Posts

What to Do When Your Star Performer Stops Performing

Star performers can make an incredible contribution to an organisation, with the top 10% of performers typically responsible for 30% of the total production output in their industries¹. So, what do you do when your star performer stops performing?

Star performers

Defining a Star Performer

Those of you who caught my article on retaining top talent will know that star performers are in a league of their own. They make up 10-15% of the workforce, can be found in every industry¹, and consistently deliver at the top of their game, often exceeding the productivity of their colleagues by as much as 400%².

They are self-motivated, show a stronger tendency towards self-learning and development than other groups² and are more likely to stay in a role long-term if there is the potential to learn new skills². As a result, they are receptive to feedback and, while they value recognition, are keen to focus on areas where they can improve. You’re unlikely to see a star performer repeat the same mistake twice since they generally listen to assessments and successfully apply feedback².

Contrary to popular belief, high productivity is not the sole definition of a star performer. Unlike workaholics (another group that can deliver high outputs), star performers know their value and don’t need external validation³. They also have a high emotional intelligence with an increased tolerance for stress, and typically display traits including empathy, assertiveness, and optimism⁴. They prioritise their workloads, are highly efficient, and are less likely to suffer burnout as a result³.

The Difference Between Star Performers and High Potentials

Don’t confuse your star performers with your high potentials. Star performers can be great at their job – and a real asset to your team – but it doesn’t necessarily follow that they have the desire (or ability) to assume management roles. As leaders, we have to know the difference between high potential and high performance if we want to identify, develop, and retain talent. Check out my recent article on promoting high performers for a more detailed look at how to make the most of your high potentials.

Why Do Star Performers Stop Performing?

It is unusual for a star performer to stop performing completely. They can (and do) become disenchanted with their work⁵, but it’s not always easy to spot disengaged stars. Unhappiness at work won’t necessarily translate into poor performance, and star performers can still meet and exceed targets when they are not engaged or invested.

Environments that would affect productivity in other groups are less likely to result in performance problems with stars, who will simply seek a new employer. A 2014 study found that less than half of high performers are satisfied with their jobs, and 20% are likely to leave in the next six months².

So, if your high performer isn’t working at their best, then the chances are the issue is down to more than simply the working environment or management style. High performers’ productivity can be impacted by a number of situations, including:

  1. A problem in their personal life affecting their work.
  2. Misdirected effort.
  3. Lack of challenge.

Solutions

Address the problem

The only solution is to get to the root of the problem. Managers need to handle the situation carefully, especially if the issue is a personal one. A one-to-one conversation is the first place to start. The general rules of feedback apply here, and you need to avoid making the conversation personal, instead keep it specific and forward focused:

“I noticed that we are behind on X. Is there anything I can do to help, are there any roadblocks in your way?”

Provide direction

Aligning star performers with organisational goals is crucial. Misdirection is a common reason for poor performance, and ensuring your star performers are aware of the big picture means you can make the most of their ability to prioritise goals and think around a problem¹. If managers fail to provide a clear understanding of what they are working towards and why, star performers simply don’t have the information available to perform at their best.

Giving star performers the freedom to work autonomously and deliver on set objectives is a great way to reward their work and reinforce their value, capitalising on their talents and increasing their worth to your organisation in the process. Too much autonomy, however, can lead to misdirection and lower productivity, with individuals working against organisational objectives or at cross-purposes to each other. To maximise productivity, an autonomous approach should always be accompanied by regular check-ins and a clear understanding of organisational goals.

Be sympathetic

If your star performer is struggling with a personal issue, giving them time off to address it is often the quickest way to get them back up to speed. A sympathetic approach also demonstrates exactly how much you value their contribution to the team.

Provide new challenges

Star performers are great creative thinkers¹, so provide them with new challenges if their current work is becoming repetitive. Just ensure the new assignment is aligned with the organisation’s long-term plans and fulfils a real purpose.

Communicate

The ability to independently judge their value means that a lack of feedback or praise can make star performers feel unappreciated. These guys are well aware that they perform above the rest of the team, and they need to know that you appreciate and value that contribution. Show them how much they are valued and set up regular check-ins to make sure they have the support they need to perform well.

To Sum Up…

Star performers exist in every industry, and can make a significant contribution to organisational growth. Managing them requires a unique approach, and leaders need to focus on developing skills and retention rather than performance.

Any tips and tricks for managing star performers? Feel free to share them in the comments section.

References

¹Aguinis and O’Boyle, 2014. Star performers in 21st century organisations. Personnel Psychology, 67. pp. 313-350

²Willyerd, K. 2014. What high performers want at work. Harvard Business Review.

³Gordon, 2014. High performers vs. workaholics, 7 subtle differences. LinkedIn Pulse.

⁴Durek and Gordon, 2009. In: Hughes et al. ed., Handbook for developing emotional and social intelligence. Chapter 9: Zeroing in on star performance. pp. 185. Available from: IMD.

⁵Kibler, 2015. Prevent your star performers from losing passion for their work. Harvard Business Review.

Work and Happiness

There’s a lot of people who aren’t happy at work. Aon Hewitt says it’s 39% of people.[1]  According to Gallup a whopping 70% of Americans aren’t engaged in their jobs.[2]  That’s a staggering number of people no matter which statistic you look at.  I’m using engagement data, but it’s not a massive jump to assume that people who aren’t engaged aren’t particularly happy at work.  So why aren’t people happy at work and should we even care?  I believe we should and we’ve been looking at it the wrong way all along.  We’ve been focussed on engagement and that has turned out to be a failure.[3] We should be looking for something more fundamental and that is happiness.  That sounds hippy but stick with me, it’s grounded in science and backed up by recent research.

The stories of Ben and the Queensland Air Museum

To start understanding why let’s take a look at two contrasting examples.  The first is a person I worked with a number of years ago, let’s call him Ben to protect his anonymity.  Ben viewed work as a daily grind.  He wanted to get ahead for a couple of reasons but mainly so he could say goodbye to work at a young age and do the things he “really wanted to do”.  The other way of describing this is retirement.  In Ben’s words he “was working the system”.  Most of us would know a number of people like Ben.

Contrast Ben with a completely different picture.  The Caloundra Air Museum in Queensland Australia is staffed by a wonderful group of volunteers who are all retired.[4]  The volunteers each work three full days a week or more.  This raises the question, why would people who are retired spend days every week working?  Some may come to the quick conclusion that volunteer work is cushy and isn’t real work. Talk to anyone that volunteers and you’ll quickly find this conclusion is wrong.  In my own experience volunteering at a community meals organisation I learnt that it was very much real work.  I liked my fellow volunteers and enjoyed the two years I spent doing this on a Saturday evening meal time, but it wasn’t a utopian experience.  It was rewarding but it was work.

Human beings are innately social and that brings with it a whole bunch of baggage, not the least of which is gossip and politics.[5]  The sort of communication difficulties any group experiences also occur in volunteer organisations.  This means volunteer workplaces are like almost every other workplace, it’s work coupled with the need to get along socially and communicate effectively.  So why do “retired” volunteers like those at the Queensland Air Museum do it?  Answering this question will illuminate what’s wrong with engagement initiatives in the workplace and why we need to focus on happiness instead.

Work and happiness and the Queensland Air Museum

Volunteers at the Queensland Air Museum. Photo credit – Cognology 2016

Understanding happiness

At this point we need to understand what happiness is.  According to Wikipedia it’s a mental or emotional state of well-being defined by positive or pleasant emotions ranging from contentment to intense joy.  While that may be true it still doesn’t explain what happiness really is.  As unromantic as it sounds, at the biological level happiness is really a set of biochemical reactions in the brain involving neurotransmitters like serotonin.[6]  That’s why people with depression are prescribed drugs to help manage their brain chemistry.

Each person’s biochemistry creates a set level of happiness and range within which it can reach.  Unfair as this may sound this means some people are naturally more happy than others.  Things that impact a person’s happiness like sharing a joke or going to a concert may temporarily lift the brain chemistry and create happiness, but after the event the chemistry will return to baseline levels.  Understanding this is the key to why many engagement initiatives don’t work.

Temporary versus Lasting Happiness

So what creates lasting happiness?  The answer for most people would include family and friends.  The current popular narrative would also include travel.  Having as many different experiences as you can is thought to be a good thing.  But as much as I like travel myself it can only temporarily impact happiness.  There is also no sensation that you can have travelling that you can’t have in other ways. Travel is a consumption activity and that means it can only produce sensations during the act of consumption.[7] Put another way, travel only makes you happy while you are travelling.  Of course for many people travel is an escape precisely because they are not happy.

Very few people would list work as something that can create happiness.  Is it possible though that work can move the happy scale in a lasting way?  Let’s look at what the science says.

The Golden Triangle of Happiness

In 2015 Deakin University published research into what makes us happy.[8] According to the research ‘the golden triangle of happiness’ is strong personal relationships, financial control and sense of purpose.  The research notes that “no one element is sufficient in isolation”.  Luckily work provides all three of these elements.  It provides many people with a sense of purpose (more on this later) and it definitely provides financial control over your life.  Most people also form one or two lifelong friendships at work.

Golden triangle of happiness

Psychologists have long held that success makes people happy.  In the workplace this was translated as meaning that happiness was derived from successful events like promotion, successful attainment of a goal or financial success.  However in more recent years research has shown that happiness often precedes success.  This is an important finding because it means that happy people perform at a higher level and as a result are more successful financially.[9]

Negativity Surrounding Working

The link between work and happiness may be a surprising one for many.  But why is that?  These two quotes from Wikipedia provide us with a clue:

“Workplace happiness has been skewed by popular culture. There are negative images of work in contemporary media, such as the television show The Simpsons.”

“Children and adults have been encouraged to emphasize the negative and downplay the idea that jobs can actually contribute to happiness. Instead, people are prone to thinking that work only leads to unhappiness.”[10]

In short, work has been given a bum wrap.  But further research paints a different and highly compelling picture.  A joint team from the University of California, Los Angeles and the University of North Carolina discovered that a higher sense of purpose leads to greater health outcomes.  Conversely pleasure seeking or consumption based happiness, like the transitory examples I mentioned earlier in the article, resulted in poorer health outcomes.[11]   Researchers from Mt. Sinai St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital, New York similarly found that “possessing a high sense of purpose in life is associated with a reduced risk for all-cause mortality and cardiovascular events”.[12]

Having a Purpose

A higher sense of purpose doesn’t necessarily mean something that would “put a dent in the universe” to use an expression of Steve Jobs.  It includes the simple timeless principles of a goal greater than yourself or being of service to others.  Indeed the research describes it as such.  For many people, work provides them with a sense of purpose and it’s one of the primary ways they will be of service to others.  Having a higher sense of purpose disables envy or the need to compare.

If you’re a reader of my blog you’ll know I’ve written quite a bit about engagement lately.  The science we’ve looked at helps us understand why many engagement initiatives aren’t producing the returns they were promising.[13]   Any initiative that focuses on some form of consumption, pleasure seeking or in the moment activities is likely to be counterproductive.  This is why we need to shift the focus from engagement to happiness.  But this needs to be done with a proper understanding of what happiness is and what creates it.

The science also helps us understand the answer to why retired people would volunteer to work at the Queensland Air Museum.  Doing something in the service of others, with others and for a purpose greater than themselves makes them happier people.  Contrast this to Ben who said he was “working the system”.  Rather than achieve the happiness he is looking for, the science shows he may be doing himself a disservice and risking poorer health in the process.  Does that mean people shouldn’t learn new skills and advance their career.  Of course not.

You Can’t Manufacture Happiness

From a practical perspective what does this mean for us as leaders?  The first step is to avoid any engagement initiatives that require us to manufacture fun.  The research clearly tells us these can be counterproductive.  Rather, each of the tools for creating a happy environment are based on what the research tells us makes people happy.  The good news is that the tools aren’t new.  They are simply leadership fundamentals.

It starts with purpose.  Senior leadership needs to communicate the very reason why the organisation exists.  It’s surprising how often this isn’t done.  If people don’t understand why the organisation exists then they are simply coming to work to earn a pay packet.  But when we communicate purpose and remind people of it regularly, people then have a reason greater than themselves and can understand how they can be of service to others.

Communicating purpose at work

The Importance of Alignment

Once the organisation’s purpose has been established, each person then needs to understand the purpose and expectations for their role.  In my experience many people receive a job description, but don’t understand why they do what they do and how it aligns with the organisation’s purpose.  This is important because the research tells us people with a purpose are happier and that happiness precedes success.  Often team members can get caught up on the hamster wheel of daily process, emails and interruptions.  It’s easy in these circumstances for people to lose sight of what their role is meant to do and the importance of that to the group’s success.

To cooperate people need shared beliefs and an understanding of the way to do things.  These are commonly referred to as “values” and leaders need to live, breathe and communicate them.  Imagine one team member who values quality and another who values getting things done as quickly as possible.  It’s easy to see in this circumstance that this will create disharmony.  This is why values need to be part of the recruiting process and everyday organisation life.  It helps people align themselves to each other and be able to work together on a shared understanding.

The Leader’s Role in Creating Alignment

One of the most critical parts of a leader’s role is to ensure people are constantly aligned.  This includes keeping people working towards the vision of the future and helping to resolve roadblocks and issues that occur.  It also includes the tough conversations that need to happen occasionally to resolve performance problems and interpersonal issues.  If the leader doesn’t have these, the whole team pays by being dragged down into a poor state.  A monthly one on one is a useful tool for doing this because it allows a two way conversation and understanding to develop.

For a leader all of this can be summarised as communicating purpose, expectations and keeping people aligned to it and to each other.  Yet happiness isn’t the responsibility of the leader.  One of the unintended outcomes of the focus on employee engagement has been to miscommunicate to people that their happiness at work is the organisation’s responsibility.  When you think about it there is no such thing as an organisation, there is only the people within it.  So which person is responsible?  Of course there is no one person responsible.  Each person needs to take responsibility for their own happiness.  This means understanding the reason behind why their role exists and finding happiness in the provision of that service to others.  Rather than seeking to climb the ladder as fast as we can, we need to choose our workplaces carefully based on a match between what we value and what the organisation values.  If we can do that, we are more likely to be working with people who believe in similar things and who enjoy what they do on a day to day basis.

Naturally there are limits. Happiness in this article shouldn’t be taken to mean some sort of utopian joyessness.  The reality of coming to work on a Monday morning after a relaxing weekend will still be there.  Ups and downs will always occur.  But there’s an important message for our own wellbeing in understanding why the volunteers choose to work at the Queensland Air Museum.

References

  1. www.aon.com/attachments/human-capital-consulting/2014-trends-in-global-employee-engagement-report.pdf
  2. www.gallup.com/poll/181289/majority-employees-not-engaged-despite-gains-2014.aspx
  3. www.cognology.com.au/can-you-really-measure-employee-engagement/
  4. qam.com.au/
  5. http://www.amazon.com/Sapiens-A-Brief-History-Humankind/dp/0062316095
  6. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Happiness
  7. http://www.amazon.com/Sapiens-A-Brief-History-Humankind/dp/0062316095
  8. www.australianunity.com.au/about-us/~/media/About%20Us/Wellbeing/What%20Makes%20Us%20Happy%202015.ashx
  9. www.apa.org/pubs/journals/releases/bul-1316803.pdf
  10. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Happiness_at_work
  11. www.pnas.org/content/110/33/13684.abstract?sid=48591e05-d2dc-4afd-8dae-510aa480befa
  12. circ.ahajournals.org/content/131/Suppl_1/A52
  13. www.cognology.com.au/are-we-accidentally-killing-employee-engagement/

 

Jon Windust

Jon Windust is the CEO at Cognology – Onboarding, Performance and Learning software for the future of work. Over 250 Australian businesses use Cognology to power cutting-edge talent strategy. You can follow Jon on Twitter or LinkedIn.

Does talent management drive share price performance?

Why investors should care about talent management

Here at Cognology we love data that supports the importance of great people management. Today we’ve got some particularly interesting data from Glassdoor that all managers (and investors) should pay close attention to.
We’ve dug into Glassdoor data to understand the impact of employee happiness and satisfaction on share price performance.

If you’re not familiar with Glassdoor

Glassdoor is a website where employees and former employees anonymously review companies and their management. The data and reviews are then made publically available.
Here we’re using Commonwealth Bank as an example:

CBA Ratings and Trends chart

As you can see, it’s gives a quick feel for what it’s really like to work at the company on a number of measures.

But deeper than just employee happiness, Glassdoor is also a pretty good indicator of management capability. As we showed in our recent piece on Management Capability, Glassdoor ratings sit broadly in line with the Australian Institute of Management’s capability index.

What do these ratings say about Australia’s largest companies?

At an aggregate level, every company gets a rating out of five stars. We collected these Glassdoor ratings for the ASX100. You can see the results below:

Glassdoor ratings chart

Note that we’re only including companies with reviews on Glassdoor (which is why there’s 68 companies listed here instead of 100). Due to size or industry, some companies don’t have enough ratings to show data.

As you can see above, most companies tend to cluster somewhere between a rating of 3 and 4.

What’s particularly interesting here are the seven Australian companies that have scored ratings of 4 and above. As you can see from the chart, it’s quite rare to achieve a rating at this level. For comparison, some of the international companies with ratings above 4 include:

What has this got to do with share price performance?

One of the big questions about Glassdoor is always “does the rating really mean anything?”. Anonymous reviews sound awfully like they could be gamed by a company that wanted a quick ratings boost. Or just as easily destroyed by a particularly bitter ex-employee.

So, in aggregate, do these ratings actually tell us anything meaningful about the companies listed?

Perhaps the most impartial way to look at overall corporate performance is the share price. There’s a lot of nuances that share market misses – but there’s no disagreement that it’s a very clear public indicator of performance that all stakeholders care about.

So how does aggregate share price performance look when we chart against Glassdoor ratings:

Glassdoor ratings chart

 

It’s clear that the past 12 months has seen outperformance by those companies with a glassdoor rating of 4 or above. Just to highlight, these companies with employee reviews averaging above 4 are:

  • CSR
  • Fortescue Metals
  • Toll Holdings
  • Wesfarmers
  • Seek
  • Ramsay Health
  • Orora

Whilst it’s easy to make the argument that employee engagement and management capability is causing share price outperformance, let’s not get too carried away and start the “Glassdoor ratings >4 hedge fund” (although we did very briefly consider it before publishing this article).

To be very clear, I’ve always believed that there’s a relationship between great talent management and company value. But before we say this is definitive proof of the huge value of talent management, there’s more research required. Do companies that are achieving stronger share-price growth just have happier employees? It is possible that the causation works in the other direction?

In any case, it’s fascinating data that requires more attention and thought. It’s safe to say you should expect more questions from investor relations about your talent management strategy in the near future. 

Please note: Clearly, this isn’t investment advice. And for the sake of full disclosure, nobody involved in the publication of this article holds shares in any of the outperformers referenced.

What does “tour of duty” employment mean for HR?

There’s been a lot published over the last week on “tour of duty” employment. The noise is coming from the publication of a new book by Reid Hoffman, Ben Casnocha and Chris Yeh called The Alliance.

So, what does a tour of duty means in the context of the employment relationship?

The crux of the idea is that the employment relationship today is broken. Companies demand employee loyalty without guaranteeing job security. At the same time, employees promise loyalty but are quick to move if offered a better role or pay-rise. Everyone says the right things. But nobody is making promises they intend to keep.

A tour of duty moves the relationship from a transactional relationship to a mutually beneficial alliance. As Hoffman puts it: “Employment should be an alliance. [That means] a mutually beneficial deal, with explicit terms, between independent players”

What’s important here is the acceptance that the employee and employer don’t have the same agenda. Neither party is pretending to make a lifetime commitment. Instead, both set out about what they expect the other party to deliver over the next 2, 3 or 4 years. There’s plenty of examples of how Reid has successfully used the approach at LinkedIn. See this Wall Street Journal interview and in the original idea-piece in HBR.

So without further ado, let’s talk about what tour of duty employment might mean for HR.

Expect a two-way focus on performance management

Performance management becomes a two-way conversation with serious consequences for both parties.

The employee has always been responsible for hitting KPIs. But now the company is also responsible for delivering promised development. Examples include mentoring, a leadership course, or an offshore posting with increased responsibility.

In a tour of duty world, performance management has to hold both the employee and the employer accountable. It’s no longer just a one-way conversation.

Now, a failure to deliver great performance management is a breech of contract by the employer. You’re assessing the employee on their performance. But they’re also assessing whether you’re advancing their career as promised. It’s no longer a one-way conversation. Stop for a second and let that sink in.

Clear objectives are (still) critical

Both employee and employer are signing on with a specific outcome or mission in mind. So it’s critical to make sure this mission is clear.

Nothing will doom a tour of duty employment relationship faster than a mission that’s subject to misinterpretation. And that runs both ways. Both the employee and the employer need to be able to state what the other party is getting out of the relationship.

Again, SMART goals and objectives are performance management 101. But in this environment the consequences are significant. Misalignment or plain old laziness will all lead to quick turnover.

You have the ability to increase retention of specialist employees

One of the common misconceptions in that a tour of duty approach will reduce the tenure of employment. With one caveat below, I don’t think that’s the case.

There’s a good analogy in an emotional relationship. Through having hard conversations, we can fix issues at an earlier stage. We continue to recommit if it’s working. And we don’t hold onto the illusion of staying together if the relationship is broken and we’re not BOTH achieving what we set out to.

For knowledge workers in specialist positions, there’s always the opportunity to ‘cheat’ on their employer. Recruiters call regularly. Employees know the options and opportunities.

Tours of duty make clear that you’re just as invested in their growth as they are. And that’s a really meaningful differentiator.

But poor execution creates turnover risk

If you do this badly, you’re going to significantly increase your workforce turnover. It’s the equivalent of reminding employees just how little they’re getting out of their job. Picture this conversation:

“Hi Bob, remember how we promised you all these things about how great this opportunity would be for your development and career? Well we actually didn’t deliver on any of our promises… Now how did you go with your KPIs?”

So here’s my recommendations to you

If you’re already best practice in performance management then this is something you need to be thinking about. Talent supply and generational trends mean you won’t have a choice. Your competitors will start making these kind of commitments. And they will be a real differentiator for employer brand. Gen Y loves the authenticity of “you don’t have a job for life but we’ll make sure you get as much out of this as we do”.

If your company does tours-of-duty well, the approach will help you retain your best employees for longer. It will help you do this at a lower cost. And it will make clear which managers are delivering great employee development.

Finally, a word of warning! If you’re just starting on your performance management journey then you need to get your house in order first (as Josh Bersin shows nicely here). Start with the basics. That means clear expectations and regular, documented conversations.

To extend the military analogy – you can’t go to war until you’ve trained the troops.

Photo credit: MONUSCO (Used under Creative Commons SA 2.0 licence)

How to waste $41 billion dollars on performance management

My open letter to Bill Morrow, recently appointed CEO of the National Broadband Network

Laying cables for the NBN

Dear Bill,

Congratulations on your recent appointment as CEO of NBN. It’s a big job, even with your history of telecom turnarounds.

I read with interest the article in The Australian about your plans to fix the cultural problems at NBN. As an expert in performance management, I’ve seen cultural problems of all shapes and sizes. But it sounds like the mess you’ve inherited at NBN is truly something unique!

I’m amazed by some of the cultural and engagement problems. So I wanted to offer you some friendly advice and a second pair of eyes. Here’s my thoughts about your strategy to turn NBN into a high performance organisation.

Increasing workplace engagement

I know that the NBN has been a bit of political kick-ball. And that there’s been a lot of changes.

But you’re building a transformational piece of Australian infrastructure. The goals of what you’re setting out to do are very big (and very clear). NBN is almost the definition of a mission driven organisation. So there’s no reason that you should be dealing with an organisational engagement score of just 44%!

In my opinion, your workforce at NBN has to be inspired by a mission driven culture. Every employee needs to get up in the morning ready to shape the future of the country. And you can do this by giving them clear expectations that are directly connected back to the goals and mission of the organisation.

Setting clear expectations and holding people accountable

I can see that you’ve recognised the huge role that performance management has to play in fixing the culture. In fact, I know that you’ve “set about reforming the way the company measures performance”.

But I wanted to issue a word of warning. Measuring performance is typically only half of the challenge in a dysfunctional culture. The biggest problem is clearly setting out what high performance actually looks like in the first place.

In my experience, you get high performance when every employee can explicitly state what high performance looks like for their role, on a day-to-day basis.

And I bet this isn’t the case at NBN today. In fact, I’m going to make a wager that you have thousands of employees running round with unclear position descriptions and requirements. These employees have no real clarity around what they need to do to be successful. And as a result, they start playing the blame game.

Ending the blame game

The blame game that’s going on at NBN at the moment is typical of what I see in organisations with badly broken performance management. How it happens is clear from one of your quotes in The Australian:

“An independent assessment by KordaMentha and Boston Consulting Group cited a fear among staff of “being blamed for mistakes” that “generated a lack of willingness to accept responsibility in some functional groups”.

When you do performance management well, it’s clear who is responsible for delivery. The process ensures that your employees are deeply invested in their goals and objectives.

Remember that at heart, great performance management really isn’t much more than an organisational process for accountability.

I’ve seen the impacts of a ‘blame-game’ culture before. And I’ve got no doubt this is how NBN got to an engagement score of 44%. Because in the ‘blame-game’ environment, everyone is watching their back. Right now, your staff don’t have the time (or the energy) to care about their role in shaping the future of Australia.

Getting visible alignment

I think it’s great you’re working to show a more aligned culture by knocking down the walls. Every high performance organisation I work with makes effort to show how everyone is working together. As you said:

“If we really want to change this culture then we have to start at the top and drop this hierarchical feel. These things are minor in nature but they are symbolic. It shows us getting off our pedestals so we can align together and work together.”

Getting off the pedestal is important. And so is showing everyone that the mission of the organisation is more important than your harbour-view office.

People at NBN do need a symbol of change. And tearing down the office walls might help with that. But don’t confuse the quick win of knocking down the walls with the long-term change in behaviour that you need. You can tear down physical walls in a weekend, but good performance management and a culture of accountability takes hard work over many years.

You’ve got a big job ahead, so good luck

We both know this is going to be hard work. Cultures don’t transform themselves overnight. But with hard work, you can keep people accountable to delivering high performance at NBN. Here’s my four-step action plan:

  1. I’d remind every employee of the role they play in delivering the mission of NBN.
  2. I’d quickly get rid of those that don’t care.
  3. I’d make sure that for those that do care, the expectations of high performance are explicitly set out.
  4. And finally, I’d focus on making the connection between every individual’s performance and the mission of building a better Australia.

Once everyone can see how those expectations connect back to the big mission of NBN, you’re in with a fighting chance.

Good luck – I’m looking forward to seeing a very engaged team coming through my neighbourhood to connect us to the NBN soon!

Jon

Image credit: Bidgee used under CC-SA 3.0 License