In conjunction with Novartis and Unispace, ChapmanCG hosted two HR Leaders Discussion Groups in Sydney in early May to explore the topic “Building High Performance Organisations.”

In his report “Bersin Predictions 2017”, Josh Bersin stated that a focus on “Human Performance and Wellbeing”will become a critical part of HR, Talent, and Leadership. He said that overall engagement levels today are no higher than they were 10 years ago. Employees have become less productive and more over-worked. Despite more technology, we are not getting more done. The strategy for 2017 is for HR to become the “consultants in human performance”.

High performance is only high performance if it is sustainable and not at the cost of associates. The HR Leaders in attendance identified that there usually needs to be a transformation in leadership and culture and an improvement in engagement in order to drive high performance. End-to-end alignment between business strategy and HR strategy is another important factor, as is innovation. Here is a summary of the key points raised in these discussion groups:

1. Leadership

Leadership is key to building a high-performance organisation. Leaders need to focus on people objectives and how to bring out the best in their teams. When organisations get the right leaders and HR is supported and enabled, this convergence underpins high performance. High performance leaders possess the following capabilities:

  • Self-awareness and authenticity: leaders need to know what they stand for and the behaviours that are their derailers.
  • Accountability: to truly lead change, leaders need to hold others and themselves accountable for creating the desired change.
  • Inclusion: leaders must actively seek different perspectives, and allow those differences of opinions to impact change.

Leaders need to have a talent mindset and become better coaches. They need to lead the change. A good question to assess whether a leader has what it takes is: “Who are the last three people you promoted?”

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2. A Partnering and Trusting Mindset

HR Business Partners need to move from a mindset of service to a mindset of partnership. More specifically, HR Business Partners need to build credibility, step-up and challenge, advise and provide strategic value by consulting to their business leaders.

The other powerful strategy is to move away from a policy-centred HR approach to a principle-centred one. Purposefully having minimal policies, introducing flexible work arrangements, trusting employees to get the job done without micro-management, increasing collaboration, and creating activity-based work all contribute to high performance.

To determine whether a policy is necessary, a good question to ask is: “What policies and processes would we implement if everyone was awesome, grown-up and made good decisions?”

Asking this type of question may mean you implement no policy at all, just leave it to the judgement and discretion of the associates and leaders themselves.

3. End-to-End Alignment

Organisations need to align their customer strategy with their business strategy and their HR strategy in a way that associates can identify and support. For example, moving away from revenue targets to NPS targets has been successful in retail environments. Giving more responsibility to the stores and the individual businesses while at the same time managing horizontally and increasing levels of feedback have improved things.

Regular feedback and transparency are important factors. “Officevibe” is a Canadian software product with a funky weekly engagement survey that pinpoints where things aren’t working.

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4. Positive Deviants—Inherent Innovators

Organisations known for their innovation attract certain types of employee—those who aren’t solely financially motivated, but are also interested in how an organisation gets work done.

Paul Hawkins, Chief Combobulator at CrazyMightWork, an innovation consultancy in Sydney, introduced the group to the concept of “Positive Deviance”. Positive deviance is an approach to behavioural and social change based on the observation that in any community, there are people whose uncommon but successful behaviours or strategies enable them to find better solutions to a problem than their peers, despite facing similar challenges and having no extra resources or knowledge than their peers. These individuals are referred to as positive deviants.

When positive deviants are allowed to flourish, their ideas often leads to alternative strategies and innovative outcomes. Innovation is a great way to shift culture. Experimentation, fail-fast-low-cost-and-low-risk leads to rapid learning. To create the right conditions for innovation, you need the right environmental processes and talent. Positive deviants also cause “culture by contagion” because their behaviours, attitudes and capabilities often rub off on the rest of the population.

CEB has identified five competencies of inventors and innovators:

  • Customer empathiser
  • Influencer
  • Results seeker
  • Risk taker
  • Idea integrator

Interestingly, some people possess none of these traits and it's virtually impossible to have high scores in all five competencies. The book, “Creative Confidence” by David Kelly, was cited as a useful resource for enabling higher levels of innovation.

5. High-Growth Companies

The face of employees can change every six months in a high-growth company. To outperform, leaders in companies with accelerated growth (2x – 10x year-on-year) need the following capabilities:

– Ripple intelligence: joining the dots, strategic vision and organisational design.
– Resource fluidity: optimising resource utilisation as conditions change.
– Dissolving the paradox: finding value creation solutions to trade off and shift paradigm.
– Liquid leadership: flexibility to lead in high-growth environments.

The book, “Accelerating Performance” by Price and Toye, was highly recommended as part of this discussion. Change management comprises gaining leadership buying into and communicating the change message up to five times: communicating what it means to them, letting go of the people who don’t want to be part of the journey and having an agile approach to managing those who stay.

High-growth companies have also achieved success through crowdsourcing ideas. They focus on strengths rather than weaknesses, create lots of tools for managers, throw out performance management in favour of a “Choose Your Own Adventure” approach and decouple remuneration from performance.