria on which the employee can at least somewhat predict the resulting appraisal level. Everything is up in the air and the bottom line is almost purely subjective.


So none of that is new news to you, you’re saying. You’ve known all that for a long time, you’re dealing with it as best you can and you think you’ve got it pretty well under control.


Well, if you think so, you may be in for an unpleasant surprise come PBC time – 2005. What was, at least in principle, a program based on performance objectives (however subjective), is about to have a whole new dimension added – personal behavior under the guise of something called “Foundational Competencies” (New PBC and Performance Bonus Programs – published Feb. 2004).


“IBM has identified nine core characteristics that distinguish outstanding IBM non-manager employees:

-         The competencies and their associated behaviors are valid for employees regardless of their job, location or business unit.

-         The Foundational Competencies, in conjunction with the IBM values, define what is means to be an IBMer.

-         Employees can make a difference by mastering the Foundational Competency behaviors.”


And what are these competencies? Adaptability, Client Focus, Communication, Creative Problem Solving, Drive to Achieve, Passion for the Business, Taking Ownership, Teamwork and Collaboration, and Trustworthiness.


Have a concern that you’re being asked to report the same information too many times to too many people?

You haven’t come up with a creative solution (even if your solution was simply to eliminate some of the requests).


Give up asking and plow through all the reports at the expense of your customer?

You don’t have a client focus.


Disagree too loudly when told that you don’t come up with creative solutions and that you don’t have a client focus?

You’re not adaptable and not a team player. Moreover, you don’t have a passion for the business and you haven’t taken ownership of the fact that YOU have a problem.


Are you better at creative thinking on your own or in small groups, as opposed to the small armies usually thrown into every “project team” or “task force”?

You must lack communication skills, you’re not a team player, and you’ve not adaptable. Moreover, you’re arrogant because you think you are smarter than a team of people (who, collectively, have perhaps half of your experience with the particular issue).


Remember, this has already been out there for almost a year. Heard about it recently? Not likely. But you’ll likely be hearing about it again real soon – come PBC appraisal time. And it will be YOUR problem that you didn’t remember this announcement from February 2004. What will happen when you ask for a measurable definition of “Drive to Achieve”? The answer will probably be something along the lines of “You’re a band X. If I have to explain that to you, perhaps you’re in too high a band”. Your actual band will almost certainly not matter – the answer works at any band. Besides (you’ll be told), this is not defined as a goal, only as a competency (whatever that means), so why would a “measurable” definition be required?


Will it happen exactly as outlined here? Maybe. Maybe not. Will it happen at all? Undoubtedly! Why else would this have been introduced to the PBC framework? So welcome to subjective performance evaluations of your personal behaviors. Welcome to a professional environment wherein what other people think of your ‘behavior’ far outweighs your professional competence and accomplishments…and, oh yeah, gives management yet another ambiguous wedge to make sure your toe their line.