by Michael Heng
High Performance Organisations (HPOs) NOT Products of High Performance Individuals
The human talent in organisations is unmistakably the only competitive factor not easily imitated by competitors. People are the highest form of technology. Competitors realize quickly that even after they poach employees from each other, the performance of otherwise top performers often vary when the organizational context is changed. A sustained excellence in managing and developing human talent represents a rich area for companies to develop a sustaining competitive advantage.
The primary source of human talent is human intellect, human energy and human innovativeness. Knowing the importance and value of human resource as an intangible asset is not enough. Few leaders behave in a manner showing that they truly appreciate their talent worth. Some organisations could still reasonably function well with a command-and-control bureaucratic structure like most in the past. In the 21st century however, the successful organizations have transformed to be those who truly embrace human talent and apply a more focused and sophisticated approach to managing and developing their human capital.
The simple truth is that the high-performance organization (HPO) is not the product of high-performance individuals. HPOs are products of high-performance cultures. This is because individual employees, no matter how talented, are transient, but organizational cultures develops to pervade an organization, and endure. Sustainable impact performance is the outcome of a strongly embedded performance culture.
An individual’s innate ability matters less in determining organizational success than the attributes of the management system in which a person works. It is organisational systems, consisting of organizational processes and social dynamics that allow people to become and give of their best. Organisations preoccupied with determining best and worst performers often downplay attributes that are critical to building cultures and the management systems that bring out the best in everyone.
The “talent mindset” myth assumes that people make organizations smart. More often than not, it is often the other way around through organisational learning. Organisational learning develops tacit knowledge in employees. Tacit knowledge involves knowing how to manage yourself and others, and how to navigate complicated social situations.
Increasing globalization calls for dexterity and cultural mindfulness to fully realize the benefits of diversity and global reach. Today’s business uncertainties demand proactive and responsive minds rather than fixed methods and processes. The main challenge facing management leadership is to seek hitherto unconventional ways to manage and motivate their people with distinct and flexible styles of learning, focusing, producing, and communicating.
Much research have confirmed that when people are commended for their efforts at focusing on goals, strategising and working hard, they will be motivated to concentrate on learning goals and strategies for continuous achievements. This enhances and sustains their motivation, performance and self-esteem, thereby growing their talent base, personality and character.
A developmental approach is therefore necessary to nurture human talents as a priority, without falling into the “talent mindset” trap of excessive individualism. Research evidence on learning organisations also confirms that developing individual talent is not enough. The oft-quoted critique is that a team where each individual has an IQ of 180 may have a collective Team IQ of only 80 (This is, to me, the learned stupidity IQ level). It is self-defeating and of limited value to develop people as individuals when the other features of the workplace are not conducive to high performance, including leadership.
A holistic perspective has to be applied to mine and obtain the rich potential nature of the human talent. Leaders must first form a conscious and profound understanding of the human capital that will empower them to incorporate and integrate insights on management skills, emotional intelligence, digital intelligence, performance assessment, social networks, executive mentoring, coaching, and the balance between team and individual talent, leadership behaviours, continual real-time learning, social and cognitive psychology, communication skills, and the supporting web of technology infrastructure.
According to an Accenture study, a high-performance workforce is an important competitive advantage because corporate culture cannot be copied as easily as its products and marketing strategies. It recommended six imperatives used by successful companies to create a truly sustainable high-performance talent force:
- Hire “skillable”, not just skilled workers;
- Match talent with the right opportunities;
- Measure and develop talent in real time;
- Use adaptive goal setting;
- Lnk workforce actions to strategy and results; and
- Focus resources and new techniques on building skills and competencies.
Achieving sustainable competitive advantage through people involves a fundamental mindset change as to how we regard the talent force and the employment relationship. It means achieving success by working with and empowering people, not by replacing them or limiting the scope of their creativity and activities. It ultimately entails seeing the human talent as a critical source of corporate strategic advantage, not a cost to be minimised or avoided, or to be quickly discarded as layoffs as bad times loom. It is the acknowledgment of people as the true value creator of the organisation.