Its the small things that make the difference

October 22, 2009

A  recent article by Jon Younger of the RBL Group (Dave Ulrich, Wayne Brockbank et al) confirms a belief that I have held for some time.  Younger outlines how many organisations can spend too much focussing on the big things while it is often the small things that make the difference.  Too often, we focus on the large systems – reward, talent management, performance.  However, employees appreciate the small things that show that managers are paying attention.

It does not cost money to say thank you – even a hand written note – or to take a team out for a lunch for no particular reason.  But these small things can have a big impact upon morale, performance and engagement.  Get the small things right and often the big transformation can go smoother.  Ignore the small things – or get them wrong – and it can be harder to bring about the big changes in an organisation.

What comes first – Satisfaction or Performance?

October 11, 2009

A very interesting article was published  recently on the –  “Satisfaction Does Not Boost Performance”.  The article outlines the outcomes from a number of studies that overwhelmingly show that satisfaction programs will not only help business performance, they may not even improve satisfaction.  Some key points from the article:

  • In 1976, “The Handbook of Industrial/Organizational Psychology,” summarized 3,300 job satisfaction studies dating back to 1955 and found, “… negligible relationships between satisfaction and level of performance or productivity.
  • In 2009, Ed Lawler of the University of Southern California and author of “Talent,” said definitively: “Satisfaction does not lead to performance; it is caused by it.”
  • In a 2009 CFO Magazine article, Richard Beatty of Rutgers University, stated that “HR people try to perpetuate the idea that job satisfaction is critical, but there is no evidence that engaging employees impacts financial returns.”

Many companies see satisfaction as an input to performance not recognizing that it is an output. By aiming to seek performance from satisfied employees (rather than realizing that high performing employees tend to be satisfied) most such programmes leave performance to chance.  It is based on flawed logic seeking the simple solution.  Organisations that try to create one size fits all engagement programmes often end up with very happy employees that may have no desire to perform.

The final line from the article sums it up. “Find the right people, put them in roles that use their talents and give them support to be successful. Happiness will take care of itself.”

Motivating After Change

October 9, 2009

We are living in a time of unparalleled change – at least the latest period of unparalleled change.  Organisations are having to radically rethink how they operate, manage, service their customers and are staffed in order to survive.   However, as I have written previously, how organisations manage this change with their employees is key to its success.  An additional factor, however, that organisations need to take into account is how to motivate those that remain in the organisation once the latest change programme is completed.

Much has been written about the impact on redundancies on those left behind.  ‘Survivor Syndrome’ recognises that there is a physical and psychological impact upon those employees who have not lost their jobs.  These staff feel guilty for keeping their jobs when their colleagues and friends have lost theirs.  This in turn can impact upon performance.  A recent survey, reported in Personnel Today (Note 1), showed that, in organisations that had experienced at least one redundancy programme, 67% reported lower staff morale, 65% noted an increase in absenteeism and 17% found that retention of key staff was a problem.  In addition a significant number (19%) noted problems with productivity.

What can organisations do to manage this impact? The first step is to to minimise the impact of redundancies on the remaining workforce.  This can include briefings about the changes (before they happen), explaining not just the what but the why of change and outlining the impact that this will have on both the staff who are leaving and those remaining.   The next step is to have a strategy to reengage with the remaining workforce.  This includes, above all, open and visible leadership.  Without the direct and repeated involvement of the leaders of the organisation, trust cannot be maintained or rebuilt as appropriate.  With trust, the leadership can ensure that the change becomes embedded and that the organisation can not just survive but thrive. The organisation can then move beyond the change phase and begin operating as a normal business again.

Note 1: Survivor Syndrome among staff is hindering employers, Nadine Williams,

Assumptions about Managing People

October 7, 2009

Bob Sutton writes a blog about the  links between managerial knowledge and organizational action.  He has a very interesting and challenging post based on a closing discussion at the Singapore Human Capital Summit. As Bob said, his aim was to challenge the assumptions of the audience rather than come up with a definitive list.

Bob Sutton’s Top 10 List of Flawed Assumption About Managing People

1.  HR ought to be all about spotting, hiring, and breeding individual talent (HR could pack a bigger wallop by focusing on teams and networks more).

2.  HR should focus on finding, hiring, and developing the very best people (Bad is stronger than good – about 5 times stronger  — so screening-out, reforming, expelling the very worst people is more crucial to collective performance).

3. Find some great superstars and pay them whatever is necessary to keep them happy… and certainly a lot more than everyone else (The best organizations pay higher than competitors, but have more compressed pay).

4. Competition makes people, teams, and companies stronger (Unless people and teams are rewarded for undermining one another rather than helping each other… dysfunctional internal competition is one of the most pervasive problems in American firms).

5. Harmony and having a shared vision are crucial to success (Perhaps for routine work; but creativity depends on battling over ideas. Part of HR’s job should be to teach people how to “fight as if they are right and listen as if the are wrong”).

6.  The key to success is copying practices used by the best companies. (The best companies may be succeeding despite rather than because of their HR practices).

7.  Every company needs a great performance review system. (Are they really worth the time and effort? Do they do more harm than good?).

8. Taking a leadership position brings out the best in people. (This is a dangerous half-truth.  Giving people power over others turns them into  self-centred jerks).

9.  The most important thing HR can do is to find and develop great senior leaders (Having an organization with a high proportion of good bosses is probably more important).

10.  The best organizations have the best people, “the people make the place.” (There are huge differences in talent, but the best organizations typically have the best system and not necessarily the best raw talent).

Dealing with a top team who cannot deal with change

October 1, 2009

The latest edition of the McKinsey Quarterly Journal has a very interesting article by Derek Dean on  a CEO’s guide to reenergizing the senior team.  Dean focusses on what Chief Executives should do to bring about a new focus in their top team when all around them is changing at an unprecedented pace. At times like these, a CEO has to be able to rely on their best leaders. But do these leaders have the ability to support the CEO?

Some key lessons that stuck with me after I read the article include:

  • What may seem to be the quick solution – i.e. to replace an executive who cannot cope with the pace of change – can result in the organisation unnecessarily losing key skills, knowledge and experience
  • The CEO needs to engage with his/her executives on an emotional level with those facing fear or in denial
  • Executives who have been successful in the past can be the worst at dealing with failure because they have never had to learn from past failures

You have to register with the McKinsey Quarterly to view the article but it is free and definitely worth it.  Thanks to Bob Sutton for the lead to this article.