Employee performance is probably the most important variable in the success of any organization. However, relatively few organizations approach employee performance in a holistic manner.
The focus is usually on ensuring individuals do their best work. But a focus on the individual misses the opportunity to take a systemic approach that leverages the potential of the collective to transform the organization.
Aside from the individual's actual contributions, there are three major variables that influence actual performance outcomes: culture, supervision, and management systems. These strategic variables have an immeasurable impact on the substance of who does what work and how.
Not understanding the impact of these variables causes individuals to do good work that is less important, less valuable, and has less impact because it is misapplied within the collective work of the organization.
One example is that good work can be performed at the wrong time because it is not in sync with the organization's immediate priorities. Human resources strategy links individual effort to organizational outcomes in the most efficient and effective manner possible.
How culture impacts employee productivity
Each organization's culture defines what is considered good and what level of performance is acceptable. Culture demands a certain level of output, allows certain sacred cows, ignores particular rules, tolerates a degree of complacency or encourages some amount action or inaction. Most often such beliefs and practices are unwritten - but are widely held and followed.
Overlooking the prime driver of culture on performance is analogous to assuming one's personality does not affect their ability to perform. Everyone knows that attitude and desire to work matters.
Culture is that important on an organizational level.
Strong leadership and guidance is key
Another key variable of any great performer’s success is a good leader, manager, or coach. Even the best performers benefit from support, guidance, encouragement and direction. When they are absent or poorly provided the potential of every individual involved is stunted.
present, strong leadership and guidance produces legends of performance,
whether these successes are on the sports field, in the boardroom, or on the shop
floor. However, super supervisors also need support themselves. This is the
role and function of the HR department—to provide support,
guidance, tools and systems that enable managers to provide
employees with the things they need to succeed.
Performance management systems can enable productivity
After considering the context, culture, and the ability of supervisors to fuel and empower employee performance, Human Resource has the major responsibility and the know-how to build systems that support individual and organizational success.
The obvious system is the performance management system, but the training function and how it is used to equip employees to work smarter and better is also critical. Compensation and incentives drive performance, as do policies and hiring procedures.
Human Resources has a host of tools in its tool kit, but they must be managed as a whole, linked together, and aligned with the mission, vision, goals and initiatives of the organization and its business objectives. This strategic approach to HR reflects the best of systems thinking and the realization that the whole should be greater than the sum of its parts.
HR can be masters of strategy
Human Resources can be masters of strategy by delivering a portfolio of solutions that support and reinforce one another. Strategy requires forethought, planning, and coordinated HR and business effort to ensure that the messages and drivers of performance are not in conflict.
These ideas can be summarized using the teachings of W. Edwards Deming. This is an apt quote that validates the argument that managing all of the variables that drive performance is necessary for success:
”The performance of anybody is the result of a combination of many forces—the person himself, the people that he works with, the job, the material that he works on, his equipment, his customers, his management, his supervision, and environmental conditions (e.g. noise, confusion, and poor food in the company cafeteria, etc.).”
is obvious that an individual must do their part to perform well. However,
individual contributions are performed in a given context. The impact of good
HR management can leverage and multiply the effectiveness of every employee if
the major strategic variables of culture, supervision, and systems are properly
This is good news and a major challenge for the profession, as CHROs are positioned to be the chief architects and influencers of some of the biggest variables for organizational success.
Your turn: Do you have any tips for developing a strategic approach for performance?