Performance through people – fact or fiction?

All too often companies espouse great values but fail to live up to them. However, as Alan McGilvray writes, companies that address the issue of disconnect have a greater chance of longevity or sustainability compared to their competitors

All too often companies espouse great values but fail to live up to them. However, as Alan McGilvray writes, companies that address the issue of disconnect have a greater chance of longevity or sustainability compared to their competitors

People are our greatest asset.” This throwaway phrase is exactly that. All too often companies espouse great values but fail to live up to them. I can’t remember how many companies I’ve visited where somewhere in the office there is a picture of the CEO with an underlying caption making some bold statement about some kind of vision.

Vision and mission statements can all appear grandiose values but are unfortunately the starting point of the disconnect between fact and fiction as far as the employees are concerned.

In my experience such statements are often made by CEOs and management groups without the involvement of the most important employee representative – the HR manager.

Any company that truly values its people must have adequate HR-driven systems in place. I am not talking payroll and the like here, but systems that relate to development (career planning), appraisals, performance management and competency frameworks.

In my opinion, the main reason for this disconnect is that the above systems are either not in place to allow the values to be fulfilled, or if they are in place they are not properly used. Making statements that aren’t being fulfilled also tells you something about the culture of companies and by definition, you will therefore find examples of disconnect when the issue is one of culture. In my view it’s simply a case of companies having a disconnect between preferred and actual culture.

Let’s look at two obvious areas where this can occur: development (career planning) and appraisals.

Developing people is a skill that a lot of managers just don’t have. All sorts of cultural issues can play a role here. One example of this occurs in organisations where competitive cultures exist and managers will actually suppress talent to avoid feeling threatened by it.

I recently heard an unbelievable quote from a senior manager. When asked why his company didn’t spent money on developing people his answer was that they would leave. This tells you volumes about the culture of that company.

Too often managers will opt for the easy line when faced with people-development issues. Having just taken over a new post, I remember once being told by a junior staff member that he had been assured by my predecessor that “he was in the plan” regarding his promotion possibilities. My immediate reaction was to ask the guy where the plan was – no prizes for guessing that it didn’t exist.

Another example of avoiding the development issue is when managers use the expression: “I would like to help you (in your career development) but they won’t let me.”

Who the heck are they and where do they live?

In fact a management colleague of mine was so tired of hearing this expression in his company that he put a large poster on his wall, which simply stated: “They have left the building!”

Linked to development are appraisals, and appraisals are for me a very important issue. It has been my experience that a lot of line managers simply cannot professionally appraise their staff, especially in companies that have very well developed appraisal systems.

This is where a classic disconnect occurs. The appraisee is waiting to hear how they can improve and develop, only to be met by meaningless statements from a manager who is very uncomfortable with the process.

Why is this? Most likely because the manager is too afraid to admit that they need training to help them do the job properly. Again this can be a cultural issue. The simple cause of this may be that the culture of the company doesn’t make him feel comfortable admitting he needs training as this could be construed as a weakness.

Another problem for me is the annual appraisal. This tells me, again, a lot about the culture of companies that practice this annual ritual. Surely there is little chance of a constructive outcome when a whole year’s performance is to be reviewed in one meeting, which can take as little as one hour – very conventional, but hardly useful.

For me, appraisals should be ongoing almost weekly reviews about how the individual’s contribution is complementing the company’s goals – an almost invisible process which can be formalised annually.

I know a CEO of a multinational company who never had one appraisal. His view was senior management were uncomfortable with the process and therefore avoided any confrontation – passive culture to say the least and a pretty poor example of how to develop people.

Now for the good news. These problems can be fixed.

Simply by measuring the preferred culture and the actual culture of an organisation you can assess the disconnect between what management would like to happen and what actually happens.

Any measurement of culture will be employee based and it’s therefore essential the HR department is involved in the assessment. Development of the required systems will be the task of the HR group, which in turn must have strong support from senior management.

Companies that address the issue of disconnect are truly the organisations which will connect with their people and, other market factors apart, have a far greater chance of longevity or sustainability compared to their competitors.

Measuring the company culture is the first step in confronting the disconnect and walking the talk from the top across the length and breadth of the company.

After all, who truly wants to work in a disconnected world?

Alan McGilvray is a former managing director of Bayer A&NZ and is now director of consulting firm Norvox, which specialises in creating performance cultures. Email: [email protected]

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