Human Performance Systems Thinking: This is NOT just a Buzz Word!


For anyone that knows me, I am a nut about understanding the way that organizations and people work, especially as it relates to increasing and maintaining performance.  Unfortunately many organizations of all sizes fail to see the many systemic components of this and how they work together, or they only have a cursory awareness without the clear connections and methods of helping them work together.

Whether you are a Fortune 100 company, or just started a month ago there are certain areas that need clear focus from the onset.  It is really easy to let certain things fall to the wayside, especially when you are focusing on trying to get your business off the ground and become self-sufficient.  I would like to share a few things that I believe that all businesses, work groups, teams, and divisions should think about as systemic components of your Human Performance program.

  1. Leadership needs to be aware of their own strengths and weaknesses, and ensure they get the development and guidance they need to support the business and their people.  This may seem a bit of a no-brainer,  but it is a critical component of your Human Performance system.  The leaders and senior leaders are the drivers and examples (or should be) and need to focus on developing and growing as much as or more than many others.  This serves the purpose of not only increasing capability and knowledge, but I believe also helps foster humbleness by reinforcing the fact that senior leaders do not know all the answers.  How many conversations and relationships would be, or are, different because of someone showing a bit of humility?
  2. Training is not always the answer…only for new skills or refreshes on old skills.  When someone is not performing, often the first go-to is to train them again, because the assumption is that they must not know how to do whatever it is.  Ask some questions first, such as: “Did they know how to do it before?” “What has changed for them personally and/or professionally?” “Are they engaged by the task/work/project/etc.?”  Answers to these questions can assist in directing toward either a training event or other solution, which leads to some of the other points.
  3. Determine what you can and should hire for, and what you really need to and want to train for when someone joins your team.  This changes the entire system drastically in many cases.  If I hire with expectations for certain knowledge, skills, and abilities then that reduces the amount and depth of training necessary to provide.  This also changes the potential of getting production faster and with potentially more varied perspectives.
  4. Re-evaluate roles and positions regularly to determine if what they were still fits for today and tomorrow.  Some of us get bored being stuck in the same thing all the time, and want the opportunity to grow and move in to other areas.  Re-evaluation of roles and responsibilities regularly, while including those currently in the role, can go a long way to engaging employees.  Additionally, it is important to ensuring your organization is best prepared not just for where you are, but where you want to go.
  5. Ensure performance management is built in to the day-to-day, nor reserved for mid-year and end-of-year.  It has been said a million times, but it deserves reiterating.  Performance management as a practice is one of the most hated things for most managers, but the reality is if the culture of the organization and team includes coaching people for success as they take on new jobs, tasks, responsibilities, etc. and then continues providing direction and feedback after, the process goes much more smoothly.  This changes the discussions and can increase engagement and feelings of trust and rapport with leaders.
  6. Create the culture that you would be excited to be a part of, lead it, and reinforce it.  Again, this is not new, but you are the one others look at.  The way you act, or the way you don’t influences others.  The way you communicate, or don’t, influences others.  The trust and transparency you have, or don’t, influences others.  Never lose sight of the impact you really have.
  7. Management and Leadership are a job, not an afterthought.  I really can’t stress this enough.  Managers need to lead, and the activities that a manager should be doing are very different than what individual contributors should be.  This should be evaluated regularly and people who are really stronger as individual contributors should be given the opportunity to do those types of jobs at no penalty.  Additionally, managers need to be able to put the overwhelming majority of their focus on building a strong and stable team, growing them, removing barriers, and getting things done.  If you are not doing these activities at least 85% of the time, you are NOT a manager.  You simply have a title.

Your Human Performance System is critical, and very real.  It is also very complex, and understanding and working with it can be difficult.  But that does not lessen the importance or necessity of working on it constantly. It is dynamic and needs constant focus, and many times adjustments and change.  Are you focusing in these areas?  How?  What else would you add to this list?  I’d love to hear your comments!

Saying “Thank You” to Employees Is Worth It’s Weight In Gold


In the business world, we often hear that giving pay increases and other monetary gains is not the answer to increasing workplace engagement, productivity, job satisfaction, and a whole host of other factors.  Conventional wisdom has been that providing encouragement and praise is just as good as the tangible rewards.  Now, emerging research shows that this really may be the case.

A study in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science indicates that when people are provided with intangible, or symbolic, resources such as praise, information, or affection they will be more inclined to return the favor with concrete resources such as money, work, or effort (Matsumura & Ohtsubo, 2012).  There are challenges to a study such as this, but as Matsumura and Ohtsubo point out, the findings are supported by another study from 2008 by Izuma, Saito, and Sadato in which the brain shows response via fMRI to these intangible resources in the same way that it does to tangible resources.

What does this mean for leaders and workers?  It certainly doesn’t mean that we don’t enjoy getting tangible, or concrete, resources or rewards! However, it does indicate that organizations would do well to ensure that they let employees know how much they are appreciated through other intangible means, and they should research and understand better the science behind what makes us happy and feel as though we want to reciprocate.

References

Izuma, K., Saito, D.N., & Sadato, N. (2008). Processing of social and monetary rewards in the human striatum. Neuron, 58, 284-294. doi:10.1016/j.neuron.2008.03.020

Matsumura, A., & Ohtsubo, Y. (2012). Praise Is Reciprocated With Tangible Benefits: Social Exchange Between Symbolic Resources and Concrete Resources. Social Psychological and Personality Science, 3(2), 250-256. doi: 10.1177/1948550611417016

Creating Engagement Within The Work Family


There is a tremendous amount of literature available today that addresses employee or worker engagement, and organizations such as Gallup have spent large amounts of money, time, and other resources to identify components and impacts of engagement.  It’s so important that organizations such as retail giant Best Buy and bottling and drink company MolsonCoors, Inc. have reported impacts to their respective businesses due to an increased focus on and measured increase in employee engagement.  It can be quite confusing to read through all the available information without some guidance about what it all means, or what theory is correct.  Unfortunately, the answer is slightly more difficult than a simple “this or that”.  In a recent edition of the Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research (2011), there is an excellent article that discusses these myriad theories of employee engagement.  The title of the article is “Leadership Strategies for an Engaged Workforce” and it covers some really important topics.  Most importantly the authors, Shawn Serrano and Rebecca Reichard, add some definition to the definition of employee engagement.  So let’s start with that here.

The two components that seem to overlap no matter which theory is used are energy and involvement.  As Serrano and Reichard (2011) so eloquently put it, “energy is displayed as individuals fully deploy their physical, cognitive and emotional resources into a work role or task,” and “involvement occurs as individuals display competence and a positive attached response to the job, thus resulting in remarkable dedication and intense absorption in the task at hand.”  So now we have a relatively clear idea of what represents employee engagement, but how do we achieve this?

Again, Serrano and Reichard (2011) have some excellent suggestions; ultimately, leaders are tasked with:

  • Designing Meaningful and Motivating Work
  • Supporting and Coaching Employees
  • Enhancing Employee’s Personal Resources
  • Facilitating Rewarding and Supportive Coworker Relations

Most of us would agree that if  these things were in our workplace, we would feel more engaged.  I think there is a really good reason for this, going back to when we were very young.  The role of parents, our leaders through childhood, provided many of these things for us to get us where we are today.  Most parents provide activities and tasks for children to do and accomplish that will help them feel good about what they have accomplished, and will support and coach them along the way.  Even if the task is challenging parents are there to help them, but not necessarily complete the task for them.  Organizational leaders serve the same role.  Ensuring that children have the necessary components to succeed in their daily tasks, school projects, sports endeavors, or other activities is truly crucial as most children can not achieve these things on their own.  Again, organizational leaders must provide that same type of support to their workforce.  In many cases, workers do not have the ability to get the necessary resources on their own.  It doesn’t mean giving someone everything that they ask for, but rather providing them with what they need to accomplish what they are working on and striving for.

The last component, Facilitating Rewarding and Supportive Coworker Relations, is very similar to the act of parents facilitating “play dates” or other social activities for their children to become more socialized.  Ultimately, parents are responsible for assisting their children in achieving this development, and organizational leaders have much of the same responsibility.  This teaches people to communicate and interact successfully, which can help across many facets of business.

This isn’t to say that business leaders need to treat employees like children, but we need to have the same type of compassion for one another as we would for children and leaders especially need to understand the great responsibility that they have for their employees.  When thinking about what the workforce needs, ask if they have the components above and if you are helping them to grow and develop, or if perhaps you are viewing them as simply a part in a process.  How are you engaging your workforce family, and how are you being engaged?

References

Serrano, S.A., & Reichard, R.J. (2011). Leadership Strategies for an Engaged Workforce. Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research, 63(3), 176-189. doi: 10.1037/a0025621

We’re not starting from scratch!


Image from onefte.com of faceless stickfigure making speech about getting paid for work.

I have to say, this is one of my favorites!  Too often, we forget that the workplace is a voluntary environment, and if it isn’t working, find something that is or find a way to make it work.  Money isn’t generally the answer to an unhappy workplace (although, being paid what you’re worth doesn’t hurt!) so look for what else is wrong and try to fix it.

A “Complex and Adaptive” System


In any business, human capital is the underlying current of activity and success.  There are many challenges as organizations grow and shrink, and make decisions on the best way to proceed into the unknown as they change and develop.  An article that giving an interesting perspective on this was published in the professional journal Performance Improvement in March of 2010, titled “An Enlightened Look at a System View.”  The authors, Rosenzweig and Lochridge, look at how organizations must reassess what they are doing today and empower employees to make proper decisions and take the business into the future through an entrepreneurial spirit.

In the current turbulent environment, organizations are forced to find new ways of doing things, engage employees, offer better service, perform faster and more agile, and use the human capital that they have in multiple and diverse ways and roles.  With these thoughts in mind, the old way of doing things needs revisiting and reevaluation for effectiveness.  The old ways of thinking need challenging.  Does what worked even five years ago still stand true today, or is an entire re-vamp necessary?  For many on the “front-lines” of organizations, this is a no-brainer question.  As the saying goes, “what got us here will not (necessarily) get us there”.  In other words, some things are reusable, but many components can definitely benefit from change and evolution.

One such area involves viewing the business as a system, and understanding it as being complex with many moving parts.  This means understanding that, as Rosenzweig and Lochridge (2010) put it, “we need to acknowledge that some problems have a tipping point where the ability [to affect change] with a small team to affect change on a system becomes impossible.  There are too many moving parts, and too many emerging issues.  In these instance, the system must be viewed as being not just complex but as a complex adaptive system.”

So, what does a “complex adaptive” system mean?  It means there is a constant input of new data and changes to the system needing the ability to make decisions quickly and dynamically.  Further, these decisions are not necessarily by the leaders and senior leaders, but are by the human capital directly involved.  Although there is a structure of “plans, processes, and strategies” (Rosenzweig & Lochridge, 2010) agreed upon and slated as the guiding directives, the understanding is they are simply a guide on the path as changes constantly happen.  This agility and trust in the decision-making process creates engagement from those involved, and helps to create ownership of the business and decisions.  Everyone strives to do their best in contributing to the “larger purpose [of] what is needed to accomplish the tasks at hand, as well as the end goal.” (Rosenzweig & Lochridge)

The organization has a mission, vision, values, strategy, etc.  The ability and desire of the individuals in support of those components is what makes them truly work.  One way that many organizations today are working in support of this is to work “less [toward] managing the people and more [toward] engaging them.” (Rosenzweig & Lochridge, 2010)  This includes creating an environment where the individuals are more responsible for self, and find their own way to give 110% in support of the team, the organization, the business, and the customers every day.  It also includes running the business as a network, much in the way the Internet does, where everyone “[connects] to each other in an organic way.” (Rosenzweig & Lochridge, 2010) While this environment is often in small, entrepreneurial organizations, now a movement is gaining strength to keep this type of thinking and behavior alive and well within those organizations that have moved out of that category.  Instead of it being about a stage in an organizations life, it is a combination of mindset and actions, empowering and engaging each employee as an owner and creator of the business.

The face of business today is in many ways very different from how it was 50, 20, or even 5 years ago.  The expectations of customers are different and need a completely different approach in many cases.  Problems need more than a canned solution.  Working within regulations and standards is perhaps more strict now than in the last century, and our world is more technologically involved and complex in many ways than ever before, requiring a unique way of thinking and working.  Ensuring that the organization empowers and enables human capital in an organization  to meet the demands of today will differentiate any organization and place them in position to grow, change, and evolve to keep pace with what comes for tomorrow.

References

Rosenzweig, J., & Lochridge, S. (2010). An enlightened look at a system view. Performance Improvement, 49(3), 24-30. doi: 10.1002/pfi

Attention to Cognitive Load and Memory in the Workplace Could See Greater Attention to Detail in Work and Greater Job Satisfaction


“Every day I go home, I am simply mentally exhausted!”

“I get a headache by the end of the day, and come back the next day to do it again.”

“There just seem to be too many balls in the air at one time…something is going to have to drop.”

These statements are probably nothing new to most people who go to work at many workplaces around the globe.  The sheer amount of information being thrown at people today is atrocious.  Of course, it can be a positive thing when you think about how much more access that people have to information than they did even 10 – 15 years ago.  But what does this really do to us in the workplace?  How can our minds handle this information?  What are workplaces doing to mitigate some of the losses, and improve the successes?

In most cases unfortunately the answer is probably not much.  One of the fastest growing professions in the world right now is Industrial/Organizational Psychology (Cherry, 2011), and for very good reason.  As I have discussed before, companies work in the sense of “I need it yesterday” which is not always conducive to success and progress.  A better way to look at it may be, “Taking a little extra time to do things correctly today, could save a lot of time doing and fixing things later.”  So what do I mean by doing things correctly?

One of the first things that I believe is tremendously important is to refer to the findings by psychologist George Miller.  In a study published in the 1967 Psychology Review, Miller introduced the “Magical Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two.”  The premise behind this study is that the human mind can only discern between, or remember, seven different things with a variance of two more or two less (depending on type of stimulus).  However, more importantly Miller discussed the concept of “chunking”.  Chunking is when you group information together to remember it easier.  This could be grouping together by meaning, or by association, but nonetheless chunks.  A book out of the University of Missouri (Cowan, N., Morey, C.C., & Chen, Z.) gives some great background and examples of this, as do most Psych 101 textbooks.   Take, for example: 19-98-19-99-20-00-20-01-20-02.  If you were to attempt to remember each of these chunks of data individually, you would have 10 individual chunks (19, 98, etc.).  Most people would find remembering that many chunks difficult.  For most of us though, our brain recognizes 1998-1999-2000-2001-2002, which would reduce down our number of chunks to only 5, and would allow us to remember these much easier.

This is a basic concept of psychology, and yet seems to be lost in the business world.  This seems especially true when it comes to developing training, creating communications, and otherwise disseminating other information and communications.  While an expectation may be that adults in the workplace can discover their own ways of chunking, a true commitment to the employees and the organization itself would say that it would benefit all involved to help this process along.  Imagine for just a moment the reduction in wasteful communications or other information delivery!  By reducing the amount of information (cognitive load) you increase the amount of information that can be stored in the working memory and thus the amount that can be more easily encoded to long-term memory.

Another concept that I believe is important, and that appears to have been hit upon by some organizations out there, is the idea of a physical and mental break.  This has some very serious implications in the workplace.  An article published by Dr. Rick Nauert on PsychCentral discusses research that shows “that even brief diversions from a task can dramatically improve one’s ability to focus on that task for prolonged periods.” (Nauert, 2011)  Essentially the research that Dr. Nauert refers to and discusses explains that you loose your attention to the task that you are working on because your mind becomes habituated to it in the same way that you stop noticing that you are wearing socks and shoes after a while.  Your body simply becomes accustomed to it, and so stops focusing on it.  The same thing is true when working on tasks at work.  Getting up from a task, or in some way diverting attention (at an appropriate time of course!) to something else for short periods can actually help you stay focused for longer.  By allowing for, and encouraging, breaks in work tasks organizations could see higher levels of quality in work, as well as happier, more satisfied, more productive workers with a lower burnout rate.

Hopefully as organizations around the world begin to see the need for change in the “this is the way we do things” mentality, I/O Psychologists (and those of us who are aspiring and working towards that goal) will be called in to action to identify, explain, and assist in correcting these types of issues, and to creating the best environment for workers and work.

 

References

Cherry, K. (2011, February 21). Kendra’s Psychology Blog. Retrieved February 21, 2011, from About.com: http://psychology.about.com/b/2011/02/21/industrial-organizational-psychology-ranks-as-one-of-the-fastest-growing-careers.htm


Cowan, N., Morey, C.C., & Chen, Z. (in press).  The legend of the magical number seven.  In S. Della Sala (Ed.), Tall tales about the brain:  Things we think we know about the mind, but ain’t so.  Oxford University Press

Rick Nauert, P. (2011, February 9). Taking Breaks Found to Improve Attention. Retrieved February 21, 2011, from PsychCentral: http://psychcentral.com/news/2011/02/09/taking-breaks-found-to-improve-attention/23329.html

 

Other suggested reading:

Article by Nicholas Carr (http://www.edge.org/q2011/q11_3.html#carrn) (scroll down to read) on Cognitive Load