Matters Column

Effective performance: defining the ‘big picture’

February 5, 2016
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A former partner sent me an article from The New York Times that discussed how social media is changing how employees feel about their jobs and their on-the-job practices, as well as addressing retention and other recruiting matters.

You’d have to be living in a cave to be unaware of such trends. It’s hard to imagine what the workplace will look like in five years, but it will be different. Some changes will be subtle but others are likely to be dramatic. 

Probably the one constant factor will be the need to be competitive. How we accomplish that will be the critical factor. Being competitive isn’t really about being equal to all the others trying to do the same thing. What we really mean is being better than the others — out-performing them.

Performance comes with many labels, shapes, forms and measurements. Some organizations look at it with a short-term perspective; others believe it is the long haul that is most important.

In November 2014, I wrote an article for the Business Journal about performance reviews. I re-read it in preparation for the development of this article. I was somewhat expecting I would find aspects of that article I would want to change. I was quite surprised to find I still believed the points I wrote, and I think they are still of value as a tool for adding strength to an organization.

Performance isn’t program related

In addition to all the points made in the previous article, which focused on the design and use of a performance management tool, a hard look at the processes that drive the organization and how they all fit together is required.

A while ago, we began to see new information technology that was intended to link all the information processing practices into a single system called Enterprise Resource Planning. While these systems have become very sophisticated over the years, linking a lot of data, we haven’t been as successful linking people or functions. 

Operate as one organization

There is a lot of discussion about breaking down functional silos in business, most recently in governmental security systems, but it is a lot easier said than done. The critical element is getting senior management (including the operating board) to recognize how daily practices align with the “big picture.”

Defining the big picture is not easy, but a good starting point is a well-thought-out strategic plan.

A strategic plan is not a one-year budget plan. The long-term objective of the strategic plan can stay in place for many years, with adjustments that react to the big picture. It will usually have elements that often may take one or more years to implement.

The well-thought-out plans have aspects of reward for accomplishment. Unfortunately, if they are not structured properly, they probably don’t impact how the organization operates. Silos still exist; the we/they mentality can flourish, and people operate much as they always have. If there is good measurement, you may have people work a little harder, and you recognize the higher performers using the improved performance tool I described last year. Although you may inch ahead of the competition, you won’t likely take the giant leaps forward to out-perform the competition.

To have a really effective strategic plan, one critical element is communication and a message that is constant. This message is often a form of organization culture. This is a main reason a successful strategic plan is something that operates over time. Short-term direction changes often just confuse things because every aspect or individual of the organization does not understand the game plan all at the same time. 

The strategic plan is about setting targets and measuring results to keep the game plan on track. It is a symptom of performance. True performance is almost intuitive. It stems from an environment where exceeding the competition is a given, an integrated desire, and feels right. You are not looking backward to see how close the others are, you are looking and charging forward. You don’t ignore them, but your energies are about forging ahead.

All the kings horses and men can do it

Now that we’ve described the results and mentioned some critical tools to help you get there, it is important we also discuss a few key elements that become building blocks. We’ve already mentioned communication and culture.

Another involves mission and vision. These, of course, are ways that organizations describe why they exist and how they perceive things should work, but they frequently don’t have enough meat on the bones to help people build the organization that gets the job done.

Performance is about developing the meat, giving it strength, sustaining the organization, using all the components available. Just like the human body with all of its essential organs and systems, an organization has to maximize the value that each part brings to the table, without short-changing one unit for the benefit of another. We know when that happens, the lacking part of the body begins to atrophy and doesn’t contribute to the whole, and may even begin to undermine the body.

Each part plays a role

Where the body has been designed so each element generally does the expected job, there is a process that is required in an organization whereby each unit has to be educated on the expectations, its authority, its use of resources, etc., but all in balance.

The process of continual common education is essential because the organization is a dynamic entity, with environmental changes, technical changes and people changes. When you master the education and the balances, the silos are no longer of importance, and each unit or individual takes responsibility to maximize their contribution.

The end result is not a new Enterprise Resource Planning system replacing independent parts but still standing alone, but performance that sets the organization apart from those that are just working harder.

Ardon L. Schambers is president and principal P3HR Consulting & Services (www.p3hrcs.com).

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