By Sydney Hannah-Holliday
In case studies of Human Performance Improvement interventions, I’m always curious to see the interventions Learning Professionals provide at each level of an organization’s executive structure. From what I’ve observed, emphasis for performance intervention is placed primarily on the front lines. In other words, focus on training, behavior change and assessment is directed toward those producing the product or service to the end consumer.
This is fair as a starting point, but one wonders about those who are responsible for managing and maintaining momentum in the “front line’s” improved performance. While managers are coaching and leading teams through improved behaviors, who does this for them? How does a manager come to know if their behavior (deliberate or not) has any detrimental affects on front-line performance?
In the article Helping Managers Find and Fix their Flaws, New York Times writer Natasha Singer points to a company that “… guides executives through a step-by-step process of self-examination and gradual behavioral change.” The company, Minds at Work, goes beyond providing a common, more traditional managerial training model. Instead of gathering managers together to discuss how to effectively manage others, Minds at Work emphasizes reflection on day-to-day interactions. Managers’ examination of their own behaviors, aside from personal goals and direct reports, tends to reveal shortcomings and self-inflicted hindrances.
I recall a situation in my own experience in which this would have been an ideal solution. Like employees in many organizations, we were at the point of our yearly self-evaluations. Over the course of the year, we attended training which was intended to help us perform various functions. It seemed to strike many of us at once: the questions in our evaluation had nothing to do with our training or how we performed using the tools we had trained with. The evaluation asked how we performed our duties in alignment with our team and our organizational goals. Although valuable to our work, the training and performance evaluations were not in sync. Again, like many others, we hadn’t considered how our actions were aligned to the organization’s mission over the course of the year. We only did this at evaluation time. There had to be something we could do that would improve not only our training skills, but also how we managed ourselves.
This is how weekly or bi-weekly reflection partners came to be our method. It has evolved into something very similar to Minds At Work. In partnership with other project managers (including superiors), we are able to hold each other accountable for generating and following up with goals related to why we do what we do.
When I see executive structures in which someone monitors a superior’s performance and a similar, continuous chain, I always wonder: Where does the buck stop? How can I help an organization determine that ROI may be diminished by scripted or generic training plans? At what point in designing an intervention should a Learning Professional consider self-reflection and assessment as an intervention? What are the indicators? If the opportunity is presented, what strategy can I employ to move employees towards self-identifying and modifying behaviors to align with organizational goals?