Three generations of management theory have defined how organizations develop human potential. First, under the functional management approach, development was aimed at getting people to follow the standard processes established for each function. The assumption was that employees just needed to be trained to follow the correct processes to be engaged and successful.
The second approach to development was founded on the hierarchical model of organizations, whereby developing potential was viewed as taking people up through the ranks. The third model emphasized organizational systems. People were trained to manage systems (such as finance, sales, or operations) to make sure they flowed correctly within the overall organizational structure.
While each of these approaches has its merits, they have two common disadvantages. First, development around a process, system, or advancement to the next level keeps employees too narrowly focused on their individual jobs. This can prevent them from seeing the bigger picture of how their performance fits into the broader organizational context. Second, by focusing on function and process, these approaches to development neglect engaging the person as a learner.
At the other extreme from the three traditional, methodical approaches to development was Peter Senge's vision of a "learning organization," in which people are continually enhancing their capabilities to create the results they truly desire. This model was perceived by many to be too "soft" - utopian even.
The best approach to unleashing human potential lies in the middle ground between the two extremes. Neither too lockstep nor too loose, such an approach might be called the "value model" of development because its goal is to get the best value each person has to offer. It combines methodical key steps people can follow to advance in their careers, with learning organization concepts that respect individual differences. One of the first steps in developing each person's full potential is knowing why people don't perform and what to do about it.
Why employees don't perform and what to do about it
There are five obstacles to performance that should be carefully distinguished, because each has a different solution. If the source of nonperformance is not correctly identified, good employees may be passed over for promotions, be fired, or leave on their own, while less desired employees, who will never buy in or simply cannot do the job effectively, are retained.
Not knowing what to do. It's difficult for employees to perform if they don't know what to do.
Solution: Educate them. Set the foundation during new employee orientation and the on boarding process, or later through education and development opportunities. Unless people have clarity on what they need to do, they will make mistakes or work on the wrong tasks.
Not knowing how to do it. Employees who know what to do, but not how to do it, cannot accomplish the tasks assigned to them.
Solution: Train them. Take people through the step-by-step process of performing tasks and show them how the correct execution of those steps creates success for them and the organization.
Not believing they can do it. In this situation, employees know what the task is and the steps to accomplish it, but don't believe they can do it. This is usually because they lack self-confidence, are risk-averse, or just don't think they are the right person for the task.
Solution: Coach them. Coaching is not just a matter of cheering employees on, but of helping them see why they have been selected to perform the task or why they have been appointed to the team. Instill in them a belief in themselves and the confidence to use past successes as a stepping stone to future opportunities.
Not knowing why they should do it. At times, people know what to do, how to do it, and believe they can do it, but don't understand why the task is important for them, their supervisors, or the organization. Consequently, they procrastinate and assign the task a low priority.
Solution: Establish a vision for them. A senior leader's vision for the organization is a good start, but employees also need to know how they fit into that vision and why their organizational processes are critical to accomplishing the vision.
Not wanting to do it. Often, employees know what to do, how to do it, believe they can do it, and know why it's important, but they just don't want to do it. Typically, this occurs when one or several of the other obstacles are present. Supervisors frequently jump to the conclusion that an individual is unmotivated, when there is really another reason for nonperformance.
Solution: Inspire them. If people know what to do, how to do it, believe they can do it, and know why they should do it, nonperformance must be due to some other barrier that may not be immediately discernable. Look at how the organization is inspiring its employees. Are they being kept busy without knowing how their activities relate to the mission or vision? Inspired employees have the internal desire to achieve the vision.
The nonperformance model builds from the bottom up, starting with the lowest level, "I don't know what to do." Managers sometimes assume their people lack motivation, when the problem is really caused by one of the lower barriers.
Using the wrong solution for any one barrier because the employee's nonperformance is not understood leads to failure. It would be pointless to attempt to engage employees whose nonperformance is due to obstacles 1 thru 4. Once the four lower obstacles have been overcome, the right forms of motivation will foster engagement.
A system for bringing out the best in people
The traditional forms of motivation are compensation and benefits. The problem with these tangible rewards is that they are short-term motivators. The more people get, the more they develop an entitlement mindset. For example, give an employee an extra day off this month for excellent performance, and he or she will expect two extra days next month to feel connected.
Adding more and more tangible rewards does not necessarily increase motivation or engagement. However, taking away tangible benefits or entitlements really de-motivates or disengages people. For example, employees who always had their health benefits paid for and are now being asked to chip in become very dissatisfied and often lose motivation.
On the other hand, intangible rewards, such as a "thank you," "good job," or effective coaching let people know their managers care about them and value their contributions. The more intangible forms of motivation the better - they raise engagement levels by helping people feel connected.
The additional advantage of using intangible rewards is that while offering them greatly increases levels of engagement and motivation, withholding them tends not to have a significant long-term de-motivating impact. Additionally, intangible forms of motivation are not costly to provide. So for a small investment of time in showing appreciation, the resulting improvement in engagement and connectivity can be huge. The key is in giving credible, sincere, and respectful appreciation.
There is a proven-effective format for giving sincere appreciation that brings out the best in people. More than an obligatory pat on the back, it's a system to express gratitude not just for what the person has done, but for who they are (their internal attributes and characteristics). When appreciation is not about a task the employee has accomplished, but about who the individual really is, its power to motivate is much greater.
Step 1: Tell them what you appreciate about them. Say, for example: "Alice, what I really appreciate about you is that you're a very good listener."
Step 2: Give evidence. Say, for example: "The reason I say that is because when I discuss a new project with you, you always probe, ask additional questions, and give good feedback. This tells me that you're engaged in what I'm saying."
Step 3: Ask an open-ended question. The natural response to step 2 would be for an employee to return the favor by saying something nice about the manager who is paying the compliment. However, that is not the desired outcome in this format. The idea is to let the employee absorb the appreciation being given. So the next step is to ask an open-ended question. For example, "How did you develop such good listening skills?"
Let the individual talk about experiences and jobs that have helped her develop her professional character. This keeps the focus of the appreciation on the person, where it should be, so she can enjoy in it, feel its sincerity, and build on her strength. She will know that the point of expressing appreciation was not to get something in return, but because the manager really cares about her.
This format for targeted appreciation removes from employees the feeling that they are just getting a pat on the back before being assigned to the next project. At some point, tangible rewards may follow, such as a gift certificate for a dinner out for an employee who put in an extra 40 hours last month, an extra day off, or being advanced to the top of the list for the next promotion.
However, do not assume that tangible rewards are required. It's not either/or, but the right combination of tangible and intangible rewards that most effectively engages employees.
The three-step system for expressing sincere appreciation is also effective in training. For example, Universal Hospital Systems (UHS) conducted formal training to help its subject matter experts present leadership and sales training in a more effective way.
Trainers observed the presenters in action and used the three-step process to provide comments about the trainees' strengths (for example, strong opening remarks, fielding questions, or using gestures appropriately). "It made the trainers' feedback more powerful and successful," says Walter Chesley, UHS's senior vice president of human resources.
UHS also uses a range of other intangible means to engage employees. "We don't believe business information should be only in the hands of senior managers," says Chesley. "It should cascade down to every employee. Our senior management team is very committed to going out into the field and communicating organizational strategies and plans to employees in person," he states.
"Every time we do, employees thank us for being visible rather than just sending a written communication. Employee surveys also go a long way toward recognizing employees as key contributors," Chesley says, "provided you follow up by telling them what actions will be taken based on their suggestions."
As part of its "celebrate excellence" program, the UHS HR department sends electronic thank-you cards to employees who demonstrate excellence. "Our CEO also sends personal notes to new hires. He did not want to do that electronically," says Chesley.
Department members are highly committed to a thorough onboarding process. They provide each new hire with a buddy or mentor to accelerate their assimilation. As a more tangible way to motivate employees, they are encouraged to pursue learning through in-house training initiatives, or externally through UHS's tuition reimbursement and professional development funds. UHS also sponsors charity events in the community to give employees an opportunity to act on their desire to help others.
Do not use intangible rewards as a permanent substitute for tangible rewards. If a particular individual is constantly being rewarded intangibly for doing more and more, it should be an indication that this is a high-potential employee who should be given recognition on a broader level. For example, the appreciation might be given by the CEO to highlight the employee's contribution to the rest of the organization. Ultimately, the high-potential employee will be next in line for a tangible reward such as a raise, promotion, or bonus.
A new model for developing human potential
The only sustainable competitive advantage is found in engaged individuals, but traditional methods have not always succeeded in developing people to their fullest potential. Some approaches have been too lockstep, and others, too soft. The value model of development combines the best of traditional approaches to bring out the best in people so that they can drive the organization toward its goal.
Knowing the specific reasons behind nonperformance and the precise actions to address each one is the foundation of the new model. Using this model, systems can be built to engage employees and unleash human potential.t+d