It was 6.00 AM and the surgery was about to start. There was silence as the team quietly prepped for something complex – sterilizing and double checking the equipment, testing levels of the anesthetic, and other critical tasks. A young surgeon starts with the incision and preps the area for deeper surgery, ensuring the vitals are running well… and in all, the team worked quietly like a humming warship. At 6.23 AM, the “visiting” super specialist entered and after 180 minutes of continuous effort, removed the tumor, re-checked the vitals, thanked the team, gave instructions for next steps and moved on to his next surgery. The team proceeded to ensure the closure and finally handed the patient to an efficient and wonderful nursing team, who would ensure that the patient was able to find the strength to get back to a normal life. Over the next two weeks, the specialist surgeon will spend 12 minutes every day to ensure the patient is fine, while the young surgeon and the shift doctor will follow the specialist, their role model, through his rounds to learn and grow. Through their 48 hour shifts, rushed lunches and high stress, this A team of doctors, nurses, specialists, ward boys, IT specialists, anesthetists will work tirelessly.
There is never enough time, there are always too many patients, and it is almost always late by the time patients reach the hospital. Every surgery is its own reward, every complex case comes with new learning, and professional networks add perspectives to those learnings with every new discovery. So how do you find the most valuable member in this setup and how do we ensure that every person is able to find their passion, performance reward and allegiance?
The Fourth industrial revolution is here to stay and it impacts not just the nature of work but also the pace, time and nature of the workforce. Gone are the days of fixed outputs, manuals, processes and dare I say fixed measures of performance. Martin Nowak in his book SuperCooperators: Altruism, Evolution, and Why We Need Each Other to Succeed says that the sheer existence of Life force is due to “an extraordinary level of cooperation between molecules” and that is the only hope to “redeem humanity”.
Surprisingly, in today’s world, the temporary workforce follows the extreme ends of the spectrum, niche-end skills like surgery, professorship, productivity consultants and completely fungible skills like operations, admin support etc. Both these sets are beyond the scope of traditional performance management approaches, both of them spend too less time for motivation, engagement, and long-term retentions and would be like floating resources, stepping in to solve an immediate need and moving on to the next challenge.
The challenge for HR in this new era of productivity is to find the right balance of skills, of permanence and impermanence in workforce without breaking the flow of business revenue and productivity, keeping the team together and keeping them engaged towards a common purpose. Easy peasy, right!
Let us see if there are ways we can understand this and begin at the beginning. Solving this challenge is a systemic process and will need the “house” to be set in order. In my humble opinion, initiation of performance management does not start at performance management; it starts way before, at recruitment, where you need to find the right role models, the right skills, and the right values into the mix. A few other aspects that may work:
Find the right Leaders: To find, retain, and grow the right talent is not just HR’s job. The function enables leaders and processes and culture, but no amount of benefits, perks, awards and recognition can discount a value disconnect with the organization or the manager. Thomas Huynh, says, leaders can change the tenor of the workplace and create harmony in motion toward a favorable result. So every time you say to your team, "Let's rock and roll," make sure you have already set up the stage to where they can actually perform like rock stars.” Management of performance is just that, setting the stage:
- Well begun is half done: Set the right accountabilities/core priorities
- Set the why? Set the values you want people to work on as they go about delivering their priorities
- Ensure the milestones: Milestones with the right areas of focus, not only create the communication and feedback channel, they also help you support your employees in course correction. We no longer live in an era where you could make yearlong plans. The VUCA world is about constant innovation, course correction and edits. When you set in focused conversations throughout the year, you give yourself a learning opportunity and an opportunity to connect more strongly
- Harness the individual passion with the team purpose: The best work happens when there is an overlap in what you love doing and what the team is doing.
Work on the culture: Research shows that employees look strongly for a belief that the organization’s performance management is fair and that everyone is measured with the same yardstick of values and outcomes. Creating a culture of visibility, fairness and consistency is critical and the primary responsibility for the leadership and HR team in today’s workplace.
Embrace diversity and focus on inclusion: Enough has been said about the merits of diversity and the needs of inclusion, but my point on this is simpler and better explained with an example. I have been a part of a team with 13 different nationalities and during an offsite session of “that’s my game” everyone shared one game from their country. The most fun 45 minutes of my life. When you have a diverse team, you find whacky connections, beyond work stories, new words & languages to learn, places to visit and cuisines to try. It stimulates the part of your brain which needs new learning and socialization and thus happiness making everyone more productive.
Communicate, communicate, communicate: In the new world where HR is becoming more and more strategic, helping GTM and leading transformations, some of the traditional practices of being a sounding board for employees and being connected enough to know what is happening, might take a back seat. This is an opportunity lost; spend that time, go for lunch with your business, spend time with your millennials, connect with your diverse employees. I have always validated my external market research on trends with my internal benchmarks of employees. If you are connected and trusted you will hear, competitive hiring patterns, comp packages on offer and vulnerable talent and while this would feed into your talent management, development agenda, it will also help you retain your best talent.
As I penned this article, I thought about the best work I have seen in organizations and went through a mental illustrious list of interns, management trainees and contract workers, who have been part of my journey. My experiences with management trainees is a living example of the perfect work environment and the perfect workforce, a team that signifies stronger collaboration, stronger connection and a stronger sense of purpose of doing the best work, every day of their life.
They managed themselves through a community of fellow interns, went for trips together, played football, had beer pong games on Friday night and found time for side projects, core projects, travel and laughter, igniting the organization with their inner joy.
What makes us give the kind of freedom we do to interns and trainees? Is it our inherent belief that the younger millennial will bring a new point of view? Is it our faith in the untainted nature of a fresh college/university graduate? Maybe it is this aspect of it being temporary which allows us to be more flexible, and the lesser we try and manage, the better the outcomes seem to be. There are no answers but the right questions are the starting point for enquiry, reasoning, and action.
Whatever it is, it seems to be working. My question to everyone then is what happens when that trainee gets his/her final posting? Why do we try to fit them into the mold of being an employee? Why do we teach them the script to find their self-worth with the feedback and percentage of bonus received, instill a fear of failure and in short teach them to comply with a cause and effect linkage?
“When people are financially invested, they want a return. When people are emotionally invested, they want to contribute”- Drucker. Let us go beyond the Gaussian performance management to create emotional investments and create an organization of the future to cater to the customer of the future.
Note: These are the author’s personal views and do not represent the organization in anyway.