High Performance. It’s what CEO’s want to see from their organisation, what leaders want from their functions and teams and what we all want to achieve individually and see from each other. And yet it seems such a difficult proposition, to consistently achieve levels of performance that are personally satisfying, highly regarded in the team and rewarding across the organisation. In a recent conversation it was said that the achievement of consistent performance was a myth – that it wasn’t possible.
But the answer to achieving consistent high performance may be simpler than we think; irrespective of the size and type of organisation or team that you lead. It all comes down to ‘inputs’ and ‘outputs’.
The output is easy…that’s the desired performance you are looking to achieve. The inputs though are a combination of three interdependent factors:
Experience tells us that whenever we have achieved outstanding results, each of these factors have been addressed. So let’s take a look at these factors and explore them in different contexts.
Broadly speaking, this is about capability. Do my people have the skills to do what I want them to do? Supporting this is having the resources to help them apply their skills, knowledge and expertise. Without the appropriate resources, ability can be stifled and you may never really get to see what your people can do. The reverse is true as well if you have all the right resources, but your people don’t have the capability.
Are my people motivated to do what I want them to do? And this isn’t just about incentivisation. Sure compensation and benefits play a role, but we also know that the ability of leaders to engage, and apply a transformational leadership style often rates equal to, or higher than, salary when it comes to what motivates them to either leave or stay with an organisation. Do you give your people permission to explore and take constructive risks? Do you tap into your potency as a leader in painting a strong vision for where the team, function or organisation is headed and provide your people with a direction in which they can invest their energies?
This is as much an element of Motivation as it is a stand-alone factor. Do you provide your people with the opportunity to be challenged by delegating and ensuring that you are working and leading from the appropriate tier? This is about trusting both yourself and your people enough to let go and free up the flow of activity that we often see bottlenecked at all levels of management. If we can do this, we are at the same time reinforcing the importance of succession planning, and creating the belief that there is the opportunity to grow and progress in your organisation. You become an enabler of talent.
Over the years I have seen so much frustration from both leaders and their people because they cannot consistently achieve the levels of performance that they want; or in some cases fail to achieve the desired performance levels at all. By looking at performance as being about inputs and outputs you can break it down to identify more specifically (and easily) the areas to be addressed. Some of the more typical examples we tend to see include:
- The newly promoted manager. They may have the technical knowledge of the role (+ Ability), and be a great people person (+ Motivation) but not know how to set performance objectives and manage against them (- Ability and – Motivation). For this reason they micro-manage as it seems that this is the only way to ensure the right things get done at the right time (- Opportunity).
- The newly appointed expat. They may have the technical ability to do the job in their new country (+ Ability) but not the cultural competence required to navigate and create relationships or speak the language (- Ability and – Motivation). For this reason they don’t feel as supported when they are not included as much in team meetings (- Motivation and – Opportunity).
- The project. The project isn’t tracking well due to a poor relationship between the Operations and Research and Development departments (- Ability and – motivation), which is having a negative impact on the other team leaders in the project who are struggling to motivate their own teams to deliver despite the negative feeling in the project (- motivation).
By looking at each of these cases through the ‘input’ and ‘output’ lens, it breaks the issue down in such a way that it becomes a manageable problem, and something that can be more easily addressed. In each of these examples the solution to the problem becomes tangible and in most cases something that can be quickly solved.
More importantly it also helps you get on the front foot and be proactive with how you anticipate what will be required to set the scene for success. Go through the three factors from the perspective of what you need to do and what others will need to do. Some possible questions to ask include:
- What skills, knowledge and expertise will I need to apply or learn to ensure this is successful? (Leadership? Technical? Strategic?)
- What skills, knowledge and expertise do others need to apply or learn to ensure this is successful?
- What resources will we need to ensure we can be successful?
- How will we work together despite our differences?
- How will I let the team know that it is ok to explore, be innovative and take constructive risks?
- How will I respond if they try something new and it fails?
- Do I know what motivates my team – as a group and individually?
- How will I get to know my people?
- How do I ensure my people will be recognised appropriately for what they do?
- Do I know how to delegate?
- What will I be able to delegate and who will I delegate it to?
- Who will stand in for me when I’m away?
- Who is the future of this team or this organisation?
- What ‘stretch’ activities can I offer to provide peripheral development?
Finally, even though this is a high level view of performance, what it does highlight is that the achievement of consistently higher performance isn’t out of reach. If you were to apply the Ability, Motivation and Opportunity lens to any areas where you are seeking to achieve greater performance, either from yourself or from others, you will move closer to your desired outcome of higher and more consistent performance. The main thing is to keep it simple and remember – inputs and outputs!