Articles tagged with: performance


What a good workplace looks like: Purpose, Recognition and Growth.


In August 1983, I visited the Highlands & Islands of Scotland for the very first time. Everything was magnificent including, and I now know very unusually the weather. It was sunny, warm and dry every day for the whole trip. I fell in love with Scotland and have returned many times over the past 34 years. Unfortunately, I have never again experienced a similar extended period of perfect weather. In fact, I have frequently spent days suspecting that I was participating in some kind of ongoing ice-bucket challenge. Notwithstanding my subsequent experiences, I always think of Scotland bathed in the sunshine of my first visit. My perception and belief about what was both possible and desirable was set early. As a result, I return to Scotland with a sense of optimism, although experience has taught me to always pack my wet-weather gear.

It has been very much the same for me when it comes to work. I was similarly blessed in my first “real” job in 1987. It provided a very positive experience about what good looked like in the workplace and how work could be a “soul-enhancing” experience rather than a “soul-destroying” one.  Over the last 30 years I have managed to experience a few similar positive work environments, indeed I am very proud that I have been involved in creating some of them. However I have also experienced or should that be endured the workplace equivalent of the “ice-bucket challenge; endless inclement cultures seemingly devoid of hope.   

What I have learned from these diverse experiences is the difference between good and bad in the workplace. I believe it can be distilled down to the presence or absence of three factors. These factors are firstly a sense of purpose or meaning, secondly an ongoing stream of evidence of making a difference, that is adding value to something or somebody and lastly a feeling of personal growth or development.

When all three factors are present they amplify and reinforce each other.  They are, in a very healthy sense contagious, in that individuals who display them communicate them to their colleagues, creating an environment which retains the right people and attracts other like-minded folk.

Unfortunately, when one or more of the factors is weak or absent then they diminish the positive impact of those that are present and good people leave in search of what they intuitively know is missing.

Let’s look at the three in a little more detail. Purpose is often talked about at a big-picture level and it is certainly motivating to think that your work is changing the world in some way for the better, Whilst I would always recommend that every organisation has a clear purpose in the form of a well-crafted mission statement, my experience is that it is the ability to find purpose in the more mundane tasks that our work often involves, that makes for a real sense of meaning on a daily basis.  Activities designed with clearly visible progress and completion are a great way of providing this. It is also useful to focus on individual human interactions; “how” we do things and how we make our colleagues and customers feel are just as important as the “what” of what we actually do.

The second factor is related to our significance as individuals. Is what we do noticed and valued? Ongoing feedback and recognition is vital. The best kind of recognition is timely, individualised and specific; it seldom comes in the form of an impersonal award via a HR system! Validation from and the respect of our peers is especially important. The environment should be one where everyone is involved in improvements and is both allowed and encouraged to make changes. Again, it is the knowledge and visibility of progress that is vital. Performance indicators and metrics are of the most value when used to allow people to manage themselves as opposed to the more usual situation when they are used by managers to manage employees. An example of this approach is the world renowned “Toyota Production System”. In Toyota, the supervisor/manager’s role consists of facilitating process improvements and developing individuals. 

This last point provides a nice segue to the final factor, Growth.  Everybody needs to feel that they are developing in some way. The amount and type of growth required varies hugely between different individuals; this is definitely a case where one size does not fit all. A healthy workplace recognises this and provides a wide range of support, options and development paths along with just the right amount of challenge and pressure. I have been coaching and mentoring managers across the globe for many years and seeing these individuals grow and develop has been one of the most rewarding aspects of my career. Management author David Bolchover argues in his excellent book “The 90-Minute Manager” that one of the core tasks of any manager is the development of their people. Unfortunately, this task is often either forgotten completely or put to the bottom of the priority list, after all development usually takes time and costs money.

A healthy working environment that attracts and retains competent people and delivers the required results can take many different forms. Whatever the form it will be an environment where its people can find meaning, be recognised for their contributions and feel that they are growing.  I strongly believe every workplace can and should be improved by a systematic focus on enabling these three factors.  I know what a good workplace looks and feels like. Hopefully you too have experienced similar positive environments. The knowledge that they exist should give us hope that we can recreate them anew. It is this same hope that has kept me going whilst trudging through the driving rain on many a Scottish mountainside.


The 90-Minute Manager – David Bolchover

Toyota Talent : Developing Your People the Toyota Way - Jeffrey K. Liker , David Meier


CEO and line manager behaviours shape organizational performance and organizational identity

CEO and line manager behaviours shape organizational performance and organizational identity

Research findings from the Institute of Leadership and HR Management from the Univeristy of St Gallen reinforce what we have known for many years now, and that is that CEOs play a significant role in influencing lower-level leaders, organizational identity, and organizational performance. They act as role models for the firm's management and determine which leadership behaviours will be rewarded or punished, thus having an important influence on the company's transformational leadership climate. In addition, CEOs are an important source of organizational identity strength. CEOs communicate the company's values internally and externally. Consequently, they have the opportunity to shape the perception of the company. CEOs should take advantage of this unique opportunity. They should be clear regarding how they want the company to develop eg.,vision, and should transmit the feeling that they are part of the company and that all company members are part of the same team. Importantly, these are behaviours that every leader can exhibit. Thus, even though certain individuals might seem more charismatic than others, all top managers can adopt important behaviours to influence both the leadership climate and organizational identity.

Line managers are also important for shaping the organizational identity and subsequently performance, which they can do by adopting a transformational leadership style. Many of line managers' expected behaviours match charismatic CEO behaviours, for example, creating a vision for their team that is in line with the company vision and values, creating a joint team spirit, and leading by example. All these behaviours enhance the organization's organizational identity. In addition, HR processes can be adapted to foster a transformational leadership climate as well. The selection of new managers and criteria for promoting existing leadership personnel should include behavioural aspects, which are in line with the company values. The same is true for firm-wide leadership trainings, which should target the demonstration of transformational leadership behaviours including charisma. Finally, organizations can try to influence the company organizational identity directly. In order to develop pride in the organizational goals and values, employees need to be aware of them. Therefore, internal marketing activities via the intranet, company newsletters, and firm events should deliver appropriate messages. By answering and communicating such information thoroughly, companies can create a pronounced organizational identity.


How to Manage Conflict in Teams

Setting teams up for success is the best way to avoid conflict

How to Manage Conflict in Teams

Stanford Professor of Organizational Behavior, Lindred Greer provides good advice on how to manage conflicts within teams. In this video she outlines the types of conflicts that can occur within teams and how to deal with them.  Conflicts can arise from differences on tasks, process, relationship and status.  Understanding who is involved in the conflict and why they are involved is the first step in managing the conflict. 

With virtual teams it's important to have a face to face kick off which allows them to get to know each other and understand the context that others are coming from. In our work with virtual teams across the globe we always insist on a face to face meeting where team members come together. In the face to face meeting not only do we work on the task/s the team has to manage but we spend time working on interpersonal relationships. We then have face to face followups every 3 months. In the intervening periods we conduct teleconferences which run to a strict agenda and time. The benefits of such an approach far outweigh any of the costs involved. Setting teams up for success is the best way of avoiding conflicts in the first place.



Building Smarter Teams - Thomas Malone

Building Smarter Teams - Thomas Malone

Very interesting article on the latest research into group intelligence.......
"We had expected that the group intelligence would correlate with the average or maximum intelligence of individual group members. But we were surprised to find that the correlation was not very strong. In other words, just having a bunch of smart people in a group doesn't necessarily make a smart group"


Posted in Project Management


Creating a safe space for innovation

Understanding how your measures affect employee behaviour

Clayton M. Christensen is the Kim B. Clark Professor of Business Administration at the Harvard Business School. In the business consulting field he is a “rock star.” He is the author of best selling business books and consults on the subject to many global companies.

In his book “The Innovator’s DNA” Christensen prescribes what it takes to be more innovative and to be successful at innovation. Perhaps it is stating the obvious (as far as I am concerned but then again I do understand a little about human behaviour being a psychologist), but one of the keys to success is to create a space for innovation to occur.  What that means is that employees should be able to experiment and trial new ideas without fear of negative consequences if things don’t work out.

“Establishing an Innovation is everyone’s job philosophy requires creating a safe space for others to take on the status quo. Researchers call this psychological safety, in which team members willingly express opinions, take risks, run experiments, and acknowledge mistakes without punishment”.

Another key is to give people time to innovate, obvious once again since how will you be able to experiment with out the time to do so? But when you hear, as I did, employees told to increase their utilization rate to 95% (utilization rate is the percentage of billable time) the only time they have left is the time for toilet and lunch breaks. There is no space for innovation.

Many years ago I consulted to an organization that was serious about innovation. The senior management team created a budget code so that employees could allocate hours to innovation and reduced the utilisation rate down to 80% so that employees could allocate 20% of their work hours towards innovation.  The result was that innovation happened.

The Innovator’s DNA provides a great resource for anyone wanting to create an environment for innovation to flourish, but in order to do so stumbling blocks like the requirement for high utilization rates must be dealt with first.

Posted in Innovation


Increasing your chances of implementation success

or how to get people doing what they say they will

Increasing your chances of implementation success

successCreating detailed plans which force you visualise what you will be doing, when you will be doing it, who you will be doing it with; plus the addition of support processes such as public commitment that you will follow through and the knowledge that significant others are doing likewise will significantly increase the chance that you will follow through on those actions.

Research conducted in voting patterns in the USA show that the use of voting plans increased voter turnout by 9.1% compared to potential voters who had no voting plan but who were contacted via phone calls to encourage them to vote.

(Nickerson, D. W., & Rogers, T. (2010). Do You Have a Voting Plan?: Implementation Intentions, Voter Turnout, and Organic Plan Making. Psychological Science, 21(2), 194-199.)

Our experience in the field of organisational development supports these findings. With the aid of a publicly displayed “leadership matrix plans” we found that employees of a large R&D organisation rated their managers higher on leadership in their annual employee engagement survey than the previous year and compared to divisions where managers did not use “leadership matrix plans”.   These plans clearly articulated the actions (behaviours) that “leaders” would exhibit, when they would do it and where they would do it. The plans were publicly displayed so all employees knew what behaviours they should expect to see, and managers were assisted via training and coaching to support them.

The plans clearly identified what leadership was and thus helped to create a leadership identity that the managers were required to live up to. As well, since all the managers of the division were required to undertake these actions their behaviours were in turn reinforced and supported via the social comparisons they were able to make with their peers.


The Jeremy Lin Effect

More lessons from Money Ball

The Jeremy Lin Effect

Unless you are a basketball fan you probably would not have heard of a player called Jeremy Lin, but Jeremy Lin who plays for the New York Knicks set a record in his first year of playing which surpassed the records set by players such as LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan. Jeremy Lin shot more points in his first 4 games as a professional player that any of the fore mentioned players and set a new NBA record. His shirt is now highest selling basketball shirt of all time.

Everything about Jeremy Lin just doesn’t fit the basketball stereotype, he is of Asian descent, not that tall as a guard only 1.91 m, not physically imposing and came out of Harvard – not a renowned basketball school. Yet he has one thing that is probably greater than 99% of the players he competes against, mental toughness or resilience. He has done it the hard way, no college scholarship, no NBA draft and only getting into the NBA’s division 3 development squad.  Traded by three clubs before somehow managing to get to the New York Knicks where he got a game out of “desperation” because the Knicks were playing so bad. Since then he has not looked back.

Lin got lucky because he got a chance to showcase his skills, but like so many decisions we make, they are made through our own biases of what looks good or sounds good. These biases can blind us from seeing talent – Just like what was highlighted in the book Money Ball.

“Players playing that well don't usually come out of nowhere. It seems like they come out of nowhere, but if you can go back and take a look, his skill level was probably there from the beginning. It probably just went unnoticed.”

Kobe Bryant, after Lin scored 38 points on February 10, 2012.

Posted in Performance Improvement

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