By True North Learning Director and Senior Facilitator: Errol Amerasekera

When we view the corporate landscape through the lens of performance and sustainability, there is little doubt that we are living in challenging times. At no point in our history has there been such a pressure on outcomes and performance. Simultaneously we are also challenged to ensure the long-term viability of our organisations, the wellness and fulfilment of those who work for them, while also working to mitigate the ecological issues facing our planet.

Understandably many organisations are becoming progressively more performance driven; forever increasing emphasis and value on measurable outcomes, at the expense of culture, relationships, connection and dare I say it – humanity. There is no doubt that organisations need to have a firm focus on operational excellence and meeting their KPI’s and milestones, but somewhere along the way, the strategies for achieving these outcomes sacrificed the things that matter most.

The irony is that most of the leaders of these organisations believe in the value of creating a positive culture. They see the benefit of building long-lasting and mutually beneficial relationships and they genuinely respect and value their people. How then do we explain the increasing prioritisation of outcomes, at the expense of culture and relationships? This dichotomous behaviour is often the result of one single flawed assumption; that building a care-based culture is mutually exclusive with delivering high performance.

We’ll blow that assumption out of the water in a moment, but first, what is a care-based culture?

A care-based culture places a premium on culture, relationships and humanity. It views and treats a team member as a whole person, not just as their organisational role and function. A care-based culture reminds us that people come with their own hopes, dreams and aspirations as well as their insecurities and fears.

This does somewhat complicate the management function. Managing someone’s hopes, dreams and fears, as well as their role based performance, is far more challenging than simply focusing on the results they deliver as part of their role.

But what if managers really saw the value in building a care-based culture and set about developing the additional skills needed to manage their people in a more holistic way?  Instead of trying to compartmentalise their lives by drawing boundaries between their work self and non-work self, team members would be supported to bring their whole selves to work, and can thereby gift all their talents to the tasks at hand.

Think of the benefits! Care-based cultures lead to greater levels of staff motivation and engagement – and people work harder and smarter when they are engaged in the task. When teams are able to see and support the humanity of each of their members, tighter bonds are formed and a culture of shared accountability created. This culture of care and humanity then flows into the manner in which team members deal with customers, clients and other key stakeholders – and it doesn’t take a genius to work out how this would be received.  When people turn up to work as their whole selves, it also enables them to be more creative and innovative by using more of their life experience, feelings and intuition in order to resolve complex challenges.

Finally perhaps most importantly, organisations that place a strategic emphasis on building a care-based culture not only perform at the very highest levels, the efficiency of the process by which that performance is driven makes it significantly more long-lasting and sustainable than being performance driven for the sake of performance itself.

For most of us, including myself, this is a radical paradigm shift. Until recently I have always advocated that leaders reinforce the boundaries pertaining to an individual’s organisational role, and support those individuals to manage the aspects of their lives that fall outside that role themselves. But in recent times I have been repeatedly astounded by the unexpected high performance that flows, almost as a side effect, from building a care-based culture.


By True North Learning Director and Senior Facilitator: Errol Amerasekera

It is hard to imagine that a conversation can build more effective organisations. However, what we observe time and time again is that individuals and organisations that take the time and develop the capacity to have strategic and reflective conversations actually outperform those competitors who place less of a strategic emphasis on this skill.

To be honest, and also slightly more transparent, I am not talking about an average ‘chatting around the water cooler’ kind of conversation. What I am talking about is when and how we have strategic and reflective conversations. In some management literature, these are referred to as ‘difficult’ or ‘robust’ conversations, but I think these terms underestimate the potential benefit these conversations hold.

The ability to have strategic and reflective conversations is one of the most effective ways to engage stakeholders, give role-based feedback and align team members to performance and behavioural expectations. In short, it is probably the most effective way to build a culture of shared accountability within a team or organisation.

However, what we commonly observe is team members, especially managers, running away from these conversations as fast as they possibly can. There are numerous reasons for this behaviour, but most of them fall under one or more of three categories.

Firstly, most people have some degree of conflict aversion. Let’s face it, any normal and sane person, when faced with a choice, is going to choose the option with the least potential for conflict. At the risk of being too psychological, this aversion sometimes originates back in our formative years. It occurs when individuals grow up in a highly conflictual environment which over time reduces their tolerance for further conflict. Paradoxically, it can also occur in individuals who grow up in relatively harmonious environments. This is because, despite the idyllic-ness of a happy and harmonious household, it does not build skills and capacity in having these more challenging conversations.

Secondly, many managers feel under-skilled in the area of conflict management, and it is often for the reasons in the previous paragraph that this area of their development has been avoided or neglected. However, dealing with conflict and having a strategic and reflective conversation are simply skills. And, like any skill, the more you do it, the more you practice it, and the more coaching and support you get on it, the better and more comfortable with it you become.

Thirdly, and finally, some managers feel they do not have the time to have these conversations. I view most things in business from a cost versus benefit standpoint. However, one difference in my version of cost versus benefit is that I believe in viewing an organisation as a holistic system. In other words, we cannot just examine cost versus benefit from a profit or performance viewpoint. We also have to include more intangible costs and benefits. These include such things as levels of trust and engagement of key staff and stakeholders, the morale of team members, the well-being of the individuals within the organisation, the environment and perhaps the planet as a whole. It is only when we can appreciate the cost or benefit to these more intangible and less measurable aspects of our organisation that we can begin to ascertain the real benefit of these conversations.

For example, we have observed on numerous occasions that a one-hour strategic and reflective conversation have a benefit (or return on investment of resources — time, money, personnel) in terms of engagement, role clarity, motivation, performance and ethical behaviour, that far supersedes that initial one hour ‘investment’. Conversely, we have also observed numerous examples, unfortunately in greater numbers than my previous sentence, where the lack of a strategic and reflective conversation has deleterious and sometimes disastrous consequences for an organisation.

The irony is, in our experience, most managers are astute enough to know when one of these conversations needs to occur. The real question is: are they prepared to endure short-term discomfort for the long-term benefit of the organisation?

In summary, to build organisational capacity to have strategic and reflective conversations:

  • Support managers and staff to work on their own psychology around their individual conflict aversion and lead by example.
  • Invest in training and skills development programs so that members feel equipped with the required skill set in order to have these conversations.
  • Be disciplined. Develop the discipline to realise that a one-hour conversation, as difficult and challenging as it may be, could potentially save you and/or the organisation a far less desirable outcome.

 

 


By True North Learning Director and Senior Facilitator Errol Amerasekera
 
Contrary to some general opinion, financial compensation is only one of many reasons that keeps talented people within an organisation or draws them to it. While focusing on financial arrangements may be one of the simplest solutions to staff retention / attraction challenges it can take the manager’s focus off other – more important and more complicated – reasons why people choose to come, stay or go.Here is a list of what we believe to be seven fundamental reasons why talented people leave organisations or are attracted to them:
  1. Clarity of the organisation’s purpose and how an individual’s role and behaviour is aligned to that purpose.
  2. A structured and formal feedback process and regular performance review.
  3. Clear career development pathways with opportunities to pursue roles and projects that are aligned to their personal purpose, Values and goals.
  4. Strong systems, culture and skills to manage conflict in proactive and effective ways.
  5. Leadership that sets clear expectations and then coaches, mentors and supports team members in their achievement.
  6. A culture of responsibility and accountability (as opposed to “pass-the-buckism”), where talent, initiative, hard work and high performance is supported and recognised at every level of the organisation.
  7. Ensuring that the role an individual is placed in is appropriate to their personality and behavioural tendencies and also is aligned to their personal beliefs, goals and purpose.

To find out more about True North Learning’s 7 Steps to Attracting and Keeping Employees program click here: http://truenorthlearning.com.au/cultural-alignment/retaining-and-attracting-employees.php


On managing underperformance…. 

Here is an unfortunate fact of life. Almost every team we work with has 1 or 2 of “those” people in it. By those people we mean the people that nobody really wants to work with, in fact, they will go out of their way to avoid working with them. They are the people who lower the overall tone and morale of the team and make underperformance almost acceptable. They appear to have no motivation and are not in any hurry to change. In our work we affectionately use the pseudonym “Bob” for these people. By the way, Bob is gender neutral, but you can call them Bobette if you prefer. :-)

We want to talk about managing Bob from 2 perspectives. These perspectives are not “or” perspectives meaning its one or the other. These are “and” perspectives- meaning we need to employ both of them to get the best outcome.

The first perspective is the personal and team based one. How do we performance manage Bob? How do we make sure they are in the right role and one that is aligned to their own purpose, values, goals and interests? How does Bob’s manager manage them in terms of role-based feedback, coaching, motivation and career development? And really trying to understand the underlying drivers of his lack of motivation. And finally, how does Bobs team build a high performance culture of accountability and ownership, so that under performance is simply not acceptable. When this happens, the team culture itself serves as a managing influence on Bob? These are all important questions and need to be addressed adequately.

The second perspective is them systemic one. In our work we talk a lot about temperature checking, By that we mean taking time out and checking whether we are cooking at the correct temperature in terms of our communication, our strategy, outcomes or leadership or all of the above. So let me ask a question…..if we are boiling at too higher temperature, do we blame the water or the setting of the flame? Yes exactly!! (nod) In the same way how much of Bobs behaviour is representative of the overall operating system we are using as opposed to only a personal behavioural deficiency.

Think of it like this. You’re still using Windows XP, when the rest of the world is using Windows 7. There are going to be some software incompatibilities. We see Bobs behaviour as highlighting the fact that your operating system is out of date. This is unintentional on Bobs behalf, of course, but it doesn’t dilute the validity of the message.

What is interesting is that we often find the skills, attitudes and mindset that Bobs manager and team need to change and develop in order to manage Bob more effectively are the very same ones needed to update and then work effectively within the new operating system.

So firstly, welcome and thank your Bobs; they are here to teach you something that is potentially of great benefit to your business. And secondly use the discomfort and frustration created by Bob to find better ways to doing business.

 

To find out more about True North Learning’s Managing Under Performance Program click here: http://truenorthlearning.com.au/problem-solvers/bob.php