Tools and Resources: the Link to Performance

Have you ever tried to complete a report while your computer kept crashing? Have you been given an unrealistic deadline, had people ignore your requests for information, or tried to find a missing file that is nowhere to be found? When you don’t have the right tools or resources, it is hard to perform well, let alone at the exemplary level.

When we talk about the tools needed to do your job, the obvious items come to mind. However, there are other tools that we don’t often think of which can impact performance. For example, I once worked in an office and had to walk to another side of the building when I printed a document. This walk took about two minutes each way if no one stopped me. However, most of the time, I ended up talking with someone. This meant that picking up a document could take 15 to 20 minutes of my day. If there were a printer close to my desk, I would have been more productive.

Thinking about the resources needed to do your job, you often need to work with others, access to information, allocation of budget, and adequate time. Without these, performance will suffer. The challenge with resources is that we don’t think about them until they’re not there. For example, I worked on a project and needed information from our VP of Sales. I emailed him, then called him, and then called again the next day. A few days later I found out he had traveled out of the country and he wasn’t able to get me the information I needed until he returned. This put me behind and unable to complete my report on time.

In reviewing the Tools and Resources factor, this seems straight forward. However, it is not always easy to address. For example, what if leaders are slashing the budget to save jobs and you can’t get money to buy a new printer? In the case of the Sales VP being away, how can you learn that faster and ask for the information from someone else? In situations like this, be creative to overcome these barriers. In my research and experience, I have found that exemplary performers never let this stand in their way. They find a way to get the tools and the resources they need to continue performing at the exemplary level.

This is exactly what you need to do. First, identify whether you have the tools and resources needed to perform at the exemplary level. Then, if you lack something, find a way to get it. I once used my personal laptop until the company fixed my work computer. I also have been known to go to every leader in a department until I received the information I needed (I learned from the Sales VP experience). When faced with a tools and resources challenge, think of it as an opportunity to show how resourceful you are. Never let it get in the way of your performance.

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Environment and Performance

How do you interact with your environment and how does it impact you? In this post, I will discuss the next of the 7 Factors that drive performance: the Environment. I will briefly define what it is, talk about the two types of environments, and help you understand how to determine if this factor is the most important reason for the level of performance achieved.

In my book, I define Environment as the physical, emotional, and interpersonal elements that form the context in which a person works and lives. Environment is everything outside of us. It is not our innate abilities (talent), knowledge, skills, or motivations. Those come from within and determine how we interact with our world. Rather, it is how the world interacts with us. When we get to work each day, the arrangement of our desk, how our office is set up, the relationships we have with others, and the constraints put forth by the organization can have an impact on our performance.

In the definition of Environment, you may have noticed that the environment includes elements specific to work and elements specific to life outside of work. Therefore, there are two types of environments that we interact with. The first is our personal environment and includes all the things outside of work. The second is our work environment and includes all the things at work. Since we are almost all human (there’s a few people I’m not so sure about), we have a finite amount of energy. How we use that energy has an impact on our performance. Also, both environments impact each other. In other words, things that happen at work impact our home life and things that happen at home impact our work life.

In working with people to leverage an exemplary strength, you can discuss and observe what is done at work and outside of work. For example, how do they organize their work space, how do they interact with others, how do they leverage the culture to elevate their performance, and how do things outside of work drive them to achieve exemplary performance levels? In working with people to develop an expandable strength, you would ask about the impact of these elements on their performance to determine if there is something in their personal or work environment that is holding them back.

While there is much discussion of the elements that make up the work environment, we often stay clear of discussing things that are happening outside of work. We don’t need to counsel people if things outside of work are impacting their performance in a negative way (nor should we unless we are qualified and licensed to do so). However, knowing this will help us understand how someone is using her energy and why performance is or is not at the exemplary level. We can then we can apply the right solution to grow her performance and not make assumptions and/or excuses about the person or the organization.

Talent and Fit: the Link to Performance

In my earlier post, I discussed the background of my 7 Factors model for driving performance to the exemplary level. Although there is no particular order to the 7 Factors, I will discuss the Talent and Fit factor first.

This factor consists of two separate but similar items so let’s start with a few definitions. The first part of this factor is talent which consist of the innate abilities one has as a function of their genetic and psychological makeup. These are the things that are hardwired into our brains, are the way that we are physically structured, and includes our personality. For example, I may have an aptitude for math and just understand calculus formulas almost effortlessly. The other part of this factor is fit. This is where we prefer to use those talents. For example, I may have a great talent for sales but dislike the products and services of my company.

Where performance is concerned, the part talent and fit plays is largely determined by the nature of the job. If a job requires a person to write technical documents, she should have the talent to do that and prefer to use those talents within her organization. Other jobs may just require basic abilities that are easily taught so talent and fit is not so much of a causative factor.

The talent and fit factor is often the first thing leaders look at when performance is lacking. Too often in my career, I have heard leaders say that a person is not the right fit. I have also heard them say that a certain person lacks the ability to perform at a higher level. This is really code for “I have no idea what to do” or “I don’t want to take the time to figure out how to help this person”. Later, when that person is transferred to a new leader, he often performs much better. This shows us that talent and fit was not the real issue to begin with.

When looking at what drives performance it’s important that we take into account the person’s innate abilities and their preference for exercising those abilities within our organization. Even though I start with talent and fit, it is often the last factor that’s to blame for lack of exemplary performance. It’s also the factor with the fewest remedies. If talent and fit is the factor that’s truly a play, all we can do is change the job itself to leverage the person’s talents, move them to a new job that leverages their talents, or, in the most severe cases, get rid of them. So when using this factor to gauge performance it’s important that you take into account all it’s going on with the otherĀ  factors first.

Our Perceived Time Crunch

What I and the people I talk with should be pondering is whether or not all this activity is leading to the results we want.

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I was in the airport last week waiting for a rescheduled flight after my first flight was canceled and my next was re-routed taking me over 1000 miles in the wrong direction. As I sat in the incredibly overpriced restaurant, I realized that in slightly more than five minutes, I went from being rushed to having too much time. How did this change in perception of time occur? The answer was simple; I let other things rule my time.

Whenever someone asks how I am, I respond almost by instinct that I am doing good but am very busy. What’s funny is that just about everyone else says they are busy too and wish there were more hours in the day. How can this be? I know I can rationalize that I am involved with a lot of important projects in my role as SVP of Talent at Learn.com but that’s not the right way to think. What I and the people I talk with should be pondering is whether or not all this activity is leading to the results we want.

This question caused me to look more strategically at what I am doing and ensure everything I do is contributing to the goals of the organization. There is a tool we use in organizational development called “Start, Stop, and Continue”. I looked at all the projects and compared them to the goals of the department and organization. For each project I determine whether this is something I should continue or stop. Then, when I have eliminated those that don’t contribute to moving the organization forward, I look for gaps and determine what I should start doing. This helps to narrow the field to the most important few rather than being busy with many urgent but unimportant projects.

So what are you doing that contributes to your goals, what should you stop doing, and what should you start doing to move forward faster. Hopefully, your final list will be small but critical to your success. At the same time, it should free up some time so you can do things you may enjoy but did not give yourself permission to do because of those urgent but unimportant projects you were so busy with.

Different Companies, Same Challenges

This year, I have had the privilege of representing Learn.com at our Tour on Talent event. We have conducted 34 of these throughout the nation in partnership with ADP. Having talked with over 700 HR and Training professionals, I have found that there is a strange thing that happens when we are engaged in an organization. We tend to think that our challenges are different from the challenges others face and what works somewhere else will not work where we are.

While it is true that each organization has a unique culture, I have found the same challenges communicated from many of the professionals I talk with. Most of the people I have talked with are challenged with doing more with less, getting executive buy-in, demonstrating our value, and decreasing the tactical parts of our job so that we can be more strategic. Having consulted to many organizations in a variety of industries, I have found that the solutions aren’t so unique.

For example, helping a client in the financial industry track the return on investment (ROI) for a training initiative was the same need and leveraged the same process as clients in healthcare, government, retail, and other industries. The need to demonstrate what we bring to the table in dollar values and percentages is the same no matter what company you work with. The process is the same for tracking ROI no matter what company you work with. The difficulty of finding metrics that are reliably tracked and isolating what you did as the reason for their change is hard in every organization.

So I am left with the nagging question. If we have so many of the same challenges and so many of the same possible solutions, why do we think we are so different?