Developing employee potential?

by tomjaap on

Understanding the corporate landscape

You may be familiar with the printing term WYSIWYG which stands for What You See Is What You Get, whereas if involved in the corporate world it would tend to be What You See Is Not What You Get. This is why it is very important to learn and understand ‘corporate speak’ if you want to truly achieve your potential. The fact that a lot of the promises that are made are seldom delivered is not due to untruths but can be attributed to the good intentions of executives, who unfortunately, tend to live in a different universe from most employees.

During many consulting assignments I have listened to executives talk about their people being the most valued asset and that they plan to provide truly effective opportunities for them to make progress in the business. However, unfortunately the reality was very, very different mainly due to ingrained practices and processes. These tended to be implemented and controlled principally by Finance and HR as in most instances they were perceived to be an essential part of managing employees. This perception was based on a strong belief that employees needed strong management control to enable them to be productively effective. However, in most cases the strong management control was not aligned to enabling the employees to develop their potential as the rhetoric promised.

The past is still very much alive in organisations

The legacy of the management gurus of the early 20th century such as Fredrick Taylor and his notion of breaking down work to the smallest component would enable complete control of the production process still exists today. In fact in those early days his theory did in fact work mainly due to the inexperience of the mainly rural worker drawn into manufacturing. However for the thinking person, which covers most employees, ‘Taylorism’ was more of a strait-jacket than an enabler of production and career development.

The sad fact is that we are still lumbered with theories and practices dreamed up as a means of improving productivity which were eventually proved to be less effective than expected. Yet there is still a very strong belief that jobs can be broken down or factually described in ways that facilitate performance and productivity. Whereas the empirical evidence clearly disagrees. It is often found that more is achieved for the organisation and employees’ progression by discarding processes such as job descriptions, performance targets, competency profiles, many of which are now computerised and extend into all facets of the organisation. Of course, the purpose of keeping these processes is based on the notion that they can be used to effectively manage all grades of employees.

Employee assessment

It is interesting to note that the focus on ‘competencies’ has created an industry in itself. This is due to the fact that the concept appears quite simple yet in practice the application is incredibly complex. There have been many time that I have been presented with a competency profile of between 8 and 12 detailed competency descriptions. My answer was to suggest that for candidates to fit the template they would need to be able to “walk on water”. Rather than dealing with an academic model of performance the focus should to be on the specific behaviour required to effectively perform the job or position a person is being selected for. There also needs to be an equally clear description of what the person is expected to achieve and the resources that will be available to assist in the process.

When one describes specific behaviour and links it to expected outcomes most people find it very easy to understand. When this is coupled with regular conversations with the person as they tackle the work required the results can be quite amazing. Regular conversations based on seeking mutual understanding of what is required and providing guidance/support when needed goes a long way to helping the person succeed and feel good about it. In the absence of regular conversations, there is almost a guarantee that although we genuinely believe that we have given accurate information the probability is high that the listener did not hear it the way we say it.

Reluctance to change even when it is obvious

What I describe above may be considered too simplistic to cope with the complexity of work in most organisations. I can readily accept this view as it is often based on just how complex organisations have made the whole working arena. We only need to focus on the incredible amount of unproductive time that is spent in strategic planning, operational planning, people development planning, performance appraisals, and a multitude of additional meetings that take place on an ongoing basis in organisations. Complexity is in fact the name of the game played by management and they often turn to technology to try and make it understandable only to unfortunately make it even more time consuming and complex for most employees. Working differently as described above can improve employee engagement by allowing/encouraging them to use their capabilities to achieve agreed outcomes in the most effective way. This would enable them to fulfil their true potential.

I was very pleased to read recently in a Forbes magazine that a number of companies were throwing out performance appraisal and replacing them with ongoing conversations as described above. It certainly takes courage to challenge the orthodoxy of any management practice that has been ingrained in the organisation, particularly as making them understandable and applicable, would mean the loss of some well paid jobs. I certainly believe that too many well paid managers already know what needs to change but are unwilling to make it as it could be seen as too big a self-sacrifice.

Keeping it simple by reducing complexity

I support the idea of seeking simplicity in everything we do whether at work, home or play. When people encounter processes that are easy to understand and apply it comes as no surprise that they tend to be committed to produce the required results. However, the vast number of people employed in planning and processing all the outputs from meetings and appraisals tend to present organisations with their greatest challenge. If organisations don’t address it and seek simplicity, they are likely to continue to perform in a mediocre manner that produces mediocre results. This is a sad outcome for organisations because they are blind to the fact that they actually have people, who given the opportunity, are capable of producing great results. All that is needed is the courage to scrap a lot of the bureaucracy and encourage people to hold conversations about what is expected and how it can be achieved.

If you have any comments on this blog I would appreciate hearing from you by either contacting me by email at or leaving a comment on the blog.

Best wishes


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