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!

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Engaged with Gamification!


Many years ago I started to explore the concept of gamification, which is essentially the use of games and game theory to accomplish some other task.  Originally, the research and information I found talked about Massive Multi-Player Online Role Playing Games (MMORPGs) that provided research on leadership, innovation, and communication skills and gave some indication that there was potential for leadership development and assessment using these methods.  To me, this was an amazing and wonderful prospect!  However, I never quite got the traction behind any initiatives to use these methods (insert sad face here).

Well, not long ago I was contacted by the CEO of an awesome new company called OfficeVibe.  And guess what…they focus on workplace gamification!  Not in the “let’s-get-together-and-hack-and-slash-goblins-and-build-guilds” kind of games, but rather with an ingenious engagement tool that brings multiple activities in one place worth points, and that encourage each of us to be better personally and professionally.  It runs similar to platforms such as Yammer that connect users via business email addresses, or even using their extant Yammer account.  I think it’s brilliant, and wanted to share it with everyone I can, so please check them out at www.officevibe.com.

Now, to make this even better, today I received a fantastic newsletter with a wonderful infographic about employee engagement from OfficeVibe that I also wanted to share.  Enjoy, and please stop by and check them out!  This is an amazing tool to meet many needs that many of us have today related to the engagement issues we all know we have and that the infographic beautifully illustrates!

10 Shocking Stats About Employee EngagementInfographic crafted with love by Officevibe, the corporate team building and employee engagement platform.

When you have time, lead your team.


In the not-so-distant past, I had the opportunity to experience a situation unfolding where a manager has taken on the role of “working manager” to a detrimental point, exacerbated by a number of facts.  First, they are in a first-time management position with direct reports, which started as one and grew to 6 in a very short period of about two-and-a-half to three years.  To make matters worse, their role has increasingly taken on more individual contributor responsibilities, while the responsibilities of the team members reporting to them have Man facing problems and stressbecome increasingly varied and complex.  This is a recipe for disaster.

Organizations today are increasingly attempting to “do more with less” which is not a new concept, but we see organizations taking it to frightening extremes at times.  While to some degree this is a fact of business, we need to ensure that we are also being mindful of the conflicting measurements and expectations we place on leaders in the organization.  How much time do you and/or your managers spend focusing on your own projects and tasks?  How much time do you or they dedicate to actually managing and leading?  Are your tasks and managing and leading your people considered different, and what is more critical?  These are important questions.

Too often we forget that the functions of leading and managing are complex, and require focus and time.  This is even more salient when leaders work with diverse workgroups across national and international boundaries, and across multiple areas of expertise.  The basics of learning to delegate are important, but there is certainly more.  Leaders in complex leadership situations need to the opportunity to say no, they cannot take on another task, another project, another product, another whatever without fear of reprisal.  It is senior leadership’s responsibility to create and encourage this environment, and everyone’s responsibility to help support it.  Further, it is the responsibility of leadership throughout the organization to make sure that the right people are not only in the right place, but also that they receive the right support at the right time.  This means for themselves and other leaders.

We need the time, the training, and the support to be the best that we can, and that means each and every one of us, consistently.  There is no silver bullet, but an important component is awareness.  The awareness of senior leaders and mid-level leaders to recognize when they or others are taking on too much, or trying to be the hero, or trying to continue getting the accolades of being the “doer” versus being the leader.  While there are many other areas for potential focus, this one thing makes a huge difference in engagement, creating a trusting environment, building relationships, and increasing potential and performance for everyone.

 

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

Transitions Are An Important Part


Again, it has been longer than I would like since my last blog entry; this is primarily due to my underestimating the amount of time that I would be committing to working on my degree.  Hopefully that will change once I complete the shortened winter semester, and get into the regular spring semester.  I will certainly be trying to get at least one entry a week here, and more if I can.  Thanks to those that continue to stop in!

One of the major school projects I just finished was an essay for my cultural anthropology class on the state of transition, or “liminality”, as shown through the comparison of burial rituals between three different cultures (I chose the Mongols, Kiribati, and Khasi).  While my paper was focused on the concept of transition as related to death and burial ceremonies, I think there are some very important conclusions that we can draw.

Overall, the concept of liminality is the transition phase just before a change.  This is true in coming of age ceremonies, weddings, birthdays, graduations, etc.  The purpose of these events is to show a definite change from what once was, to what will be.  Knowing that this happens in so many situations, I have to wonder why we don’t pay more attention to the transition phase in business.  It is a natural process that needs to happen, and can be seen around the world in many cultures and many forms, but for whatever reason when we get into business we tend to go against what is natural instead of using it to help us and our people be more successful.

The next time you are working to figure out how to motivate and engage your employees, ask yourself what natural transitions you have built-in to your processes.  Do you have levels of employment at each level to create goals and small wins, and do you celebrate those transitions?  (Both of these steps are necessary for a truly successful process.)  What lets people know that a project is at the end, or has completed?  How do you transition people from individual contributor to leader/manager?  If you have these processes, how do you celebrate these transitions?  Do you make it special and recognized?  People thrive on natural processes like this, and I truly believe that if you make these changes you will see improvements in the excitement, enthusiasm, and success of your business.

It may not be the first thing that we think of but we need to be aware of the natural tendencies of the crazy creature that is Homo sapien, and utilize those natural tendencies instead of fighting them.

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


So it has been about a week since my last post, which is slightly unusual, but believe me when I say there is good reason.  Some of the reasons have been somewhat negative, such as acquiring some type of stomach bug that I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy and taking almost 3 days to recover.  Other reasons have been more positive, such as working on my Cultural Anthropology class and being inundated by interview requests.  As it is after the first of the year, I had a reasonable expectation that interviewing would increase.  With that being said, I think it’s important to add some further detail to my last post.

While it is certainly important to spend the time and money upfront to ensure that you are getting the right talent, and the process that you follow in achieving this is important, keep in mind that each time you conduct the process there are certain judgment calls that must be made.  In other words the process should have a certain amount of dynamics to it; it doesn’t need to be a static “do-it-just-because” process.  As you are going through the process and interviewing potential candidates and you begin make filter decisions of who goes to the next round, it’s helpful also to keep in mind the candidates who are going through the process.  I speak from personal experience when I say that if you think it is exhausting for you to conduct the process, imagine what it is for the person coming back for fifth and sixth interviews or having to wait weeks to get a decision.

As with anything in business you should be evaluating and re-evaluating your talent acquisition process on a constant basis.  This means before, during, and after.  As I discussed in my last posting, there is obviously quite a bit of work that should go into the acquisition process before even beginning, so let’s talk about making changes during and after.  Part of the process prior to beginning should be setting certain criteria that if met during the acquisition process, will stop the process and therefore have an identified candidate.  Having these criteria will help your process to have a certain amount of dynamic flow to it, and can save all parties involved from an unnecessarily lengthy process.

Something that generally gets bypassed is talking to new hire’s about the interview process after they begin.  When was the last time you can remember being asked about your opinion on the interview process?  What about the last time that you can remember asking anyone about the process?  This type of qualitative data is definitely necessary to continue to grow, develop, and refine your process.  Was it too long?  Too many interviews?  Unrelated skill testing?  How applicable were the questions asked?  These are all things that you can collect quite effectively by simply conducting a post-hire survey, discussion, or (dare I say it) interview.  Imagine what type of precedence this sets with a new hire as well; from the very first day you are saying that you value their opinion and experience, as well as open and complete honesty.  I have to believe that this does noting but pave the road to success.

Hopefully with these things in mind, you can create your own successful talent acquisition process and make things quicker and easier for both you, and those whom you are working to bring into your organization, while not sacrificing the ability to get the best quality and best matching candidate.

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”.