H R Y D  Way to High Performance

As per a recent study by SAP and Oxford Economics (across 27 countries and 3000 employees) one in five high performers are likely to leave their jobs within six months—and less than half are satisfied with their jobs. The study showed that this was attributed to various reasons from a bad manager to aging job profiles the employee could not relate to. Over the years, I have realised that while the adage that “people leave managers and not organisations” has commonly been under the spotlight, not enough has been debated about the job profile being a formidable cause for employee dissatisfaction. As career models evolve, the #future of work discussion has finally opened up, more than ever, before the reimagining of job profiles. This further leads to enhanced employee engagement and higher productivity at work, uplifting the employee and organizational performance as a whole.

As I spoke to various experts, what became apparent was that job profiles need not any longer be led by traditional classifications. What someone does within an organizational framework certainly needs to connect to skills required for the job but around that there is this fuzzy layer which I believe we can call the “sense of connection” the employee has to what role does she play in the collective vision and overall success of organization. This connection is critical as it aligns the goals and dreams of an individual with the vision of the organization. At the purest level we can simply state that the “sense of purpose” of the employee and the organization has to be aligned. The power of every employee rowing in the same direction as the organizational purpose is humongous and determines the speed at which the business wins the market.

Here’s an excerpt from the eight year old article by Michael J. Scolow titled “Six minutes in Berlin.” In 1936, a rowing team from the University of Washington stunned the world by winning a gold medal in eight-oar crew at the Berlin Olympics in front of a crowd that included Adolph Hitler and Joseph Goebbels. The sons of American loggers, farmers and shipyard workers defeated elite European teams, grabbing the attention of millions of Americans and transforming the sport. Within 300 meters, the Huskies pulled even with the competitive Germans and Italians. The crowd’s roar became deafening as the three boats matched each other stroke for stroke. As they crossed the line together, the rowers couldn’t tell who had won. The men in all three boats recoiled or collapsed in exhaustion as the crowd quieted down to await the results. After an interminable wait, the announcement came over the loudspeaker: USA 6:25.4, Italy 6:26.0, Germany 6:26.4. After almost six-and-a-half minutes of racing, just one second separated the three boats. So what was their signature strategy? The Huskies always maintained a stroke rating below their opponents’, ignoring those moments when their competition opened up enormous leads. When all seemed lost, the coxswain Moch would call on Hume to raise the stroke rating. Employing near-perfect technique and synchronization, the boys would put their shell, the Husky Clipper, in a higher gear. Bob Moch summed it up that they were there to get the job done and even as they practiced each one of them were tied by one collective vision – a mantra they quietly repeated as letters L-G-B… which they said was “Let’s Get Better” though it actually stood for “Let’s go to Berlin”. But there was one more element beyond the collective vision that ensured that they lived the vision. It was the element of care the coxswain had for each of the rowers – he had this question in his eyes “how are you doing?” It was not a post facto comment but a genuine concern even as they practiced and ultimately as they got into the race of their lifetime. Hume was unwell through the tournament but his mind was connected to the collective purpose they were set on. As the German crew powered toward the finish line, the crowd chanted “Deutsch-land! Deutsch-land!” in time with each stroke. The noise swelled, and the rowers sensed the finish line closing in. The Americans had to make their move. Moch, the coxswain, stared at Hume’s face. With about 800 meters remaining his eyes opened and he began rowing with authority. Responding to Hume’s emerging strength, the boat’s stroke rating rose. Rest is history.

While there are enough lessons in this story of courage, valour, discipline and focus – what stands out is the inflection point. The defining moment when Hume stepped up the stroke rate despite of his health. The sense of connection he had to the mission at hand was not because he had a job to do and he was good at it, but the fuzzy layer was intact as he knew he was cared for within his small unit. He was not left to himself. Moch was fully aware how he was doing even before the race begun.

Let us turn back to where we started this topic. In my early days as a young HR lead, I was stumped by the response of a high performing executive when I started the exit interview. As I begun the conversation, I asked him – “How are you doing?” And without losing a second he said – “I wish my leader had asked this question to me before I decided to resign.” He went on to confide how much he loved the organization he had built his career in and over time grown out of his role, but as they grew bigger no one ever asked him on how was he doing. Even when he approached with an offer to take on new roles, he was asked to continue with what he did just because he was good at it. His being a top performer started working against him – the promotion and salary bump wasn’t going to help anymore. He had simply lost a place mentally in the rowing team. His strokes weren’t quick enough, not because he wasn’t good at it but mainly because his personal sense of purpose did not align any more with the organizational purpose. The True North on his compass had swung the other way. He finally decided to move on and find another rowing team where he could hopefully make the connection. His manager admired him and was quite willing to make changes but it was just a little too late.

Let us consider this simple approach for a moment. Can we save some high performers who can contribute to those critical inflection points in the market performance of an organization? I leave this question for you to mull over and answer.