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Raising The Bar Published: Sunday, November 9, 1997 By: Dr. Manuel Angel Morales

Organizations have taken big strides in the past decade to move away from the work management practices that emerged in the 1940s. Markets, communities and social environments have become too complex and demanding to rely on the command - and control good old days model, in which few people made all the decisions.

The transition to this new reality of work (employees managed as assets, empowered through knowledge) has not been smooth or simple. Change is never easy to accept. Long - standing beliefs and ideologies about appropriate behaviors in a work setting can be tough to overcome. These mind-sets both influence personal behaviors and provide the framework for assessing the behaviors of others. Behavioral change requires a period of experimentation before an organization can expect to be reasonably effective. Employees, supervisors, managers and executives alike will have to reconsider their work patterns and develop new work relationships with the people around them.

Organizations are extraordinarily complex, and mayor change initiatives must contend with a long list of action levers, which are policies, practices or technology that can improve productivity, adopted singly or in combination and managed by the organization. A key secret is to orchestrate a process that eventually creates a balance between management`s expectation and the end results. We have followed such a turbulent path while crafting the quality philosophy and culture to transform organizations. In every organization, employees work within the parameters of a so called psychological contract. It is unwritten and largely unstated, but it implicitly recognizes what the institution is going to do for the employees and what the employees are going to do for the institution. It establishes the level of effort the individual is willing and expected to make, as well as the linkage between performance and organizational rewards. For example, if an employee is asked to work more hours than normal, as may be the case for knowledge workers on special projects, it might be advantageous for the organization to grant extra time off when the projects are completed or to recognize the extra effort with the bonus or other special rewards - otherwise, the individual may hesitate to put forth the same level of effort the next time.

A change endeavor that requires different behavior from employees prompts a need to renegotiate the contract. The options for the individual are to seek other employment, to go along merely to placate management and to survive, or to work with the organization to influence the proposed changes so that both sides win. Most of the action levers represent a change in the work situation; either they involve the need to develop new social and working relationships, or they require the development of new work behaviors. These behavioral changes demand a redefinition of the contract. The situation will prompt a high level of discomfort until new and satisfactory work relationships are established. This makes the contract and important consideration in the architecture of change initiatives.

But let us come back to a favorite topic. High performance does not happen automatically. It must be carefully designed, and experience indicates that it needs champions who provide intelligence, leadership and support. Again, people do not feel comfortable with change; they tend to resist the unknown, and they are often reluctant to commit to a transformation venture that has an uncertain future (the difference between pioneers and settlers). Change agents provide the leadership needed to get people out of their comfort zones. In a way, they must become merchants of vision, bringing new purpose and values to the institution. The challenge is to integrate new ideals into the domain of transformation. These leaders acknowledge that changes in the agendas of organizations are inevitable and necessary, and that there is need to address new concepts, personal responsibility, product and service quality, expanding markets, shrinking resources, technological advancements and culture transformation in order to adapt, thrive, innovate and lead.

Average teams are satisfied to be average; others expect to be champions. It all starts with the energy of leaders thriving to make high performance a group goal. However, the leadership role in setting the performance expectations or standards is often overlooked in conventional scenarios. Someone has to decide that it is possible to be the best or that, simply, there is a better way. It is not easy to aspire to world-class-olympic standards. People have to be challenged and convinced that the improbable is nevertheless possible.

Traditional human resources practices have focused on minimal performance standards and by now that has become part of the group psychology in many work units: "Everyone was good enough to be hired". It has also been perpetuated by traditional merit pay systems: "We need to keep our employees "whole". Everyone deserves some pay increase". The responsibility of leadership is pressing for the development of capabilities to be the best. It is about raising the bar.


Copyright 1997 QBS, Inc.
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