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Cultivating a High Performance Workplace

​Regardless of your industry or business, and whether it is for-profit or not-for-profit, it’s crucial that your organization is high performing. In other words, it’s important to create a workplace environment where employees are able to contribute to the goals of the organization as a result of the right behaviors and the application of their individual and collective knowledge, skills, and abilities. High performance translates to better utilization of organizational resources, better services and products to the markets the organization serves, and a more engaged workforce.

For today’s business leaders, cultivating a high performance workplace requires:

  1. Recognizing the variables that constitute employee performance.
  2. An intentional approach to align organizational goals to individual employee performance.
  3.  Encouraging the right performance behaviors that lead to the right results.

Recognizing Variables that Constitute Employee Performance

If you were to consider employee performance as an equation, with performance ultimately the output, then there are key variables that are important to consider. First, there is a set of variables that is within the scope of the employee’s control. These variables typically include the knowledge, skills, abilities, and attitudes (KSAAs) that employees bring to their respective jobs and roles. It’s essential to recruit and select the right knowledge, skills, abilities, and attitudes, and it’s equally important to ensure employees have access to resources and opportunities to continue to build the breadth and depth of their knowledge, refine their skills, and broaden their abilities or capacity in their role.

Another set of variables that impacts employee performance are “system variables.” System variables are any other variables that impact employee performance but are outside the scope of the employee’s control. Examples of system variables include:
• Tools and/or equipment to perform the job/tasks
• Managerial behavior
• Workplace culture and social systems
• Procedures
• Processes

These variables may have an impact on employee performance. And, if so, the impact may be favorable or detrimental. Understanding these variables may prompt key, practical questions in the interest of cultivating a high performance workplace:
• Are we recruiting based on the right KSAAs?
• Do we provide ongoing support and opportunities to continue to foster the right employee KSAAs?
• What system variables may be fostering higher performance?
• What system variables may be hindering higher performance?

Aligning Goals
In addition to employee and system variables that drive performance, it’s necessary to consider the alignment of organizational goals and performance to individual goals and performance.
As an organization fulfills its mission, works toward its vision, and continues to refine its goals and objectives, how do those elements trickle down throughout the organization’s functional areas and to individuals? Do employees have “line of sight” regarding the work they do every day and how it impacts the performance of the organization?

Often times in organizations, goals become fractured and unclear when translated throughout the organization. It may be in actuality that goals across functional areas become competing rather than collaborative. And at the individual level, it may simply be assumed that employees know or understand organizational goals and what’s expected of them to help realize those goals. In the interest of cultivating a high performance workplace:
• What are the key goals and objectives of the organization?
• How are organizational goals and objectives communicated consistently and in a meaningful way throughout the organization?
• What role do employees play in interacting with organizational goals and objectives? Do they have an opportunity to identify goals relative to their position that can help to realize organizational goals?

Encouraging the Right Performance
There are many tools and other resources that may assist in helping to drive and encourage employee performance in the workplace. As you consider the employee and system variables that impact performance, some of the tools and other resources may be obvious.
As I consult with leaders in organizations across various industries, one tool that I promote that I believe has the most significant impact on performance is this: feedback.

Simply stated, feedback is communication that affirms for an individual whether their performance meets expectations. Feedback may affirm an employee’s areas of strength or it may highlight opportunities to manage a gap in their performance where they are not meeting expectations. The Gallup organization, a global research-based firm, has identified interesting dynamics that impact organizational performance based on feedback provided to employees. The Gallup organization developed a survey called the “Q12®.” The survey consists of 12 simple questions. The survey has been administered to millions of employees across the globe in various industries and businesses. Results from the survey show a strong correlation between high scores and superior job performance. Several of the survey questions highlight the importance of receiving feedback.
For each of us, at work, feedback provides a sense of direction regarding our progress and if we are helping the organization realize its goals. When delivering feedback, consider these key points:
• Be specific about observed behavior
• Be specific about the results or implications of the observed behavior
For feedback to be effective, it should focus on observed behaviors that can be specifically described. We’ve all received feedback that seems to be rather vague and leaves us interpreting its meaning. To avoid those scenarios, relay information that speaks about the specific actions that an employee took that were great or where there needs to be some improvement. It’s equally important to remember balance in the feedback that you provide. As mentioned, feedback can affirm what an employee is doing well (recognition) or it may highlight a performance gap. Look for people doing the right things and give them recognition. Otherwise, we may tend to only observe and give feedback when performance doesn’t meet expectations. And when we fall into that pattern, we may tend to demotivate others with our feedback.

Next, as a result of the observed behavior, what were the results or the implications? The results may be favorable or there may be an area to improve. Again, specificity is important. Feedback in the form of recognition could be:
“Jane, yesterday I observed your interaction with John as you were coaching him through the new setup process.” (This comment addresses specific, observed behavior.) Another example: “As a result of you taking the time and as a result of the patience you demonstrated, it was apparent to me that John was more confident in his abilities and was able to perform the setup later on his own. Your willingness to go over and above in this way greatly helps the team. Thank you.” (These comments address specific results of the observed behavior.)
To cultivate a high performance workplace, consider:
• Are you taking the time to provide balanced feedback?
• When you provide feedback, are you relaying specific information about observed behaviors and the results or implications of those behaviors?
Cultivating a high performance workplace certainly requires an investment. But generally speaking, the investments we make in understanding the variables that constitute performance, in aligning goals, and in providing effective feedback, may certainly provide returns that are well worth the investment.