Optimising Your Performance

Optimising Your Performance
By Paul Clifford and Carly Newman

Aren’t the habits of human beings interesting? Some things we just do routinely without sufficient questioning. We are habitual creatures and we use habits as a way of creating efficiency and consistency in our lives. We are habitual at work too.

Take jobs for instance - the types that belong in an organisation. We are conditioned to believe that employees occupy jobs and that jobs typically have defined boundaries. We fill those jobs with tasks until they’re full and we give each a name. We organise jobs into families. We have order and structure. That is our routine.

And, every now and again we consider whether the way we have structured these jobs is actually the best way to serve our purpose. We muse, “Are we doing the right jobs? Aren’t we as an organisation, as a group of employees, trying to find solutions and service customers? Maybe the way I have set up my team or my organisation is more about completing tasks than identifying solutions that achieve our purpose?”

Such thinking is particularly wise in this era of doing more with less and where competition can be ferocious.

The thought is fleeting. Before we know it we’re back to the comfort of what we’re used to.

Let’s resist the push-back to our comfort zone for a moment and imagine an organisation without defined jobs ruled by tasks. Imagine instead we have a group of people who come together with only a clearly defined purpose. It’s on their mind at all times. What they do may differ from day to day.

Yesterday’s tasks may no longer be the best way to achieve that purpose, so those tasks are abandoned in favour of new tasks. On it goes, week by week, month by month, all in the name of achieving the purpose. Can you imagine it?

So the question you might be asking next is, “What’s in it for us to make the switch from task focus to purpose focus?” It’s summed up in one word: Results!

The closer we get to a workplace ruled by purpose as opposed to task, if it’s done right, we’re likely to hit our “success” metrics sooner and more often. Why? Because in this world, inefficiencies and wastage are eliminated more frequently and new ideas generated to replace them.

Better still, you are not the one having to find them. Your employees are doing that themselves. They are constantly process reengineering looking for solutions.

They are not completing tasks as the end game. They don’t wait for someone to point out inefficiencies in their work. Purpose drives them to do it themselves.

They are taking the initiative and identifying the required changes themselves. The changes, the innovations, are made often and rapidly so the inefficiencies don’t have much time to loiter. The waste is cut repeatedly as the process is refined and refined so as to achieve the purpose – the results that matter i.e., to maximise the outcome for the client and/or revenue.

Now compare this nirvana to your world. Think about your current group of employees. How often do they innovate or process reengineer? Does it happen once a week, once a month, once a year? In many organisations innovation is so rare it’s an event. The thinking about purpose and creating better ways to do things may simply not exist. Alternatively, in your organisation it might be happening more than you think. Maybe all you need is to tweak your approach and you’ll find your employees doing it more and more until they truly start embracing purpose over task.

Whichever is your reality, the switch away from task to purpose is cultural change, mindset change. So how do we do it?

Firstly, employees and managers need to reflect and challenge themselves.

Managers can start by asking themselves some questions.

  • Do I challenge my employees to think about why they are doing things, not just how?
  • Do I clearly explain to my team what our purpose is and how it fits into the organisation’s purpose?
  • Can I explain what our team and organisation’s purpose is? If no, how can I expect my team to articulate it?
  • How do I give my employees autonomy? Do I know they feel empowered to make decisions?
  • What strategies do I use to get my team excited about our mission?

Employees too can ask themselves some pertinent questions.

  • When I’m at work do I write a ‘tasks I need to do today’ list or do I write an ‘outcomes I need to achieve today’ list.
  • What value am I generating completing this task? How does it achieve our purpose?
  • Am I clear on what my/my team/my organisation’s purpose is? When did I last ask my manager that question?

Secondly, managers need to influence their employees to own restructuring and “process re-engineering” to align task with purpose. Managers should not aspire to be the only ones doing this type of analysis. Managers should be striving to build staff capability and interest in this critical exercise. To achieve this buy-in and ownership, managers need to tap into what motivates and drives their employees.

The research into human motivation says that your best chance to optimise performance in each employee is to give them meaning and autonomy. Meaning through connecting them with the organisation’s vision and purpose, and the autonomy to decide what tasks are aligned with the organisation’s strategy and how they will be carried out. This requires leaders to very clearly articulate to employees their organisation’s purpose and destination and get them excited by it. An individual that is truly engaged and committed to a purpose can in most cases be trusted to align what they do and how they do it to that purpose.

Meaning and autonomy awakens the soul of those with task focused blinkers on. Meaning creates something worthwhile to strive for and autonomy inspires a desire to take the necessary action — to lead, to initiate, to make a proactive contribution, to make changes now —  to achieve that purpose.

We know that a significant proportion of the Australian workforce is not fully engaged. Recent studies by BlessingWhite and the Gallup Organisation across Australia & New Zealand put the figure at 63 per cent and 60 per cent non-engagement, respectively. Knowing this is important because engagement has been a proven metric of organisational performance with the most recent State of the Global Workforce report demonstrating engaged business/work units yield 10 per cent better customer ratings, 22 per cent greater profitability, 21 per cent greater productivity, 25 per cent to 65 per cent lower turnover, 48 per cent fewer safety incidents, 37 per cent lower absenteeism, 41 per cent fewer patient safety incidents, and 41 per cent higher quality scores (Gallup, 2013).

A significant contributor to these high non-engagement scores is the disconnect employees feel from the vision and purpose of their team and the organisation. They have a limited sense of their impact on the organisation and how their work connects to its wider aims and goals. We can’t possibly expect optimal performance when very few employees have the requisite knowledge about the organisation’s purpose to make good choices to carry out tasks that align with that purpose.

By encouraging reflection and providing meaning and autonomy, managers can trigger a sizeable shift in the mindset of their employees – where purpose is a constant pre-occupation and nothing is done that does not serve that purpose. Whilst the nirvana posited may seem a long way off for you, incremental gains in productivity and performance are there for the taking. It may take less than you think.


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Guest Wednesday, 26 June 2019