At TM Solutions, we talk quite a bit about ways that modern businesses can differentiate themselves and drive company performance. What we observe in successful companies is a willingness to break away from old management habits—the best practices of yesteryear—and move forward with progressive management techniques that take into account the speed and technology of modern business, as well as the diversity of today’s workforce.
One area where we routinely advise companies to make major course corrections in their talent management practices, in order to achieve better performance results, is in the development of their people. Companies develop their employees in a number of ways—for leadership, for expansion or promotion within their skill areas, or for better performance in their current roles.
The development model that companies typically use, in some shape or form, neatly divides into three areas—the What, the How, and the Why. We call this the circle of excellence.
The outside of the circle is the What—what we can see and touch. The What measures performance tangibles across the footprint of the company. Another word for the What is Numbers. Numbers like metrics, accomplishments, deliverables, production, quality, and efficiency factors make up the results by which companies, departments, leaders and individuals measure their own performance. It’s safe to say that the vast majority of companies spend the vast majority of their time and effort managing and developing employees on these types of number measurements.
As we move into the circle, we focus on the How—as in, how people achieve the results that they do. Human resources professionals and people managers like to think of the How in terms of success and leadership factors, knowledge, skills, experience, competencies and actions. It’s also safe to say that the vast majority of good companies spend quite a bit of time and effort managing the How, through screening for best-fit skill sets when hiring, deploying considerable resources for ongoing training, as well as measuring behaviors that they know can contribute to achieving measurable results.
The core of the circle is the most important area the Why. This area is a little harder to understand for most companies, since they tend to miss the boat entirely on how to effectively ascertain the root causes that underlie the behavioral tendencies and motivational needs of their people. The Why consists of psychological components and personal values like temperament or personal paradigms. This is how we all orient ourselves to our environments, how we make observations, what assumptions we make, how we make decisions, and ultimately how we take action.
We find in our work that a common denominator in failing companies is that they pay a disproportionately high level of attention to the What and How, while almost completely neglecting the Why. Here’s a case in point—many times, we see that people enter a company with a perfect, “on-paper” fit for a job—the resume more than matches the desired skill sets, expertise, knowledge, and experience. And, although the employee may have the How in spades, he still fails to achieve the What. But rarely do companies ask, “Why?”—especially on the front end with recruiting or internal advancement and promotions.
Take the example of a low-performing unit within a company. This unit has three members, none of whom are hitting their performance goals. They each come from very similar backgrounds—college degrees in business disciplines, along with five to seven years of industry experience. In this example, all three employees share an underperforming What area, as well as near-identical How areas.
So, how do you think companies tackle this problem? Well, the spectrum of reactions looks like a Bell curve. A small number of companies do nothing to solve the underlying problems, beyond a simple “improve, or you’re fired” solution—a completely What-driven reaction.
A large number of companies, thankfully, at least try to attack the problem without simply dismissing the employees summarily. While it’s good that they are at least trying to work with their people and develop them, most companies do tend to rely on more, one-size-fits-all How—more training and more coaching—going after symptoms and not the causes.
The best companies, and there are relatively few of them—perhaps 10 percent of all companies—ask Why. They find, through digging deep with their employees and examining psychological tendencies, motivational factors, and behavioral styles in varying situations, they can reach different underperforming employees with customized tactics that meet each individual’s needs. For instance, one employee may be a creative type that a manager needs to help bring focus to his work. The second employee may be an organizational genius who is over thinking the task at hand. And the third may be an assertive leader who is moving at a pace too fast for the rest of the team. Each of these situations has a customized management solution, versus one-size-fits-all training and development.
The guiding point is that often, these low-performance situations are avoidable. Through talent assessment surveys and psychometric analysis, we can identify those who may be a poor match for the organization, but, more importantly, we can identify ways to coach to the Why to actually develop a better employee (which is good for not only the company, but for the employee, too). When we understand from the initial screening that people may react to their colleagues or situations in certain ways, we can identify the root causes of the symptoms of low performance more quickly, address, them, and position our people for success.
In conclusion, what we see way too much of in the marketplace is that companies have this model backwards. They spend most of their time measuring results, some time building knowledge and skill, and very little time gaining and understanding of their people and what makes them tick. We think that companies must, for their ultimate survival and sustained profitability, turn this model on its head.
In order to really drive success and create a win-win for the company and its employees in the process, companies must invest in understanding their employees and managing to their underlying behavioral tendencies and perspectives. Once they have established firm performance baselines in these areas, they are not only free to manage to the How, they will enjoy much greater success in the What.