Would you like to know how your employees will perform three weeks from now? Or what they will be doing on a Tuesday in September?
Adam Sadilek, formerly of Microsoft, and John Krumm, a principal researcher at Microsoft, were inspired by the question of predicting where people would be in the future. In their paper, Far Out: Predicting Long-Term Human Mobility, they led off with the question, "Where are you going to be 285 days from now at 2pm?"
When I read about this in Fast Company magazine I was greatly intrigued by the idea of predictions, and it made me wonder, "What if we can predict an employee's future performance?"
Predicting the near-term performance of people is reasonably easy. A good clue is what they are doing now will be how they will perform shortly. If you want to know what someone will be doing five minutes from now, see what they did for the past five minutes.
This point by itself raises a leadership insight. When performance is going well, don't interrupt it. And when it is not, definitely interrupt it.
Returning to the conundrum of predicting future performance, let's read what Fast Company said about predicting future habits.
As the volunteers went about their daily lives - going to work, to the grocery store, out for a jog, even for transcontinental travel - each carried a GPS device much the same way they carried a mobile phone.
After collecting more than 150 million location points, the researchers then had Far Out, the first system of its kind to predict long-term human mobility in a unified way, examine the data.
Far Out didn't even need to be told exactly what to look for - it automatically discovered regularities in the data.
"For example, it might notice that Tuesdays and Thursdays are usually about the same and fairly consistent from week to week," the researchers said. "Then when asked about a future Tuesday or Thursday, the algorithm automatically produces a typical Tuesday/Thursday as a prediction."
It turns out that we are quite predictable in our habits even over extended periods of time. Reflecting on their hypothesis, predictable patterns also appear in the workforce - not just where people go, but the way people work. Have you ever heard people complain about Sunday mornings? Or discuss "hump day" or TGIT (our version of Thank God it's Friday, or TGIF)?
Each of these phrases is pregnant with performance meaning. More so, habits are not limited to mobility, we are predictable in almost everything we do.
The leadership implication is that you need to preserve the existing environment for and habits of your high-performers. Anyone who is performing as you desire needs to be handled delicately as you may, accidentally, disrupt their performance pattern. This takes the shape of leaders pulling high-performers into senseless meetings and drowning them with organisational distractions.
On the other hand, where you have the opportunity to greatly benefit from this insight is to create the necessary "revolutionary" changes in the work of everyone else. No longer accept spotty performance, naively hoping it will correct itself or the environment will. These employees have already adapted to the environment and this is the locus of the predictability.
Knowing that employees' performance is predictable and the way they are performing now is an indicator of how they will perform in the future. Use this awareness to reshape the patterns. Then you can move from being the recipient of the existing performance pattern and say "I predicted it" because you shaped to be better.
Tommy Weir is an authority on fast-growth and emerging-market leadership, an adviser and the author of The CEO Shift. He is the founder of the Emerging Markets Leadership Center