For the last few years I have had the privilege of working on a project with a clear and meaningful purpose – to create a simple way to support managers and team members to do their jobs properly.  Although the solution wasn’t clear at the beginning, we knew we were tackling something high on the ‘things that keep me awake at night’ list for HR and Business Leaders.

The project has been through many different iterations and cycles and has at times been incredibly frustrating.  There are so many conflicting views about how to improve workplace performance and pretty much all of them are supported by the latest research!  For example, setting goals can both radically improve and radically hinder workplace performance.  As can employee ratings, annual performance reviews, and continuous feedback methods.  It’s madness I tell you, and I can understand the utter confusion of Business and HR Leaders when it comes to this topic.

Despite the glut of solutions out there, one big problem is that Managers and team members don’t like them. Some performance systems seem to be contributing to the increase in stress and anxiety in the workplace and therefore decreasing performance.  Major problemo.

So earlier this year we decided to take a fresh look.   What if, rather than trying to create a ‘workplace performance improvement system’, we focused on properly understanding and then supporting the root causes that set people up for either success or failure from the outset?

Three critical points of manager and team member performance

If you want to influence something, you need to influence the root causes of that thing.  Whilst there are plenty of considerations when it comes to workplace performance, here are three critical points that we identified.

  1. Knowing and understanding expectations – a problem of clarity
  2. Being able to do what is required – a problem of resources/skills
  3. Actually doing what is required – a problem of motivation/will

Simple right?  That’s what we thought.  Sure there are other considerations, but we figured if a company can get these foundations right, a lot of other things start falling into place.  Let’s look at each now.

Knowing and understanding expectations

The best time to set and agree on expectations (about anything) is in advance – they are not something you can retro-fit fairly.   Therefore, if everyone in a team felt it was their responsibility to ensure expectations are clear and understood, it could save a whole heap of distress and heartache later.  This can only be a good thing.

A great way to achieve this clarity is through a proactive conversation drumbeat.  But more on this later.

Being able to do what is required.

Once expectations are clearly defined and understood, the real fun starts.  Now it is all about effective action.  Of course, if someone can’t do their job properly because they don’t have the skills or resources required, this is going to end in tears at some point.  Once again, the best time to establish whether skills or resources are going to be a problem is ahead of time.  It is also incredibly helpful to have a finger on the pulse of reality in case something changes.

Having in place a proactive conversation drumbeat is a great way to do this, but more on this shortly.

Wanting to do what’s required

Let’s assume that expectations are clear and the skills and resources required are in place, there is now just one question to answer.  Is a person willing to do what’s required, or not?  Ideally, this information would be known from the outset, however it is something that can change over time.  Someone might set out with the best of intentions only for circumstances to change later.  Very few things remain constant.

A proactive conversation drumbeat is a great solution to this also, so let’s finally take a look at what it means.

Creating an effective and proactive conversation drumbeat

I recently read an article penned by Jeff Weiner, CEO of Linked In, about the importance of ‘soft skills’ in the future of work.  Here we have the leader of one of the world’s most knowledgeable companies about workplace trends saying that conversation and personal interaction skills are important.  Why?  Because conversation is the starting point of pretty much everything.  In the absence of a decent two-way conversation, clarity and comprehension are based on assumptions and luck.

We are backing Jeff on this one.

If team members know what they need to do by when, have the skills to do so, and are willing to do it, the vast majority of non-performance melts away without having to implement a massive cultural transformation project.  It’s all about proactive communication.

To this end, we coined the term proactive conversation drumbeat, created a simple process, and wrapped a simple software solution around it called My Employee Life.  And here’s the secret sauce.  Rather than creating a solution that replaces conversation (there are already plenty of those), we created something that supports and encourages conversation about the things that really matter.  A little old school?  Possibly.  Simplicity amongst a backdrop of complexity?  Absolutely.

Improving workplace performance in the modern world is the art of simplifying complexity.

Jason Buchanan

General Manager, Insights & Innovation

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