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HUMAN RESOURCES

Linkages crucial to firm performance

It was really me who was getting the lecture this time, and from a rather unlikely source. A professor of anthropology turned entrepreneur was explaining the need for the ever-expanding field of cultural anthropologists in this high tech world. As I had begun my university studies in cultural anthropology, I thought I knew enough to carry my end of the conversation. But I learned a few things about performance on the way.
What I learned about was linkages - how all of the elements in a given system must connect. Parts that do not connect to the whole, and are left to go their merry way, often bring entire systems to a grinding halt.


Mari Novak

It was really me who was getting the lecture this time, and from a rather unlikely source. A professor of anthropology turned entrepreneur was explaining the need for the ever-expanding field of cultural anthropologists in this high tech world. As I had begun my university studies in cultural anthropology, I thought I knew enough to carry my end of the conversation. But I learned a few things about performance on the way.

What I learned about was linkages - how all of the elements in a given system must connect. Parts that do not connect to the whole, and are left to go their merry way, often bring entire systems to a grinding halt.

People often focus on the little boxes on the organisation chart. Most problems, however, occur in the 'white space', the linkages between the organisational boxes. Virtually all activities at firms occur as processes, which in turn almost always involve linkages between areas of a company. Getting a product to the customer can involve six to eight company departments and perhaps 15-20 jobs. Most performance 'gaps' occur in the links between these jobs: communication, coordination and planning.

The factors on which performance depends are clear enough, and can be applied to both individuals and groups:


Steven Kely

1. Performance specifics. You know exactly what you are supposed to do.

2. Incentives /consequences. You get rewards for doing your job well, and particularly suffer no negative consequences (from bosses or peers) when producing the desired output.

3. Feedback loops. You get enough information (critique and pats on the back) so you can evaluate and correct errors or deficiencies.

4. Adequate resources. The tools, time and budget you are given are all adequate to achieve goals.

5. Knowledge, skills and procedures. Each person is competent at their job, while groups employ effective methods;

6. Individual capacity. Given the five factors above, everyone is able (physically, mentally) to do the job and work socially in the group

The cultural anthropologist and I talked about introducing a new service to the market, one which would help to ensure that staff performance factors were correctly identified and met. A weakness in any area, we thought, reduces the final output, no matter how strong the other factors. In other words, a team with great skills and individual capacity, sufficient funding, good incentives but poor feedback loops to correct outputs will turn in only a mediocre performance in the workplace. That means that all factors for any project have to fit together well.

It was very easy for my new colleague to see this. The unique perspective given him by his work helped him understand performance factors. What he made me see was the importance of linkages - when they break down or become blocked, organizations wither and in some cases die. That's why he was such a busy man. Most of his clients are now business organizations.

Mari Novak and Steven Kelly are partners at KNO Slovensko. Their column appears monthly. Send comments or questions to kno@gtinet.sk.

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