The Future of Work - Part 5 of 5

Performance Transformation
added by Craig Steel
employees in an office at their desks on computers

What organisations need

To remain competitive in a post-Covid world, organisations need more strategically aligned effort and activity from their people. Not just some of them, but everyone.

Critically, they need their people to be ever more vested in the cause to create a movement that propels the organisation forward.

To achieve this, they need them to not only take ownership of the outputs they produce but commit to improving the outcomes the organisation delivers.

However, because engagement in most businesses is so low, leaders fear such expectations would be considered an attempt to exploit them rather than an indication of their commitment to their stakeholders.

Further to this, because it’s so far beyond where most organisations are, the majority of those in command assume it’s impossible to achieve because it’s so different to what they observe.

As a result, they interpret the behaviours of their people as a window into ‘who they are’ rather than ‘evidence of their disconnect’; hence they presume the only option is to squeeze more out of them.

Because organisations address what’s in front of them, they treat their staff according to their behaviours rather than in accordance with their aspirations.

This is because leaders see their people as a resource rather than individuals that have the capacity to deliver the changes they’re after. This reminds staff they don’t believe in them thereby prompting them to keep their distance rather than getting involved in the business on a more personal level.

Of course, there will always be superstars; people who go out of their way on every front. However, the question we have is why this behaviour isn’t demonstrated by the masses, i.e. the more than 90% of an organisation’s workforce rather than the minuscule 3-5% it typically is.

What I find interesting is why executives have come to believe this type of engagement is not only unrealistic but near ridiculous. To most, it sounds like a utopia; an imaginary world that’s impossible to achieve rather than a predictable response to visionary leadership.

However, when I ask them to think of the idea in a sporting context, they agree it’s not only possible, they can see it’s the norm irrespective of the standard of the players or their particular makeup.

Most importantly though, it suggests to them that the vast majority of their people are likely to have the potential to not only do untold more for the business but relish the opportunity and experience if they did.

The fact is, everyone loves to be stretched; to extend themselves for the benefit of their teammates or the greater good. What people don’t like, however, is being on the periphery of an enterprise that doesn’t involve them or being told to get on with their work when the benefits remain a mystery.


The issue

Limitations in conventional (Management) theory have caused organisations to presume it’s a question of balance, i.e. balancing their expectations with their people’s working conditions and remuneration. However, if it was purely about balance, why is it that people around the world are prepared to give it their all for things they believe in for free?

Put another way, what is it that prompts people to want to push themselves on the sports field or go out of their way to help a friend or stranger in need? What is it that gets people fired up in a positive way to do something extraordinary but the very next day, do their work in a state of indifference despite being paid to do it?

The reason isn’t because of what they ‘get out of it’ as espoused by many, it’s because the majority of us want the world to be better and to know that our involvement is making a difference.

In other words, it’s because we want our life to mean something to others; to know that we’ve played a part in creating better outcomes or experiences for those around us.


So what’s the answer

The answer to the performance conundrum most organisations are grappling with is not to focus on employee packages or benefits per se but to talk about the difference they can make to your stakeholders by being involved.

Not surprisingly, because the majority of recommendations are driven by the presumed interests of employees rather than the ‘drivers’ of human performance, organisations are making the mistake of building their proposition around the employee experience.

While this is critical, their efforts are often ill-informed because of the confused viewpoint. By that I mean most presume they need to highlight promises that appeal to people’s aspirations rather than talking about the work they are doing and the difference it makes to their community.

If they approached it from this angle, employees would see an opportunity to make a difference while at the same time, earning a salary in the process.

However, to achieve this, organisations need to fundamentally change the focus of their leaders.

That is, they need them to focus on the success of their people in terms of the difference they’re making to their customers rather than narrowing their involvement to try and improve their productivity.

They also need to repurpose their HR system so it works for their people not see it as a means to address problems when they arise.

The fact is, problematic behaviours are largely a result of leadership deficiencies as opposed to a population's inherent laziness or belligerence.

If organisations accepted this, they would see they need to focus their HR system on the masses to help everyone succeed rather than assuming it’s there to address the wayward.

If your system is built with this in mind, lifting performance and engagement is easy. However, if it isn’t, its existence will destroy the spirit of your people because of its presumed intent.

In practical terms, this requires organisations to institute proper people-focused operating models that put them at the forefront of the company’s thinking. If this occurs, staff will not only see the business focusing on the things that matter, they will feel relevant to its future and therefore part of the bigger picture.

This will compel them to engage in the purpose of the business as they will know they are critical to its strategy which, in turn, will encourage them to take greater responsibility for what they contribute.


This article is part of our white paper 'The Future of Work: a performance-focused insight.' To request a copy, please email us at [email protected]


Got a question?

We're always happy to help.