Sub-Optimal Performance

Sub-Optimal Performance

Sub-Optimal Performance

Sub-Optimal Performance

Hewlett Packard grew to American prominence as the technological innovation leader in the 1950’s. They were mavericks that opted to buck the trend to create new markets. However, after a series of bad acquisitions and CEO’s their dismal performance led to the hire of former eBay CEO Meg Whitman. At the time, 2011, HP had nearly 350,000 global employees. Whitman’s first goal was to simplify the business by significantly reducing the number of employees to become more agile.

Work force reductions became the norm as HP slashed 250,000 employees over a three-year period. Later the businesses split creating two different companies each having about 50,000 employees each. The stock prices grew, but the potential for more reductions was an ever-present thought. The leadership team’s focus centered on cutting costs and used the constant state of the work force reduction to balance their budgets.

While known for their innovation, they accidentally created an environment of constant fear. A culture that encouraged employees to not speak up and not make waves. This led to product stagnation. Instead of employing an army of creators, they enabled a population of administrators managing a dying business.

Conditions for Success

We have all endured debates over nature versus nurture. More often it is targeted at children trying to determine if they were born one way or if it was the household that produced the child. I look at this through the same context in an organization with employees. Asking myself, would these employees be successful no matter which company they worked for? Then the question of no matter who gets hired, they will be successful here?

I ponder this question and nearly always come back to thinking of the mixed-up brothers of Bogota, Columbia. After a hospital error, two pairs of identical twins were raised as two pairs of fraternal twins. Twenty-years later when the twins met one-another it became clear the natural similarities of the identical twins as well as the differences based on their upbringing.

In the context of an organization, hiring the right person is very important. But if I put that person in a bad environment, will they overcome the environment and shine or will the culture drag them down. Either way you decide which is more valuable to the organization’s success, it is safe to say that your hiring practices and your workplace culture equally important. They are both necessary to build a high performing work environment.

Lewin’s Take on Environment

Kurt Lewin, one of the modern pioneers of organizational psychology, gave the world numerous theorems. The founder of the force field model, the freeze change model, and an environmental behavioral model. Lewin believed that behavior was the function of people and the environment. Declaring that the environment and the person had an equal impact on the outcomes.

Let’s take a bad environment for example. Company A takes painstaking effort to vet and hire top notch people. However, they then welcome them into a shitty environment. While a few will rise above the others, the general population will match their environment and give shitty performance.

Now Company B, makes a conscious decision to hire average employees at a cheaper rate. However, they make the conscious effort to build a great environment that raises new employees up to their peers. Their focus is to pick people up to join them and not leave them behind. How much of a competitive advantage would a good environment be?

Fitting the Role You Play In

The first thing I think of with good environments is centered on individuals in their roles. Typically, a good environment is where people are in roles that they love. They know what function they play in the company. How they provide value and what good and bad performance looks like.

This starts with the person and what they do well. Are they able to lean into their strengths and be challenged? Do their strengths line up with the role or future roles?

For example, take a simple look at hiring for a current role in any company. It is actually very difficult to do this with our processes of a 30-second resume screen and hour-long interview. What is even worse is that roles are dynamic. What happens to the organization when the role changes in two-years?

Joining the Tribe

The next challenge is once a person is hired and making them feel as included as possible. The first day at a new job is kindred of the first day at a new school. The new employee just wants to fit in. They want to be accepted as one of the team.

A constant theme of retirees is their recollection on not missing the work but really missing the people. The same people you spend eight-hours a day with, five days a week. Co-workers provide the safe refuge during stressful times and gives your overall self a sense of belonging.

Unfortunately, this doesn’t typically happen as quick as it should in the workplace. To be frank, most companies suck at onboarding. It is common for the manager or admin assistant to take the newbie around the office and give a quick introduction. Then go back to your cube and don’t interrupt us. The new person is left confused, isolated, and many never feel that they become one of the team.


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