“Our people are our greatest asset”, or “Our people make the difference”, have become buzz statements in organisations today.
At the same time, possibly the greatest challenge organisations say they face is people-based – how to win their hearts and minds, align them to the vision and values, lead them, develop them and retain them.
Certainly people are important to the success of any organisation. Competent, high achievers are attracted to companies where there is room to grow, where they will be supported and where training, mentoring and coaching programmes are in place to develop them. However, even in companies where career paths are discussed and planned, and people development takes place, how do you get talented people to stay long enough?
In the present-moment focus of today’s world, succession planning has often been overlooked. Sourcing people externally to fill key positions externally is expensive, and often does not deliver the anticipated results.
The point is that focusing on people alone is high-risk, and can deliver a low return on investment. So what is missing?
Recently I was in conversation with the head of Talent Management in a large multinational organisation. He was reflecting on rather dismal results that had recently come in from an organisational survey on the HR team. Their managers consistently receive highly positive ratings in their performance reviews, yet the ratings of HR from the business tell a different story. Where is the disconnect?
Renowned Management Consultant Peter Drucker points out that “culture eats strategy for breakfast”. The environment in which your people operate has a fundamental effect on their ability to perform at their individual and collective best. Typically, this is what sabotages performance, not specifically their skills, competencies or even their attitudes.
It is important to have high-performing people. However, when you put them into an environment where individual performance alone is recognised and rewarded, where people are target driven and incentivised to outperform each other, the focus turns inwards. Then your people become in competition with each other rather than with external competitors, silos arise and toxic relationships develop.
Your organisation’s greatest asset is not its people – competent, even excellent though they may be. Your organisation’s greatest asset is a culture which enables these people to perform at their best – which collectively should be significantly higher than the sum of the individual parts. This kind of culture is the rare element which enables personal accountability, commitment, resilience and willingness to go the extra mile. Job satisfaction – even delight – is experienced within a workplace community that exists for a meaningful purpose, where people enthusiastically contribute their energy and talent and draw from that of others, in service of their collective success.
New recruits coming in from outside will be absorbed into your company’s culture – whatever this may be. It’s ‘who we are and how we do things around here’. The culture will either limit them or empower them to be more. Working in an enabling culture is certainly not for everybody and those who don’t like it won’t stay long. Your collaborative high performers will. This creates self-sustainability and repeatability.
“Creating flexible, high-performing, learning organisations is the secret to gaining competitive advantage in a world that won’t stand still”.
Creating such a culture is easier said than done, yet possible with the will and commitment to the process from the top. It requires leadership to be open, transparent, even vulnerable – learning as much from what doesn’t work as from what does. It does take significant effort, yet many companies have achieved it. The successful companies of tomorrow are those in which all levels and categories of stakeholder participate in the learning, growth and development of the system, whilst simultaneously learning, growing and developing themselves as individuals.
Barbara Walsh is an executive coach and coaching consultant with Metaco, www.metaco.co.za. She has an MSc in Coaching and Behavioural Change from Henley Business School in the UK, and is an accredited Neuro-Semantics Meta-Coach and Coach Trainer.
This article appeared in the August 2015 issue of HR Future magazine.