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!

Too much of a good thing


We’ve all either heard or been told that we should “stick to what we know” or “do what you’re good at”, but is this always the best advice?  As discussed in the Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research from June of 2011, there is a movement in the field of positive psychology that says that we should focus on our strengths and ignore, or pay much less attention to, our weaknesses.  The concept is often referred to as “strengths-based development”.  This idea of focusing on what we are good at isn’t a new one, but there are some drawbacks that we need to be aware of.  By ignoring the areas that we are weakest we may put ourselves in the position to make serious mistakes in those areas, or to simply never improve, which is exactly opposite of what development is about.  It’s also possible to become so focused on the areas that you are strong in that you actually overdo the performance in those areas.  Take for example someone who is a great communicator.  Communication as a tool is an excellent component to work on and develop, but if you overuse that skill, no one will want to listen to you no matter how good the communication is.  Another excellent example is the person who has drive and work ethic.  These are traits that anyone would be happy to have strength in, but overdone these can come across as workaholic or overbearing, and worse can lead to things like burnout, or alienation from friends, family, and even co-workers.

So what is the answer?  It’s not really an either/or dichotomy, but instead it’s a combination of the two.  That means focusing on what we are good at and enjoy, and improving and strengthening those areas while challenging ourselves to grow and develop and experience things in the areas where we are weak.  It means finding projects and learning opportunities that constantly take us out of our comfort zone in what we like and what we don’t, and changing our paradigm to understand that we need to develop 360 degrees.  The most successful and respected people of the world have generally gained many different experiences and perspectives, and can see and speak with those perspectives which allow them to be insightful, innovative, creative, masterful, and global in the way that they act and interact.

What are you doing to strengthen what you like and are good at?  How are you challenging yourself to grow and develop in new ways or in areas that you are weak?  As a manager or supervisor, how are you doing the same for your people in both ways?

References

Kaiser, R.B. & Overfield, D.V. (2011). Strengths, Strengths Overused, and Lopsided Leadership. Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research, 63(2), 89-109. doi: 10.1037/a0024470

Time on the front-end will save time and money later


I was trolling around looking for new blogs to read, as I often do, and found an excellent one called “Cutting-Edge Leadership” by Dr. Ronald E. Riggio.  The article that caught my attention is titled “Learn the Right Way to Interview Job Candidates.”  Immediately I wanted to read further and see what thoughts and opinions were contained within, and compare to my own.  I was thrilled to find that Dr. Riggio hit the nail on the head with his synopsis.  As he explains, “Interviews only work if they are done right, and even then, they tell us little about a candidate’s employability.”

As most of us have probably been through at least one interview, the observations presented in the article are not that surprising.  What is refreshing is that this article isn’t simply bashing the practice of interviewing but rather giving the pitfalls and challenges of interviewing while suggesting alterations to make the process more effective.  As usual, I had some of my own thoughts that I left as a comment on the article itself, but I wanted to share them here as well.

Hiring is not a singular process, and needs to be viewed as one systemic component of a greater system.  In fact, hiring should be referred to as “talent acquisition”, which in turn should be viewed as only the very beginning of a much bigger picture.  How many times have you gone through the hiring process, brought someone on-board, trained them, and within a relatively short period of time had to let them go, had them walk away, or become a performance problem?  How much does that cost your organization in terms of time, money, productivity, and man-power?  Do the math on it, if you haven’t already, and it’s enough to make you queasy and potentially throw-up in your mouth just a bit.  So what is the alternative?  Start correctly from the beginning.  After all, the beginning is the best place to start.

Simple changes can make a huge difference for you, the organization, and the other people in the organization.  The first such change is take a strong look at how you are attracting talent.  Where are you searching for your next employee?  Where do most of your hires come from?  Are they looking for you, or are you searching for them?  How many referrals do you get from other employees?  These are the first types of questions to be asking because before you can even assess and acquire good talent, you need to have good talent available.  Once you have a good pool of talent available to select from, the process of sifting through them is just as important.  It must be standardized, objective, rigorous, and effective.

As Dr. Riggio suggests, using assessment centers is costly up-front but can be tremendously effective.  To be effective you should be testing for knowledge, skills, and abilities that have been identified (generally through competency mapping) as necessary to be successful in the position.  How can you do this?  Simulations and role-plays can work well in some cases.  For other positions it may be a written test, or a demonstration of ability.  In yet other cases it may be a combination of multiple methods of assessment.  And let’s not forget about actually talking with the candidate.  When conducting the verbal interview, whether by phone or in person, it is important to follow a standardized and repeatable process.  This means asking the same questions of each candidate which will create results which can be compared equally, as well as having a regular process to how interviews will be conducted.  This refers to utilizing multiple different stakeholders, and having set stages or phases to the talent acquisition process.  Multiple stakeholders involved in the interview process, both individually and in a group or pair scenario, can also help to get multiple different perspectives on a potential candidate and mitigate the silo effect of one interviewer.  If the person you want in the position needs to be good with multiple generations, have multiple generations of people interview the potential candidates, and see what types of reactions you get.  The same goes for male versus female; mix genders, races, ethnicities, departments…whatever you can to create a relevant cross-section and get a good feel for how the potential candidate will respond and react within the organization and even potentially outside of the organization.

While this is a rather high-level overview of an in-depth process, hopefully you can get a good sense for the time, effort, and value that should be placed on it.  Once you have put a candidate through a process such as this, you should have a strong picture of their knowledge, skills, and abilities and can make a well-educated decision on whether or not to bring them in to the organization.  And believe it or not, the person being put through the process will appreciate it once they make it as well because they should feel better about their fit with the organization and the position, just as you will.  Performance management doesn’t start after someone is hired, it starts before they are hired.  If you haven’t heard it before, please let me be the first to tell you: “Proper prior planning prevents piss-poor performance”.