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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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.

 

Change is good for our government too.


As I was reading an article on Yahoo and then began reading the comments associated with the article I came upon a few excellent words of wisdom.  I felt as though one in specific was important enough to pass along and save for future sharing as well.  Here is what I read:

REAL CHANGE will ONLY happen if WE make it happen!!

Politicians, ALL politicians will not serve the common people of this nation until they ARE common people of this nation. Politicians are RICH to begin with or else they cannot run as an “effective” candidate. They do not relate to common people and speak only in euphemistic idealism and platitudes of populist idealism. None of which they have any intentions of following through with. Bush did it. Clinton did it, Obama is definitely doing it. There will be NO CHANGE with him, or anyone under the current “system” of government we now endure!

The truth is simple: REAL CHANGE will ONLY happen if WE make it happen!!

Time for us to get control of the incredibly dysfunctional form our government has devolved into and hit the “reset button.” This will require an effort equal to what happened in Egypt and Tunisia, and trying to happen in Libya. Until we have common people in the legislature and running the government, you are just going to change the faces but NEVER SOLVE THE PROBLEMS. You may think these are unrealizable goals, but then, how realistic was it when the Colonial Army took on the British in the war for independence? We won that one, too, in case you’ve forgotten….

Here’s were we begin “budget reform”….

Congressional Reform Act of 2012

1. Term Limits.
8 years only, one of the possible options below..
A. Two 4-year Senate terms
B. 4 Two-year House terms
C. One 8-year Senate term and Two 4-Year House terms
D. One 8 year term for Supreme Court Justices
If term limits are requisite for the President, Vice-President, and State Governors, then they most certainly are equally imperative based on the same principles for ALL of our legislators and even the judicial high seats.

2. No Tenure / No Pension.
A Congressman collects a salary while in office and receives no pay when they are out of office.

3. Congress (past, present & future) participates in Social Security.
All funds in the Congressional retirement fund move to the Social Security system immediately. All future funds flow into the Social Security system, and Congress participates with the American people.

4. Congress can purchase their own retirement plan, just as all Americans do.

5. Congress will no longer vote themselves a pay raise. Congressional pay will rise by the lower of CPI or 3%.

6. Congress loses their current health care system and participates in the same health care system as the American people.

7. Congress must equally abide by all laws they impose on the American people.

8. All contracts with past and present Congressmen are void effective 1/1/12. The American people did not make these contracts with Congressmen. Congressmen made all these contracts for themselves.

9. Make all lobbyists and special interest groups illegal. They have no basis or rights for their existence except the greed of the oligarchs they represent. This is the heart of our dysfunctional government system. This is “legal bribery” in America and the Supreme Court has sanctioned it.

10. All campaign contributions, corporate or private, cannot exceed $250 max. No candidate can use their OWN money to campaign with. This violates the constitutional principles of equal opportunities for ALL people in the nation. If candidates qualify for federal campaign monies, then that is what they can use. Otherwise, they hit the trail like everyone else for the last 200 years.

Serving in Congress is an honor, not a career. The Founding Fathers envisioned citizen legislators, so ours should serve their term(s), then go home and back to work.

This was written by a poster named Triad (I want to make sure to give credit where it is due).  I believe that our government, for all it is run as a corporation, needs some serious restructuring, process improvement, ethics and cultural training, leadership development, and constant 360 feedback processes.  Triad’s posting speaks to that eloquently, and I think as the American people we need to take the responsibility back for running our own government if we want to see real improvement.

Lessons Abound for Businesses in the Wake of Civil Unrest


With the number of major world events happening over the last 6 months, I have to believe that people are starting to take notice and ask why. In many cases perhaps there is no reason to ask why, such as the overturn of the Tunisian government, or the similar situation in Egypt. Even as we speak the unrest in Libya is building to a crescendo, with people around the globe starting to feel the impact at the gas pump and in the stock market. Not to mention there are plenty of people, myself included, that are waiting to see the outcome, and what it means for not only the Middle East and African countries, but for all peoples and countries around the world. Business should take lessons from these situations as well, not only of the impact to them, but for what it means in the country of “YourBusinessToday”.

We often look at situations in foreign countries and think that it could never happen to us, and what we certainly don’t think about are the similarities between a country and a business. Any time you have a population of people being governed by a body who has greater and greater power and control in the eyes of those people, you really walk a fine line. It is the responsibility of those in power to take a step back, listen to their people, and ensure that not only do they understand them but are working on their behalf to make things better for them. Without people to lead, and people who want to follow you, you have no authority and can and will lose much. Whether that much is a company or a country is based on your situation, but the result is generally still the same.

In tribes such as the Trobriander and others around the world they have this concept correct. There are even companies such as Gore that get it right. You have to keep groups small, allow the people to have a voice, base authority on merit, and truly have your people’s best interest at heart because your people are you and you are your people. When you create a hierarchical system, giving greater and greater authority while separating the leaders and people from each other, you often end up playing a huge game of telephone to understand what is really going on with the people. Authority and respect needs to be earned by leaders, and voluntarily given by followers. When you try to force it, or demand it, you degrade the entire structure of trust and communication. We see this when we look at world leaders who are killing their citizens to maintain control, or taking money out of their pockets in one form or another to fill their own, or even in the case of working over their people’s heads and behind their backs on “diplomatic policies” that are really about making the leaders power and money greater (sometimes at the expense of the people they serve).

Unfortunately we fail to notice, or do anything about, the actions of business leaders that are equally egregious. We as human beings tend to view it as a greater tragedy when bad things happen to a people of a country, but accept it more when it comes from a business. While business leaders may not be mowing down their employees (and who knows, perhaps some do!) there are certainly cases where they are making deals for their own benefit, and lining their own pockets because “they earned it”. I’m sure that many of the world leaders out there being overturned and ousted believed the same thing at one time or another.

The time may not have come yet, but I believe that if current events are any indication, the time will come when people around the world will begin to become infected with the pandemic virus of “we won’t take it any more”. As this day draws near businesses better take heed and make changes, because as the global economy changes, the global environment changes, and one only knows how many governments change there will certainly be the possibility of a target being painted on the front and back of every business leader. Again, we’re not there yet, but that day may not be too far in the future.

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

Corporate Commitment to Long-Term Memory Could See Greater Overall Success


In today’s world of “I need it yesterday” there is an unfortunate tendency to forget about some of the most basic ideas and functions. One of these that I have noticed in the corporate world is the necessity to simply force as much information on employees as possible, with an expectation for them to remember, synthesize, and utilize that information. Unfortunately this is done without any thought on how the company can help this process, which is detrimental to both employee and company success.

Think about your own company for a moment. Do you get inundated with emails, conference calls, classroom training, online training, and meetings? How much of the information delivered through all of these sources do you actually retain? What information are you deleting, forgetting, or tuning out because there is just too much?

To commit information to long term memory it really needs to be encoded as something meaningful in the mind, and needs the time to be properly transferred from working, or Short-Term Memory to Long-Term Memory. In the haste to get things done “yesterday”, we often overlook these basic psychological functions.

If corporations truly made a commitment to improving this process, what would it look like? Perhaps we would see different expectations set and in different ways, meaning “You received xyz training yesterday, and so let’s talk about how you will apply it, and put together a plan to allow you to use the new skills or knowledge.” Or maybe, “You received abc email this morning. Send me back what you understood that email to say.” While these methods would not always be applicable and/or necessary, there are many situations in which they could certainly be helpful.

What would a company look like if things were treated in this fashion? How would people feel about the company 10 years after they start? Would it change anything at all?

I have to believe it would change things for the better for all involved. It would stand to reason that a company full of people who have received and retained information would reduce the number of communications needed to go out, would reduce the amount of training and re-training that would need to take place, and would see the company succeed greater through reductions in wasted time, money, and information.

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.