As a culture we like to think of our achievements as the triumph of the individual. But last week I used a memorable chicken breeding example to show you that group performance outweighs individual performance in a group environment because a focus on individual performance comes at a cost to the group performance.
The reality is that company performance is a complex group effort. Without positive group productivity, companies under perform. And most companies under perform. We are used to seeing numbers like 90% of companies fail to execute on their goals, that excellence in business execution is the chief concern of CEO’s. What’s going on here? “Companies assume people are atomistic and economic, versus social creatures”, writes Stanford professors Jeffrey Pfeffer and Bob Sutton in “The Knowing-Doing Gap, How Smart Companies Turn Knowledge into Action.”
There are two things going on here that get in the way of group productivity, two deeply held organizational operating assumptions that are completely out of sync with reality. The first is that company performance is atomistic. The atomistic model assumes individual control and that company results are the consequence of individual decisions. The second is that individual performance is motivated largely by extrinsic, (financial) rewards based on individual performance.” Companies operate on oversimplified or incorrect models of human behavior relevant to shareholder (short term) interests, irrelevant or counterproductive for ultimate success of the business.”
In “Managing the 21st century organization“, Valdis Krebs of orgnet.com reminds us that what you know (human capital) multiplied by who you know (social capital) creates productivity and innovation. Traditional company hierarchies have an up-down formal information flow: you report up the chain, you receive information down the chain. But to actually get your work done, you tap into the organization sideways so to speak, leveraging your informal contacts across the company.
Research sited by Krebs found that “the ability to reach a diverse set of others in the network through very few links was the key to success for both individuals and teams.” We know this from our own experience. A good networker gets more stuff done because companies are not atomistic, they are complex group environments. So if you think about it, with the exception of the few jobs in the company that don’t interact with anyone, you should be interviewing people for their social skills, not their functional skills.
We might be done there, but we’re not. Because relying on social skills and ad-hoc networking is terribly inefficient and capricious. And all too often, it is down right discouraged by performance targets that misunderstand human motivation and pit employees against each other in an endless game of internal competition. At a recent TED talk, Dan Pink, author of “A Whole New Mind, Why Right Brainers will Rule the Future”, made the case for businesses to rethink their “business operating system“:
“There is a mismatch between what science knows and what business does. And what worries me, as we stand here in the rubble of the economic collapse, is that too many organizations are making their decisions, their policies about talent and people, based on assumptions that are outdated, unexamined, and rooted more in folklore than in science. And if we really want to get out of this economic mess, and if we really want high performance on those definitional tasks of the 21st century, the solution is not to do more of the wrong things. To entice people with a sweeter carrot, or threaten them with a sharper stick. We need a whole new approach.”
Innovation and productivity doesn’t happen by carrot or stick, it happens through connectivity. What Pfeffer and Sutton found was that “firms where measurement helped measured things that were core to their culture and values and intimately tied to their basic business model and strategy, and used these measures to make business processes visible to all employees.”
To close the group productivity gap and foster innovation, enable and empower connectivity in your company. This requires you to revisit your assumptions about company performance and individual motivation. So before your write “superstar wanted” in you next job tweet, read the chicken story one more time. Hopefully you will come to realize that “super collaborator” is what you really need. And before you start your quarterly/annual performance goal setting process, listen to Dan Pink’s TED talk one more time on what really motivates and stimulates the kinds of creative solutions you need today.
Finally, think about group productivity as part of an overall business execution platform. The mindful implementation of Enterprise 2.0 emergent social software platforms and performance management solutions are components of a connected company, and a connected company outperforms its peers. What does this kind of emergent business execution platform look like? Stay tuned.
Meri Gruber is a leading expert on business execution. She blogs on the intersection of innovation and business execution at www.competingonexecution.com