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Profit over people

Can you help people propel themselves to greatness and deliver sustainable business performance at the same time? Or must business goals always come before individuals?

Those in the latter camp often believe that human beings inherently dislike work (known as Theory X) and that strong carrot-and-stick incentives are needed to cajole them to action.  They may also believe that, because successful businesses are run across the world on extrinsic reward structures that aim to push performance by setting higher and higher goals, there’s no reason to consider an alternative.

High performing organisations know this is a mistake and that external carrot-and-stick motivators quickly become hygiene factors.  In fact, these organisations know this path has a limited shelf life, because we live in a world filled with empowered customers who demand a more engaging experience from the organisations they do business with.

High performing organisations know that delighting this new breed of customer is essential to success, and that empowered, engaged employees are the key.

These organisations have found ways to unleash unprecedented levels of creativity, engagement and productivity from their people, inspiring them to reach higher and further in order to delight customers.

How are they achieving this? Fundamentally it comes down to aligning personal goals with organisational goals. Research from Australia found that increased commitment from Generation Y workers comes from “achieving congruence with their values and resonance with their causes".

For Daniel Pink, who wrote the New York Times bestseller Drive, this alignment comes from tapping into internal motivators - mastery, autonomy and purpose - which deliver sustainable motivation because they are driven from within.

High performing organisations, therefore, provide continuous learning opportunities so that individuals can develop mastery.

They invest heavily in learning and development, and make sure that they follow up to avoid the knowing-doing gap, which can seriously undermine performance. They also ensure employees can work in a way that suits them, providing the space for autonomy.  Flexible working, output-based performance indicators instead of traditional ‘being seen’ methods of judging performance, informal holiday arrangements, BYOT schemes - these give staff the power to decide their own path. They still know what the organisation needs to succeed. But they choose how to get there.

As for purpose, high performing organisations broaden the outcomes they chase.  It’s not only about making money, but about creating a better world and allowing employees to find worthwhile reasons to come to work. Nike, for example, takes old shoes and turns them into new pitch surfaces.

In today’s world, businesses who set goals and provide extrinsic motivators can be successful - in the short-term. They experience high levels of churn and can find it harder to engage employees to deliver stellar customer service. These challenges will get worse.

If you want to ensure sustainable performance as it becomes harder to attract and retain talented employees and meet the needs of more discerning customers, it’s time to make a move to the high performance camp.