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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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

Very close to home!


As an article came up on Twitter today from @Reuters, the title struck out at me: “Jobless Americans wary of losing their edge.”  I couldn’t resist reading it, especially since I can relate.  The article, written by Kristina Cooke, is very well written and extremely familiar.  After losing my job in February 2010, I wasn’t sure what my next steps would be.  It was something that I had really never planned for and didn’t expect.  But somehow once it happened I started to think about what to do next, where was I going, how was I going to keep myself sharp and improve myself; I also had to think about how recruiters would be seeing me going forward.

In my own situation, I was fortunate to have the financial means to take a chance at starting my own business and furthering my education (thankfully my amazing wife has stood behind me through it all!).   Also, to continue to improve my knowledge and skills, I continued to read the periodicals that I receive through my membership in the International Society for Performance Improvement (ISPI) and American Society of Training & Development (ASTD).  I also continued to read books, and write blogs, and join in on conversations around the web.  I believe that all of these things have helped me in keeping myself up-to-date and relevant.  Needless to say, I was still unsure of how much of an impact these events would have on my marketability.

I think this article really speaks to the fear that most people would never think of while they have a job, but I’m sure that going forward those of us who have experienced this event will never forget.  The idea that what you know and your experience could become irrelevant because of the amount of time you have been out of a job, or the fact that you might lose your ability to do your job effectively because of not using your skills regularly can be deeply frightening.  Even worse, finding a way to continue to stay sharp is not always as easy as it may seem either.  As a father to an almost-two-year-old, my wife and I have found that financially it doesn’t make sense for me to “just take a job.”  Neither would it be very likely that I could take a volunteer position due to the cost of child care.  With all of these factors in play, it can really become daunting to meet the expectations of recruiters and hiring managers, and to continue to catch their eyes.

It will be interesting to see what the long-term effects will be on society and the culture of both our country and corporate America.  Is this the event that changes the job market as we know it?  Is this the thing that will open senior positions and change the way we do business?  What will be the trickle down effect?  Perhaps there will be some new studies on this and more, and I for one will be reading them to make sure to keep my skills sharp, and my knowledge relevant.