What is High Performance through Engagement?

“We are in the middle of one of the most profound shifts in human history, where the primary work of mankind is moving from the Industrial Age of “control” to the Knowledge Worker Age of “release.”

– Stephen R Covey

For centuries people have organised themselves into collective groups. We all know that when we work together, it is possible to achieve more security and satisfaction than we can alone as individuals.

But, somewhere in our pursuit of higher-performing organisations, this intuition got lost in favour of a focus on cost and efficiency. Multiple business and economic failures led to a new drive toward consumer satisfaction. A focus on creating more consumer value has proven to be somewhat successful. However, many implementations of approaches like Six Sigma, TQM, Quality Circles, Lean, TOC and Agile have failed to deliver the expected results.

As we move out of the ‘Industrial Age’ and into the ‘Knowledge Age’ there is a slowly emerging understanding that we need to listen to our intuition. We need to create environments where we can work together, learn from each other, bring our contribution to the table and achieve greater collective satisfaction.

Sustainable High Performance is achieved by creating a synergy between increasing Consumer Value, providing a Culture that is safe, secure and satisfying for employees, and maintaining Commercial Responsibility.

Engagement is when the people closest to the consumer are directly and actively involved in solving problems that hinder the performance for that consumer.

High Performance through Engagement is when those people who are closest to the consumer use, as a matter of habit, analytical problem solving tools and structured processes to identify the root cause of problems, find solutions to those problems and then implement quickly to increase value to consumers.

High Performance through Engagement is a strategy for developing a work system that: 

  • is consumer-focused
  • uses analytical problem solving processes like Interest Based Problem Solving, the Theory of Constraints Thinking Processes and design thinking
  • meets the interests of all stakeholders
  • has open and real-time information systems
  • is performance-driven with continuous improvement metrics
  • is employee-based and relies on the discretionary effort of employees
  • has a management system that facilitates and releases intuition, knowledge and experience from employees
  • is focused on building constructive thinking, behaviour and cultures
  • has an emphasis on training, developing and growing people
  • is innovative, dynamic and flexible

There are multiple ways to build this work system. 

Your organisation is unique because the people in it are unique. A high-performance work system must be customised and designed for your organisation by the people in your organisation. In most cases, it can be funded within the existing resources of the organisation.

High Performance through Engagement is not for everyone. It requires “courageous leadership” (think Brené Brown – Dare to Lead) and a willingness to embrace a new way of operating.

The benefits of High Performance through Engagement are increased customer loyalty, increased financial performance and a culture of innovation and growth. There are numerous case studies published by both the private and public sectors as well as multiple University studies of the impact of adopting a High Performance through Engagement approach. The evidence is overwhelming that the improvement in performance that comes from a culture of engagement substantially improves the overall operating performance of an organisation.

What is an HPtE Strategy®?

An HPtE Strategy® is an organisation strategy that balances commercial responsibility, consumer value and culture to create sustainable high performance. It deliberately creates a culture of collaboration, innovation, confidence and achievement. This cultural change is needed more than ever in a fast-changing, complex, variable and global work environment.

Some of the key methodologies include:

  • Systems thinking (e.g. Interest-Based Problem-Solving and Theory of Constraints Thinking Processes),
  • Continuous improvement practices (e.g. Agile, Lean and Six-Sigma),
  • Collaborative budgeting,
  • Culture and behavioural assessments (e.g. Organisational Culture Inventory®, Organisational Effectiveness Inventory®, Group Styles Inventory™, Leadership Impact® and Life Styles Inventory™).

An HPtE Strategy® goes beyond the traditionally separated commercially driven, continuous improvement or culture-based initiatives. Companies that pursuit an HPtE Strategy® do one thing significantly differently than other companies. They leverage the power of collective problem solving to deliver the needs of shareholders, consumers and employees.

An HPtE Strategy® is not:

  • A financial strategy (although it impacts commercial returns)
  • A continuous improvement strategy (although it utilises continuous improvement methodologies)
  • A culture strategy (although it has a significant impact on culture)
  • An HR or ER strategy (although it impacts HR and ER)
  • An “Engagement Survey” (although it utilises robust and reliable psychological assessment tools)
  • An industrial relations strategy (although it impacts industrial and labour/management relationships)
  • A form of autocracy or industrial democracy (although it leverages the strengths of both ideologies)

An HPtE Strategy® embeds powerful systems thinking and problem solving processes into the very fabric of an organisation. It recognises and leverages the inherent tension between satisfying the needs of shareholders, consumers and employees. 

Through constant discovery, organisations find new and innovative ways to deliver more commercial responsibility, more consumer value AND a safer, secure and more satisfying work environment for people.

He aha te mea nui o te ao
What is the most important thing in the world?
He tangata, he tangata, he tangata
It is the people, it is the people, it is the people

Maori proverb

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Interest-Based Problem-Solving is at the heart of High Performance through Engagement (HPtE #13)

It is estimated that employees spend 42% of their time engaging in or attempting to resolve conflict and 20% of Managers time is consumed with conflict related issues.

Masters and Albright (2002), in The Complete Guide to Conflict Resolution in the Workplace, point out that people thrive on conflict in most areas of their lives–football games, political debates, legal disputes–yet steer clear from workplace conflicts. But conflict is actually a healthy way to challenge the existing order and essential to change in a workplace.

The real problem is not conflict per se, but managing conflict.

Dana (2001), in Conflict Resolution: Mediation Tools for Everyday Work Life, argues  that workplaces are changing. As interpersonal rules of conduct become looser and time deadlines become tighter, conflict resolution is gaining importance as a strategic management issue.  

Organisations that recognise the necessity of strategically managing internal conflict will be one step ahead in increasingly competitive business environments.

Cloke and Goldsmith (2011), in Resolving Conflicts at Work: Ten Strategies for Everyone on the Job, reveal how the inevitable disputes and divisions in the workplace are actually opportunities for greater creativity, productivity, enhanced morale, and personal growth.

Clearly, confronting and managing organisational conflicts presents a major challenge to organisations that wish to successfully compete in today’s global economy.

In order to reduce the competition and conflict over allocation of time and money some form of decision making process capable of finding solutions that can meet the interests of Shareholders (Commercial Responsibility), Operations and CI (Consumer Value) and Workers (a safe, secure and satisfying Culture), is required.

Interest-Based Problem-Solving meets that need.

But, what is Interest-Based Problem Solving?

Interest-Based Problem-Solving is an outcome of the Harvard Negotiation Project, a group that deals with all levels of negotiation and conflict resolution, and was captured by Fisher, Ury and Patton (1981) in their book Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In.

Getting to Yes offers a proven, step-by-step strategy for coming to mutually acceptable agreements in every sort of conflict. The four key principles of Interest-Based Problem-Solving are:

  1. Separate the people from the problem.
  2. Focus on interests, not positions.
  3. Generate a variety of possibilities before deciding what to do.
  4. Insist that the result be based on some objective standard. 

By embedding these problem solving principles into the decision making processes within any organisation the conflict between the 3C’s is not only reduced but harnessed for greater creativity, productivity, enhanced morale, and personal growth.

This is a key to unlocking sustainable high performance in any organisation.

Air New Zealand and the “3C’s”

Finding the synergy between Consumer Value, Commercial Responsibility and Culture has been the key to Air New Zeland success …

“Our customer centricity, commercial focus, and highly engaged culture have made Air New Zealand the most revered company in our part of the world as reflected in our corporate reputation rankings on both sides of the Tasman.”

Mr Luxon says he will miss heading to work every day to lead the aviation equivalent of 12,500 All Blacks. 

“It has been an awesome journey and what we have achieved by working together with a common goal of supercharging New Zealand’s success economically, environmentally and socially has been nothing short of remarkable.

“I have absolutely loved the responsibility and experience of leading this company over the last seven years. It has been intellectually challenging, people centred and an absolute privilege to do this job. However, I do feel it is the right time for a new leader to take over and preserve and enhance the good things from our past, but also to put their own stamp on the organisation bringing their own personality and emphasis to the role as I did.”

He says the culture at Air New Zealand is unlike any other company and it has only strengthened as the airline introduced performance management and leadership development programmes, pioneered High Performance Engagement (HPE) with its union partners, chose to pay a Company Performance Bonus, improved its safety record and lifted its commitment to diversity and inclusion. 

“All of this has seen Air New Zealand regularly voted as the best place to work in the country. I will miss the friendship and support of all those with whom I have worked with and served.

Air New Zealand Media Release

What to change to and how? (HPtE #12)

Wouldn’t it be great if we could get synergy between achieving financial outcomes, continuous improvement of value for consumers and a constructive culture?

An HPtE Strategy® assists people to seek out improvement opportunities, strengthen peoples ability to solve problems when a conflict occurs, all the while helping to build positive relationships between people. This saves time and money.

It is a path to sustainable high performance.

But, an HPtE Strategy® is a big commitment.

Many organisations have already recognised the need to find a synergy between the 3C’s and have developed their strategy around it.  This is certainly a great step in the right direction and those who have invested in it have reaped the rewards.  While the benefits are big, sustaining the effort and focus takes a great deal of effort.  The pressure to compete for time and money erodes the impact of the effort put in and the transformation will slow or stagnate.  Sometimes it will regress.

If you have ever seen an organisation whose leadership changes focus to just one or two of the C’s you will have witnessed the stagnation or regression.

An HPtE Strategy® takes engagement and culture to a new level that is less influenced by a change in any one leader.

This is achieved through a mix of focus, structural, process, system and leadership style changes.

It would not be judicial to enter into such an approach without first testing it within your organisation.  Before committing to an HPtE Strategy® a Proof of Concept Project is recommended.

But, before you even get to a proof of concept, organisational leadership must answer four important questions:

  1. Why Change? Is sustainable high performance really the goal or do we have a more short term focus?
  2. What to change? We have already described the endless cycle that erodes Commercial Responsibility, Consumer Value and Culture.
  3. What to change to? We have already described the reverse of the cycle.
  4. How to change? That is the focus of the #HPtE series from here on in.

As a starting point, an HPtE Strategy® is an injection into the business system to address the competition and conflict caused by a localised focus on one of the necessary conditions (The 3C’s). It addresses the assumption that The 3C’s are mutually exclusive of each other.

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