High performance work system

Wednesday, 2 March 2011 00:29 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

The way towards managing people towards the alignment of HR function and HR strategies with the business direction and strategy is known as the High Performance Work Systems (HPWS).

I suggest that the time is opportune for all who run or contribute to businesses to explore the meaning and significance of high-performance work systems.

If you have not introduced this concept to your team yet, debate around how to build a ‘high-skill’ or ‘high-road’ economy. The system alone, however good it may be, cannot deliver a high performance outcome. It requires people… people who are committed and people who care. Thus it becomes a critical HR prerogative for the Human Resources professionals to ‘roll up their socks’ and get into the business of ‘value adding’ HR.

The basic aim of HPWS

The basic aim of High Performance Work Systems is to enable employees to exercise decision making, leading to flexibility, innovation, improvement and skill sharing. By facilitating the development of High Performance Work Systems, you help your organisations to make the continuous improvement a way of life. This climate makes work life enjoyable and rewarding.

What is of greater consequence is the provision of a platform for the staff for sourcing knowledge, interpret for application to situations and the very application in a timely manner, followed with a tracking system to measure impact and continuity. This is ‘execution’ what all CEOs require.

I have developed a model for describing a path from knowledge sourcing to knowledge application at workplace aimed at delivering specific planned results (see figure 01, below).

Culture’s impact on people engagement

Organisational culture is the most important and the most difficult aspect over which you do not have a complete control. On the other hand this is a critical factor when it comes to people engagement. Corporate culture at its most basic level is the sum of an organisation’s behaviours and practices. It reveals itself in “how we do things around here”.

Organisation’s culture is driven by its corporate values. It becomes reality when people live those corporate values. In several companies, corporate values are beautifully printed, framed and hung on the prominent walls. Sadly, the walls have the culture and not the people.

If the HR professional can bring down the values from the framing on the walls and interpret it so that people can be assessed for ‘living the values,’ such an organisation will be blessed with a healthy, infectious culture that is good to promote HPWS.

In my experience, a high-performance culture can positively impact employee engagement in the following ways:

1. Provides meaning and emotional connection to a workforce that is searching for employment which offers more than just a pay-check. That connection translates into increased commitment and pride, which in turn, results in higher retention and discretionary effort.

2. Prevents bad business practices and behaviour that may not necessarily land your leaders in jail but can certainly alienate customers and employees who come to work each day with good intentions and high achievement needs. High-performance cultures weed out ‘bluff’ leaders who don’t live the core values before those leaders’ behaviours damage morale and drive top talent out the door.

3. Guides and inspires employee decisions in a fatter, fast-paced workplace so that employees do all the right things when you need them to — whether they are watched/supervised or not.

4. Encourages innovation, risk taking, and trust — all qualities characteristic of an environment that encourages employees’ use of talents and discretionary effort. Plenty of studies, including our own, make the link between high engagement and the ability of employees to do what they do best when they show up for work each day. My strong advice to managers who look for staff engagement is, “Manage your people with a genuine heart, sans hidden agenda, hidden purpose.”

5. Supports “fit”. A strong culture helps to ensure that those who don’t ‘fit’ leave or don’t try to get hired in the first place. That’s important to sustain employee engagement, because disgruntled, out-of-place employees bring down others. When an organisation focuses on values, not just results, hiring and firing decisions are easier to make. Better yet, bad hires often self-select out.

6. Attracts and retains star performers who not only have the skills required to achieve ambitious business goals but who are also so invigorated by the company’s core beliefs that they give 110 percent. Although each employee has a unique definition of “meaningful,” when an organisation has a well-established culture based on a clear mission and shared values, it’s easier for employees to determine whether their jobs will provide the meaning they are looking for.

7. Provides fixed points of reference and stability during periods of great change or crisis. Think of a lighthouse with its beacon during fog and rough seas. In the same way, a high-performance culture can keep employees motivated and aligned when business strategies are constantly shifting or marketplace pressures mount. Get out of the short term profitability search and look at investing in your people today for their tomorrow’s capability so that it will create your company’s future and sustainable growth.

8. Aligns employees with diverse interests around shared goals. A high-performance culture creates a sense of community and encourages teamwork, creating a common bond among individuals with different experiences and expertise. The result: A feeling of belonging to something bigger than oneself.

There’s no doubt that managing your culture requires constant attention, and if it’s not something you’ve addressed before, it’s likely to be a lot of hard work.

 I had some interesting discussions with a few Heads of HR recently and during the forum, I brought out the thought of organisational culture. Several HR Heads stated that they are proud to have very good culture in their respective organisations. However, when I asked them to individually define the culture they are so proud about, there was dead silence, which we refer to as ‘pin-drop silence’. What ignorance! What vanity!

Practices for building and sustaining a high-performance culture

Since every organisation’s culture is unique, the following recommendations do not constitute a process of lock-step actions. Organisations with high-performance cultures continuously monitor results and regularly return to these strategies to sustain their success:

  • Clarify the vision, mission and     values
  • Assess your starting point
  • Communicate and translate your mission     and values
  • Model and live the company values
  • Inspire employees
  • Align employees
  • Align business practices

HR’s role in driving a high-performance culture

While many in HR talk about the need to transform their cultures, very few such projects have actually succeeded because it requires changing behaviour of the entire workforce. This is most easily done when a new CEO or leadership team is called in because change is needed to survive.

Without a true commitment from the top, cultural change initiatives are doomed. To affect true cultural transformation, the structure and every system and process must reinforce the desired culture. Furthermore, all leaders must embrace new attitudes and conduct their activities in new and different ways.  HR leaders cannot go it alone in these endeavours. Changing the culture requires the efforts of everyone in the enterprise. It is sometimes better to work to shape the culture in a natural evolution, rather than to try to change deeply ingrained working styles and behavioural norms.

With support of the senior team, HR can begin to define what the current cultural status is and how it adds or detracts from the company’s objectives. We can determine whether or not the culture attracts, retains and engages the right talent. We can identify the best parts of the culture, and the undesirable aspects can be discussed.

a) Where HR can add the most value

b) Start the culture conversation at all levels.

c) Develop a business case for cultural change.

d) Work with the senior leadership team to determine the desired culture.

e) Develop an agenda or action plan for enhancing the culture or bringing about change.

f) Communicate what needs to change and why.

g) Change the organisational structure to enable change.

h) Redesign your on-boarding process.

i)  Create cultural messages.

j)  Involve everyone.

k) Build an internal brand that supports the external brand.

l)   Recognise and reward results.

m) Make it interesting and fun.

Nothing pleases me more than to see HR professionals having fun. Fun is the product of competency locked with people interaction. I see some HR managers acting as if life is drudgery. Some others have fun and look clowns and are regarded as clowns by others because they are bright on the wit but weak in the delivery.

It come to a point where top management and line management will want to see how the HR professional/manager handles the smooth transition of people mindset changes with business change. My advice is: “Get out from the ‘Business as Usual’ feeling, into doing what’s best for the business!”

(The writer is the Managing Director and CEO, McQuire Rens Group of Companies. He has held regional responsibilities of two multinational companies of which one was a Fortune 500 company. He carries out consultancy assignments and management training in Dubai, India, Maldives, Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia. He is a much sought-after business consultant and corporate management trainer in Sri Lanka.)

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