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  • Organizational

Boss Holding You Back? Change the Routine

Organizations can alter their practices to facilitate good performance



Sunday 06 March 2016



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Most of us want to do a good job. Excelling at work is good for our self-esteem and brings many other psychological positives. It is also good for our employer. But unfortunately the leadership structure and culture in some organizations can hamper rather than help us do a good job.

In his recent research Philip Stiles, co-director of the Centre for International HR Management at Judge Business School, Cambridge, investigated this and looked at how organizations can alter their practices to facilitate good performance – to everyone’s benefit. The research which involved talking to managers at American Express, IBM, IKEA and Rolls-Royce and the like, found there was a good understanding about how to improve matters, but that many organizations were not applying this understanding.

Considering how cognitive and motivational factors influence how organization can change for the better, Stiles and his fellow researchers identified five key areas for focus:

One size doesn’t fit all
Using the same performance management techniques for sales managers as for finance, or R&D is the easiest approach from a management point of view but may not reflect the way people across the company feel appreciated and motivated. Having joined the organization believing they could make a difference, being measured in an insensitive way can leave people feeling unappreciated and demotivated. Tellingly the researchers found that when people were asked if they wanted to “give more,” most replied “yes” – but when we asked if their organization got the best out of them, many said “no.”

Training and being valued
Stiles refers to the well-known definition of performance: Ability x Motivation x Opportunity. Ability can be raised by better training – not just in practical matters, but looking at emotional intelligence, too. As far as motivation his research showed that ‘pay’ does not feature that highly as a factor. For most people it’s about being valued, being in a meaningful job, and having a boss that actually cares. “It has nothing to do with inance and everything to do with leadership.”

Changing expectations
And as for opportunity, too often people are pigeonholed. Many participants in the research complained their bosses had a fixed view of who they were which gave them little or no scope to give more. Managers should be much less fixed in their judgments.

Bottom up
The culture changes needed to enhance performance are fairly straight-forward – but getting there is more complex. For example edicts from above can be counter-productive often alienating employees; whereas the researchers found the secret to change seems to be local – even individual – initiatives that gain momentum across an organization.

Making the change
“Ultimately, of course, change is sustainable only if the leaders in an organization are behind it. The biggest cause of failure is bosses saying one thing and doing another, which is demotivating, breeds cynicism and makes it extremely difficult to introduce a new culture. In contrast, leaders who really make the effort to apply that fundamental wisdom of enhancing performance, and then truly practise what they preach, enable a company to develop from a good organization into a great one.” says Stiles. 

Read about the research: Changing Routine: Reframing Performance Management within a Multinational, Philip Stiles, et al.; Journal of Management Studies; Volume 52, Issue 1, pages 63–88, January 2015


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