Ladies and Gentlemen: May I Introduce the Elephant?

What would you say about a human body where the heart acts independently from the liver? Where the stomach tries to imitate the kidneys? Where the pancreas insists on doing its own thing? And the brain only knows to do today what it did yesterday? Well, we have just described the typical organization. Recruiting sees its job as filling seats. Training sees its job as conducting workshops. Human resources is hard at work managing paperwork. Managers try to get lame workers to be productive. And executives are frustrated by their inability to move the organizations from one direction to another. Our elephant is chopped up into pieces and strewn about the floor. It is not a pretty sight. It’s Not About Tasks; It’s About Performance The major problem with organizational performance is that people tend to view the organization in terms of their own little piece of the puzzle. Don’t agree? Then how else would you explain:

  • Recruiters who measure “success” by time to fill instead of employee quality?
  • Trainers who cannot show a decent ROI on training dollars?
  • Workshop participants who see little or no connection between training materials and their job?
  • Hiring managers who attempt to evaluate an entire library of employee skills based on a short conversation?
  • People promoted to positions of leadership based on their performance as individual contributors?
  • HR departments who attempt to design appraisal forms that fit all positions?
  • Managers who tell employees to “forget what they taught you and do as I say”?
  • “Leading edge” management gurus who write hundreds of pages on the “learning organization” or “reorganization” and give minor attention to skills necessary to accomplish the jobs?
  • Recruiters who try to learn “all they can” about a job without ever talking to people who do the jobs?

Each of these folks is trying to evaluate an elephant using a microscope. Stand Back and Get the Big Picture Let’s look for a moment to the company softball team where over-aged, out-of-shape adults annually compete to see who can injure the most important body part. The team has several choices:

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  1. If fun is more important than winning, then anyone can play.
  2. If winning is somewhat important, then only people who pass an interview can play.
  3. If winning is “Job #1,” then only people who pass tryouts can play, skilled coaches develop players, pre-game practice sessions are the norm, plays are videotaped and critiqued, and there is a non-stop focus on improvement.

Now imagine what would happen if all employees (managers and jobholders) had to pass comprehensive tryouts, continually practiced the skills necessary for doing the job, were coached by people who were promoted based on their coaching ability, had clear expectations about what they had to do, were rewarded based on their specific job tasks, and did not have anyone or anything interfering with their performance? Radical idea, huh? Step Up or Step Out Anyone who has studied Darwin (or who reads Fortune or Business Week) knows that the strong get stronger and the weak tend to perish. The same is true in organizations as suggested by the trend toward outsourcing training, IT and HR functions. Aside from production, support departments who do not directly contribute to the bottom line are progressively being replaced by specialty service companies who can do the same job cheaper and more efficiently. If you were a senior manager seeking ways to reduce overhead without sacrificing efficiency, could your department present a convincing business case for retention? Let me help by suggesting a few persuasive financial arguments you might use. Compared with a professional outsourcer, can you show ROI for:

  • Why the people you recruit are better producers, learn faster or turn-over less?
  • Why an inside training department costs less or does a better job than an outside one?
  • How you help management identify and promote skilled and successful managers?
  • How you can fine-tune the performance management system and redirect hiring strategy depending on management direction?
  • How you identify and support factors that encourage performance and eliminate or minimize factors that discourage performance?

If you are breaking out into a cold sweat about now, you are one step closer to enlightenment. You need to start immediately to get management to see the organization in terms of what it is: A group of people with variable skills, selected based on personal impressions, trying their best to stay organized in spite of mixed messages from the organization and managers. …and begin to transform it into: A group of people, each with specialized skills, receiving accurate feedback to achieve a common goal. Can you get them to see the whole elephant?

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