Who's the Best in the World at Your (kind of) Job?

Who’s the Best in the World at Your (kind of) Job?

Professional athletes work at jobs that are highly normalized, and their skills/achievements can thus be compared far more easily than the average person working at a “regular” job, today and versus historical achievements.

Comparability creates competition (or is it the other way around?): if the chances of a high school athlete eventually turning professional are as low as 0.05% or worse, according to the NCAA, what would happen if you got to measure up to everyone else in the world doing [insert your profession here].

What if there were a high-score table for your job, globally? Would that change anything you do or the way you do it? It works for games. There’s value in knowing the best at some task or job within an organization, but could we perform even better if we were trying to get bragging rights across our industry or globally?

The competition may have to be more specific than just your profession, though. A football player (whether ‘gridiron’ or ‘soccer’) is not really judged by their capabilities generally, but more positionally. Safety, central midfielder, goalkeeper, defensive end, quarterback — there are specific statistics that apply to each one of these roles and allow us to draw comparisons to current and historically great practitioners. At certain times, we try to flatten the comparisons and assessing players’ overall impact in games or certain situations, for example in assessing the NFL’s annual Draft process or coming up with the list of “the greatest World Cup footballers ever”.

So back to YOUR job:

  • Should we bother? Is trying to normalize a score of how well you do things totally pointless, given how difficult it is for managers to assess performance, and how we overly rely upon subjective criteria that seem to bias more to likability than effectiveness?
  • What do you actually do everyday? Could you break down your job into a series of smaller tasks that could be worth assessing in isolation? Would others (even in the same role) break theirs down the same way?
  • Sales is quantifiable, isn’t it? Depends on whom you ask – for enterprise software, some products seem easier to sell than others. If the product sucks, is selling it a bigger achievement than if the product is brilliant and “sells itself”? Maybe.
  • Are there measurement standards? Who makes sure that the part of the track we’re racing on is actually 100m long? What about measuring the wind, having the right kind of electronic timing etc? Without bogging things down, could we crowdsource the measurement or have some kind of checks and balances to avoid mistakes or cheating?

Some of these difficulties may lead us down another path; namely since it’s too difficult to do this measurement directly “on the job”, but that we could devise contests that can act as a proxy for an occupational skill. For example:

But the guardrails that contests require tend to encourage contest-specific practice, and often the best practitioners veer away from contests for some of these very reasons.