Sunday, January 4, 2009

The Performance Radical

Imagine an organization run by peak performance. As you begin to reverse engineer the moving parts, you will probably see precise systems, strong managerial controls, and a bunch of radicals. We’re not referring to those destructive types that tear down progress. We’re referring to those that are the catalyst for positive change and improved performance. We call them Performance Radicals (PR).

The Performance Radical is a valuable employee or member of a team who has a heightened awareness of performance. We’ll define performance as the ability to move from past goals to meet or exceed the present and future goals of an organization. As a training professional it is essential we recognize this group of employees. They are our subject matter experts (SME). They help us define our performance and training objectives. Their participation in the training process gives credibility to the final product and helps to ensure buy in from all levels of the organization. They are an organization’s star performers and by their very nature they stand ready to lead their teams to success.

Sounds too good to be true? We don’t think so. They are not the end all too every corporate woe but they do act as a catalyst whose specialty assists in helping the organization grow. It’s similar to the role of a bolt being so critical as a part of a system that holds up a structure as large as a skyscraper. Its absence weakens the structure and makes it vulnerable to collapse over time. We will explore the PR, its value to the organization and how we can harness their skill and talent to meet and exceed present and future goals.
The Performance Radical is our hedge into the innovation of performance. Their skill, talent, and commitment are the starting point for best practices. Their success can inspire others to action. They advocate positive change and their attitudes are contagious. Motivations will vary but they are committed to streamlining work flow and technique to maximize output. Perhaps they do it to create more personal time or maybe they are energized by the challenge of change and the success of the organization. Their motivations may vary but they are undeniably a resource to helping an organization meet their goals.

THE PERFORMANCE RADICAL IS OUR HEDGE INTO THE INNOVATION OF PERFORMANCESome would call this a mythical character along the same lines as a Centaur. Their powers are the stuff of legends but no one has ever walked side by side with one. This may be true for a half man half horse, but not for a Performance Radical. Chances are strong that you, the reader fall into this category of performer. The PR can be recognized by 4 basic skills.

The Performance Radical is very systematic. They have a mastery of the steps involved in completing the tasks they are employed to perform. They can push the limits of the system to help it change and grow to accommodate progress.

While working with a major retailer’s distribution chain, I saw the clarity of this skill with one of their warehouse workers. We’ll call him Hal. He wasn’t a supervisor but you could see an informal recognition his peers would give him. I was curious so I researched a little further. His supervisor as well as many or his peers ranked him among the best in the warehouse. So, what made him the best, I thought. His performance reviews were all top ranked. His daily performance logs were all above goal. Then I observed his work.

He was very focused. He would leave the office for the warehouse in his electric lift and never needed to retrace his steps. He was as linear as they came. Other lift operators would move back and forth throughout the warehouse, even returning to the office for various reasons. Not Hal.

Hal had developed a streamlined version of the role of a lift operator. I felt compelled to discuss my observations with Hal. He was more than eager to share. He explained that his system started with the “sort” (process of sorting labels for the order picking process). The office clerks did not know the job of the order picker and therefore sorted the labels the most efficient way for them. Hal showed how a simple shuffle of labels allowed him to avoid traffic jams with other operators which slowed down productivity. He was always the last to leave the office for the warehouse. Now I understood why. He spent 5 minutes re-organizing the work of the clerk to help him be more efficient. Hal also wanted to know where the bulk of the day’s orders were coming from. Basically, he was building awareness of his co-workers to stay out of their way. I think it was more to keep them out of his way. Hal had worked out a system that allowed him to maximize his productivity. Eventually, Hal’s system was adapted by the office clerks and the other order pickers. Productivity quickly improved for that department.

The Performance Radical is analytic. They understand the fundamental problem and will make solution – oriented recommendations. The GAP of what should be done versus what is being done is crystal clear to them. As trainers we can put countless hours into the needs assessment of a performance gap. The Performance Radical is at ground zero of the problem and has an insight that is costly to ignore.

During another consult, I was working with a sales organization. The company was measuring performance on sales and calls made. Katie was struggling to make both her sales and call goals. After
THE PERFORMANCE RADICAL IS AT GROUND ZERO OF THE PROBLEM AND HAS AN INSIGHT THAT IS COSTLY TO IGNOREspending the morning observing her, we sat down over lunch to discuss her views. She was surprised I wasn’t coaching her. In fact, she said she was feeling a little uneasy at how quiet I had been, almost ambiguous. I asked her if she thought I was the expert at her job. Hesitantly, she said no. I agreed. I asked her to give me her impression of the problem.

Katie spewed out a few sales numbers and other metrics. She had about 10 charts that she measured every aspect of her job she could. After about 20 minutes she stops herself and says,” You really want to know the problem.” My answer was obvious. She had a large geography compared to most of the reps within her district. She was logging in several hours of windshield time compared to her peers. Once a week she would have to drive for 2.5 hours each direction to a small remote town. She explained that the company’s expectations required she make the trip. If she didn’t, it would affect a heavily considered performance metric. Because of the drive, her whole day would be dedicated to this town and its limited potential. The drive also prohibited her from doubling back during the week to hit those target areas that were more accessible and profitable. After she explained the problem, she stated she had a recommendation.

The potential for greater sales in this remote area was very limited. However, she agreed that these customers do have relevance and should not be ignored. She felt they did not need nor did they expect to see her weekly. Once a month would be more than sufficient for their needs. If she were to adjust her schedule she could free up 3 days a month to service larger accounts. She even outlined which clients she could double back on throughout the week. Katie understood her business, the performance gap and the underlying problem. Her solution was simple and effective. Her routing adjustment trickled to other territories and that district was able to exceed several of their performance metrics.

The third skill set the Performance Radical has is experience. We could argue that experience is more a value than skill. Therefore, we’ll define experience as the ability to do a task (or job) continuously for an extended period. As you identify most Performance Radicals, you will clearly see their veteran status. They have done their job or a specific task for a long time. Their daily work almost becomes a subconscious reflex. Although I wouldn’t recommend it, they could probably do it blind folded. Hal was a 12 year veteran in warehouse operations. Katie was a sales representative for 7 years. Both had experiences that helped them formulate best practices. Experience also helped them to identify that there was a problem, an obstacle that was preventing them from exceeding expectations.

Finally, the Performance Radical has the skill of entrepreneurship. The ability to make decisions to deliver a valuable product or complete a critical task. They own the business. They own the problem. They own the solutions. These performance warriors are heavily vested in success, theirs’ and the company’s. The state of the company, the limits of the system, and the restrictions of their leadership will deny this skill. Hence it could be stealthy. If a PR is unable to make decisions, this skill will not be enabled to its full potential.

Mark, a store manager for a retail chain was a PR I had worked with a few years ago. He showed strength in all the other skills but entrepreneurship was evasive. He was performing well within the organization but there were some challenges which were limiting him. While trying to identify the problem, I decided to explore the team dynamic of Mark, his peers, and his higher leadership. Mark was tasked to prepare his store for a major holiday. The task was layered with multiple assignments from building displays to creating staffing models and more. Mark seemed more than confident that he understood all the specific and implied tasks of preparing the store. He even understood the value of the promotion to pushing his sales forward. Mark totally owned the process and started to build his plan. He met with his department managers, solicited their feedback, created an action plan, and submitted it to his district manager. Everything came to a complete halt for 5 days.

Mark’s district manager (DM) was a hands-on manager (not necessarily the best at enabling his subordinates). He was responsible for 7 stores. His guidance was that he wanted to meet face to face with each manager and his staff to review their plans. The meeting would last about 3-4 hours. This meant that the he could do 2 per day. The problem is that nothing could be put in place until the DM approved the plan. Mark was the last store on the DM’s tour.
With a weekend in the middle of the tour, the DM would not visit Mark’s store for 5 days. The project needed to be completed within 12 days. The DM was essentially
THESE PERFORMANCE WARRIORS ARE HEAVILY VESTED IN SUCCESS, THEIRS’ AND THE COMPANY’Srobbing this store of almost 50% of its preparation time. Mark approached me and said, “This is typical but there are some things I could do.”

Mark had already informed all his department managers to contact the stores that were already beginning their preparations. He told them, they need to find the consistencies of each store’s plans. Basically, Mark was banking on the predictability of his supervisor. As each department had learned more about the other stores, they tweaked their plans. Generally, all the preparations Mark and his supervisors were doing prior to the DMs visit were fairly safe. The higher risk tasks that could be halted by the DM were minimal. When the DM had finally met with Mark and his team, they had placed product orders for their displays and staffed that evening to begin building and preparing the store. The DM ultimately made minor changes. Mark’s entrepreneurship was heavily limited by the DM but he was still able to meet his goals.

The DM and I had lunch after the meeting. I asked why Mark’s store had to lose 5 days of preparation. He gave a variety of answers, all of which I questioned their validity. Ultimately, he simply was a control freak and wanted to make sure everything looked the way he wanted it too. I challenged him to question the efficiency behind that decision. By the end of the conversation, he had embarrassingly admitted that he was micro-managing. We discussed ways to avoid this. Despite the limitations the DM placed on Mark, he rose to the challenge, owned the business and met his goals. This DM did not manage Mark effectively to allow him to potentially excel at the task.

Manage is a word to use delicately when referring to the system that creates the best environment for the PR. As we have discussed, the PR does not need conventional management. This generic form of management may restrict and control the PR which is counter-productive. The Performance Radical has needs that will enable her to excel.

· The PR needs to be challenged.
· The PR needs to be rewarded.
· The PR needs to be respected
· The PR need to be consulted
· The PR needs to be coached
· The PR needs to make mistakes freely.
· The PR needs to be held to a high standard
· The PR needs moments of autonomy to work through problems.

We often think of our star performers as those needing the least attention. This couldn’t be further from the truth.
Training can be used to develop your employees into Performance Radicals. As with all training there are specific goals and objectives. Following are a set of fundamental goals to help you develop training to strengthen your PR candidates. At the conclusion of your training, the trainees will be able to:

1. Identify the organization’s Mission, Vision and Business Objectives.

2. Identify business objectives of their level and at least one level above.

3. Identify the task and standards that directly impact business objectives.

4. Demonstrate expertise in performing the tasks that directly impact the business objectives.

5. Conduct evaluation of performance at frequent intervals and create a record of such.

6. Discuss bench mark learning and challenges with peers and supervisors in a formal setting and create a record.

7. Present outlook to higher management.

The PR is an important tool to helping the organization exceed its expectations. Her value is precious to her immediate team, supervisor, the organization and especially you the trainer. As a trainer, you must form a strong partnership with the PR during every phase of your training design and execution. When properly mentored and coached, the PR helps the organization understand its limitations. This knowledge ultimately helps organizations remove barriers and allow their teams to become Radical.
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1 comment:

  1. Companies must never be complacent with the performance of their employees since they should be improving on a regular basis. If the performance of their workers are either plain constant just or worse, going downhill, they need to initiate programs to improve workforce performance.