Articles

August 2021 – Question of the Month

August 25, 2021 - By Wendy Lambourne, Director, MA Industrial and Organisation Psychology, Registered Psychologist with SA Medical & Dental Council

Question:  In a corporation, what is the best way to achieve the results desired by management?

Answer:  In my experience of corporations, middle and senior managers spend a great deal of their time in setting, measuring and worrying about whether they and their people are achieving the targeted results. If they spent that time ensuring that their people had the means, ability and accountability to achieve those results, they would be much more successful, and with much greater job satisfaction for all concerned.

Obviously the results are very important. In any competitive environment, one competes to win, not lose. But the best way to achieve a given result is neither to focus on it nor to obsessively measure progress against it. A desire to stand on the top of the world, and a determination of how far short of the top one is, does not get the relatively few people who succeed in conquering Everest to do so.

Similarly, a fixation on the score on the scoreboard, relative to other athletes’ scores is not what gains a winning score for the athlete. Nor does an ambition to progress up the hierarchy assure promotion to the desired position.

What determines whether or not mountaineers reach the summit first, other than luck (and luck plays a part in every result), is all that they do to get there; how well they prepare for the ascent; the choice of the right path to take; that they pace themselves correctly and then overcome the inevitable obstacles along the way.

All of these things are themselves a reflection on those leading the expedition – their ability to select high-calibre team members and then enable them, both in preparation for and throughout the climb.

Similarly, “games are won by players who focus on the playing field, not by those whose eyes are glued to the scoreboard” (Warren Buffett). Particularly, games are won by talented players who have exceptional coaches.

Finally, what produces the desired organisational result is that people at every level in the organisation make the contribution required of them to produce the result. Enabling people to make the contribution required of them, to be the best that they can be, and prepared to go above and beyond in pursuit of the organisation’s objectives, is the job of those in leadership positions in the organisation.

That excellent results can only be produced by excellent people, be they mountaineers, athletes or employees, is common sense. So too is the notion that the best route to sustainable organisational excellence is the relentless pursuit of human excellence in all those in the organisation.

Following through on this understanding however is far from easy. This is because it requires people to do something which feels absolutely counter-intuitive. For those in the business’s front line it requires a shift in the focus of their attention from what they want to “get” (the desired result) to what they should “give” to effect excellence in the task in front of them.

It requires leaders to take yet a further step back from the results. That is, to take their eyes off the results and put their attention on their people. It requires them to focus on giving their people what they need (means, ability and accountability) to excel at the task and ultimately to realise the very best in themselves.

In the real world, when the results are not forthcoming, the typical managerial response is to increase the pressure/demand for the desired results as well as the frequency and detail of reporting up the line on the results. As one client said, “We are so busy forecasting and reporting on sales that we can’t get out to our clients to understand their needs and convince them of how we can help them address those needs.”

Legitimate Leadership is not advocating an abandonment of goals/targets and scoreboards – we believe that goals (which are stretching but achievable) and a scoreboard (which informs those making a contribution what they need to do going forward to make a better contribution) are enabling of contribution.

We are however advocating that the setting and measuring/reporting of results should be only 20% of the focus. 80% of the focus should be on contribution (individual contributors) and the enabling of that contribution (leaders).

Wendy Lambourne
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