Light on performance

Successful change relies on performance excellence.

Whether your organisational change initiative succeeds, or fails, ultimately comes down to the actions of individuals. In a services organisation, or function, this is especially so because a service is created at the time of its consumption: its value is not embedded in a physical product. It is what people do that effects change and, for this reason alone, performance excellence in business shouldn’t be an abstract concept. Unfortunately, It becomes abstract when it is discussed in ways and at levels that dissociate it from reality. In reality, the cost of running your organisation, its headcount and resource consumption, are directly related to the the quality of your people’s performance. If you don’t know how your organisation produces what matters to its clients and stakeholders you will never be able to effect meaningful and relevant change.

The performance of any service organisation is critically dependent on the individuals that work within it and the quality of their work. If people don’t perform then the organisation fails; if people don’t know what they are supposed to produce in their work then the organisation fails; if an organisation is focused on activity and not value then the organisation fails. Human nature being what it is, however, it is unrealistic to think that all employees within an organisation will be high performers, so the key question is how many high performers are required to establish and sustain performance excellence?

Who are the high performers?

High performers are those people who consistently produce the results that advance the priorities of the business and help it to realise its strategic objectives. They are the real leaders in their domains who preserve the operational integrity of the organisation as they make their contributions. They are not necessarily the “high potentials” that many large organisations seek to find, these often becoming a self-perpetuating club with the moral hazard that once there, opportunities, relationships and assessments provide the necessary air-cover to justify inclusion. Neither are they necessarily the managers or those with political power and influence. They are the contributors who get things done in a productive and effective way and whose contribution often masks the real resourcing needs of the organisation. Their abilities and contribution form the basis for any aspiration toward improved performance and organisational change, let alone performance excellence.

Towards Performance Excellence.

High performers mask the poor performance of others, and management systems ignore performance issues when there are incentives that encourage that behaviour. What gets measured gets managed. Only when a critical issue arises and there is a need to cut costs, does the issue of who performs and who doesn’t get raised. Sadly, it isn’t unusual to lose the good performers and retain the poor or average.

So I think there are four key questions that every business leader needs to answer in relation to high performers:

  1. What is the value that your organisation creates for its customers and other stakeholders?
  2. Who are the people who make the most direct and tangible contribution to realising and sustaining this value creation?
  3. Are they located in the areas of the organisation that matter both now and into the future?
  4. Do you have enough of them in the right places to influence and effect continuous improvement?

Realising performance excellence in this regard is not just about creating the process infrastructure of performance planning, management and appraisal. It is about understanding the “Theory of the Business” and getting to the heart of what matters. I will cover this in more detail in future posts.

What to do next.

Obviously there is no prescriptive answer to this question but it is imperative to find, know and value these key producers, not simply take advantage of them. They need to be located where value is created and their performance is the benchmark for everyone else. Unfortunately, many organisations are such a web of political and social affiliations that it is difficult for an owner, CEO or senior executive to see into the organisation to find and reward the high performers. They are reliant on the integrity of the management system, with its incentives and rewards, to reveal the real contributors.

Take a long, hard look at the organisation you lead, answer the four questions and get serious about who really makes your organisation tick.

Do you have the critical mass needed for performance excellence?