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Maximizing Performance: Take careful aim before you fire

A recent lunch meeting with a frustrated general manager made me realize once again how important it is to have an objective view of the status quo at a firm before trying to improve staff performance.
This particular GM wanted to consult with me about a series of training workshops he wanted to arrange to improve the work of his staff. He said no matter how many times he explained his vision of new work procedures, the staff did not seem to 'get it'. He understood the problem, but was far less sure of its causes and possible solutions.


Mari Novak

A recent lunch meeting with a frustrated general manager made me realize once again how important it is to have an objective view of the status quo at a firm before trying to improve staff performance.

This particular GM wanted to consult with me about a series of training workshops he wanted to arrange to improve the work of his staff. He said no matter how many times he explained his vision of new work procedures, the staff did not seem to 'get it'. He understood the problem, but was far less sure of its causes and possible solutions.

As I probed the general manager over what he meant when he said the staff didn't 'get' the changes and new procedures, it became clear that the problem was not just one of training, but more of performance improvement. Many staff knew the procedures and had the skills, but the two were just not coming together. After clarifying what it was the GM wanted to accomplish, we began to figure out what had to be done to get there.

There are several factors in improving both individual and team performance. If the GM was going to make his company a success, he needed to make an objective analysis of the situation before acting - no matter how small the firm's budget, if you don't know 'where we're at' you won't have much luck with 'where we're going'.

The first task is to identify key business indicators that can be measured empirically. It's not enough to demand simply 'reduced costs' or 'improved sales', which could be influenced by many factors. These concrete indicators then need to be tracked, before and after the planned interventions, to determine if the strategies are producing the desired results.

But the GM wanted action now. "What first?" I asked. "Are you really willing to invest a half million crowns or more in a shotgun approach? How will you know if we succeed? Isn't it better to take some time to analyze and aim, before wasting limited ammunition?"


Steven Kelly

Conscious of the need for haste as well as thoroughness, I suggested a multi-pronged approach - a survey of the 180 staff to identify critical areas from their point of view, complemented by a workshop with the management team to identify the critical business indicators to be addressed. This would be reinforced by analyses of critical tasks and employee focus groups to brainstorm problems and suggest solutions. In this way, commitment would be developed among the workteam - an important element in serious behavioural change.

The lunch ended on an upbeat note, a far cry from the frustration and confusion in which it began. We had gotten serious about improving performance, pursuing a strategy that could make all the difference in the short run, and most certainly over the long term.

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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