Certain strategies seem to work but create a wake of misery, while others appear not to work at all.
Some of the most popular approaches to performance enhancement include; restructuring, process improvement, lean, incentives and rewards, consequence management, business transformation, strategic planning, and change management, to name just a few.
There have been quite a few studies on why change efforts fail. I’ve read many of them and you probably have too. Although there is some great analysis done and lessons learned captured in these studies, for me, the bottom line always points in the same direction. You don’t really get the performance you want if you don’t bring the people along with you.
The key to unlocking performance, no matter which way you cut it, is people.
Point 1: It’s the people
Point 2: It’s still the people
Point 3: Yes, people!
Obvious, and easy to say. Apparently, not so easy to do. But if we keep getting the same answer to this puzzle, why do we keep trying to jumpstart performance in ways that don’t work well, ways that only include people as an afterthought, or worse, as a problem to be solved and a force of resistance to be overcome?
I think it’s because of a misunderstanding of what leadership is, and what leaders do. Many of us still believe that people are predictable and rational, can be motivated with carrots and sticks, and when they see the light, they will move toward it. But this vision of people doesn’t really fit how people really are. People are often unpredictable, emotional, motivated by hidden forces, and driven by inherent values much more strongly than by exterior drivers.
This doesn’t mean you can’t push people in one direction or another and get temporary performance. Of course we can and we do. Many approaches to change still rely on models of behaviour that relate to people as one element within a complicated, but predictable machine. Push this lever, throw that switch, turn on the juice, and “presto,” things will change.
And there is so much change going on these days, people get pushed this way and that, turned on and off, jacked up into frenzy and then let down unceremoniously. It’s no wonder that people are increasingly more checked out.
The latest Gallup survey on worker engagement showed a staggering 87% of workers worldwide are not engaged at work, findings that reveal a strong relationship to decreased performance on many levels. As a result, we now see many companies getting concerned about engagement, but not doing anything substantially different in how they relate to people.
We believe the key to unlocking performance is simple, but not easy. It means leaders must confront the messy, unpredictable world of people. Although not easy, the rewards are significant. First, let’s review the three keys, then the rewards.
What we have discovered is there is a way to unlock performance that focuses on people, not as a problem to be solved, but as a partner in co-creating a future we can all get behind. Because it matters. There are some real advantages to going this way. People will be more engaged, and according to Gallup, there are all kinds of benefits of that for the business. These include increases in productivity and morale, decreases in absenteeism, and improved safety and quality. Measurable gains in performance!
We think that’s great, and it’s a good enough reason by itself to focus on people. But even more important for us is the side effect that people get an opportunity to do meaningful work, to feel inspired, and to reach out for fulfilment. We believe that doing it for that reason alone is worthwhile.
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