On the search for performance
Kevan Hall, CEO, Global Integration, contends that our people management practises are holding us back.
Over the past decades, organizations have invested heavily in information systems and process reengineering to improve business performance.Many operate several business lines across multiple sites and time zones, in virtual teams, and employ highly diverse groups of people.
This organizational complexity often eventually undermines the performance that created the company’s successful in the first place. Entrepreneurial spirit erodes, bureaucracy increases and progress slows.
The reality is that our people management practices have failed to keep pace with the new realities of these larger, more complex organizations. These practices become a barrier to building sustained high performance.
There are four key areas where traditional people management practices prevent high performance – cooperation, communication, control and community. (We refer to them as the Four C’s.):
Cooperation: even great companies are struggling with an epidemic of cooperation. People spend 20% of their time in unnecessary meetings, everyone feels the need to be involved in everything and think teams are the answer. But teams are difficult and expensive to sustain. The good news is that very little work in complex companies actually requires teamwork; most work is done by individuals. The problem is we insist on managing groups of individuals as if they are teams. By eliminating unnecessary cooperation, we can focus invaluable face to face “team time” on issues where everyone needs involvement. This can transform meetings from the passive consumption of irrelevant PowerPoint presentations to less regular but more effective events.
Communication: Lack of communication is largely a problem of the past – the challenge now is how to disconnect from the mass of trivia. High performance means driving out communication waste so we can recognize and respond to the important things.
Control: Control is often an illusion. Over the last decades, the total quality movement has revolutionized product quality and manufacturing performance by devolving decision making to a point as close to the action as possible and by systematically reducing waste. In people management, however we have steadily moved away, removing control from the point of the action and increasing wasteful working practices.
Community: Building community is no longer a “soft” skill. The nature of community at work has changed. When the focus of the business was a single site, a sense of community came as a by-product of being in the same place, it was easy to get to know our colleagues. Today we work with colleagues we never meet and all we have in common is a similar email address. Trust and community.
High performance organizations structure themselves in the simplest, fastest way. The secret is not in developing more complex techniques, working harder or spending more on travel and communication – it lies in simplicity and speed.
The search for performance never ends. In the words of Mario Andretti, possibly the greatest racing driver of all time: “If everything seems under control, you are just not going fast enough.”
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