From Poor to Peak Performance
As we stood outside a conference room in Pakistan waiting to deliver a Masterclass on Behavioural Waste™ Management we did what we always do and looked at the banners by the entrance. Why? Simply because that’s what the delegates see last and it’s always good to know what you’re going to say first, so the audience and you know you’re in the right place!
At this particular event, there was a banner by the entrance from a Learning & Development (L&D) provider stating,
‘We unlock people’s potential’
which as ever got us thinking. It’s a great quote and can be found all over the world not only from L&D but it’s also prominent from coaching and probably other sources too.
One such coaching source, as some will say the guru of business coaching, former racing driver Sir John Whitmore, who sadly died in April, quoted in one of his books,
“Coaching is unlocking people’s potential to maximize their own performance”
and Graham Williams knows all too well having been part of Sir John’s team that John saw a clear link between potential and performance.
But what does this actually mean for organisational performance on a strategic or operational basis?
Do organisations really want everyone to unlock their full potential and become peak performers?
The answer to the second question would probably be a resounding NO! Now at first reading that might be a surprise to you but in short it’s unrealistic, as we’re only human and we can’t all be Superman or Superwoman and what would it be like if we were all peak performers? However when you think a little deeper what organisations want are most of their employees
to perform to a level that delivers value and, in some cases, adds value.
This would therefore seem a reasonable expectation – people engaged with what they do and ‘performing’ at work.
So when you try to measure this reasonable expectation what we unfortunately find, according to Gallup, 87% of employees across the world are disengaged, which means that they are probably poor and ineffective performers.
That doesn’t mean people are doing nothing and many are not busy, but that they are probably engaged in activities that do not deliver value, directly or indirectly. In other words, busy doing things that amount to Behavioural Waste™, which can be personal, cultural or systemic, of no value or of negative value to the organisation, and yet are costly and will negatively impact the bottom line.
If a majority of people at work are disengaged then unlocking their potential to some degree would make perfect sense.
This ‘unlocking’ process however requires a Can-Do attitude on the part of all the participants and then it’s linked to a clear purpose. Traditionally, the L&D’s approach to this challenge is to provide these disengaged underperforming people with an assessment of some sort followed swiftly with knowledge training.
Does this approach work? Has anyone ever checked it does?
An opportunity not to be missed
We regularly take the opportunity to ask L&D professionals five basic questions to try to understand how effective this knowledge training input has on improving performance by unlocking potential, and what it actually delivers. The questions are simple:
- What do you do to unlock people’s potential?
- Does it work?
- Does it change attitudes and behaviours?
- Does it improve business results?
- Where is the evidence?
What do you do to unlock people’s potential?
The first question is usually easily answered. With great enthusiasm L&D professionals tell us that
they create programmes that provide people with the knowledge that they, the L&D professional, think people need to perform their role in their context.
Does it work?
The second question took a bit more thought as most say that they sometimes did test the learning, at other times they didn’t. This did not answer the broad question as to whether their approach works. Nor indeed were they able to say with any confidence that it did work. But they all performed feedback after the learning – the proverbial happy sheet was logged in the filing system. Most said they used these feedback forms to bring back the best trainers/teachers.
Does it change attitudes and behaviours?
On the third question we’re told that it is almost impossible to measure attitude and behavioural changes. It was obvious this is a very strongly shared belief that dominated the L&D mindset and culture. It can’t be done! Sadly for them we know it’s not true. We do it! How can we measure the success of what we do otherwise?
Does it improve business results?
On the fourth question (which is what a manager, leader, board and shareholder wants to know) we’re told it is up to the participants to take that knowledge and use it. It’s not the responsibility of L&D! Whose responsibility is it?
Where is the evidence?
The fifth and last question is met with a simple reply, ‘they had no evidence that the training worked’ apart from the happy sheet taken on the day.
This last response doesn’t surprise us because it’s likely to be beyond their responsibility – but if not theirs whose responsibility is it? Who should measure the real ROI of the training?
Interestingly if anyone had looked, since 1989 (Alliger and Janek) it has been known that the link between learning, behavioural change and results is virtually non-existent. In 2005 Donald Kirkpatrick of training evaluation fame stated that there is a ‘devastating disconnect between learning and behavioural change’, and in 2007 the CIPD said in an article on training evaluation that the transfer of learning into results is ‘no better than random chance’. Clear research evidence simply proves it does not work. Is anyone aware of that? Should HR or L&D be aware of it?
The amount of time, effort and money that is invested in training by organisations across the globe is staggering yet they still do it, and organisations ask for it. If there is no evidence that it works, surely common sense says do something different. Or perhaps we’re just insane?