The Performance Equation: Behaviour = f (Person x Environment)

March 24, 2017
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By Peter Tulau, Partner at AltoPartners Australia

The equation B= f (P x E) was first proposed by Lewin in 1936, although he did not specify how the interaction between the person and the environment would occur. Now there is an expanded and organisationally oriented interpretation of Lewin’s original model. At the core of the model from an organisational perspective is the old “can do, will do, will fit” adage, but the model expands on this to bring to life the factors that underpin this basic proposition and lend support to the equation. To view the model, click here

We intuitively know an executive’s manifested behaviour on the job is a function of individual style in the context of the particular operating environment. For example, if we place, either through recruitment or promotion, a generally extroverted individual into the back office with little or no engagement with stakeholders on a day to day basis, it is likely that adjustment problems will arise. Similarly, if we place a generally introverted individual in a market facing role with high levels of face to face contact, it is also likely adjustment problems will arise. Such misplaced individuals will struggle to reconcile their own innate characteristics with an environment which inflicts on them a combination of boredom, discomfort and anxiety. The equation is subtler though than the introvert / extrovert dichotomy.

The pivotal point of the model is the notion of employee engagement, but before we get to that we need to understand the characteristics of the person. Appropriate levels of skill, knowledge, experience, cognitive strength and flexibility, and aligned familiarity and interest are the easy criteria and can be evaluated through basic job matching, targeted interviewing and ability testing. To ensure longer term fit, temperament should be evaluated using valid psychological assessment tools.

The working environment factors include: working structures, performance management systems, organisational adaptiveness, power, politics and culture and the calibre of organisational leadership plays a crucial role in establishing fit and is universally underestimated in the overall performance equation both in external recruitment and internal promotion. There is not much point pouring clean water into a bucket full of holes. Taking these environmental factors one by one:

1. Working Structures

Identifiable sources of executive effectiveness, such as role clarity, autonomy, recognition/involvement and the executive’s sense of achievement, accomplishment and mastery, feed directly into the prevailing culture. The extent to which these factors are negative or positive determines to a significant degree the executive’s self-concept and subsequent modus operandi.

2. Performance Management

Effective performance management depends on translating business values and strategies into readily identifiable, tangible behaviours and hard outputs on the ground. Role design and role clarity are crucial. Good performance management sets the stage for a meaningful employer/executive interaction and intelligent career management.

3. Organisational Adaptiveness

How does the organisation respond to market changes, unexpected challenges and its own results? Does it reinvest cleverly to capitalise on opportunities? Does it pull back from exposed positions appropriately? Does it release people with dignity? The organisation needs to be nimble enough to redefine its business strategy and communicate this empathically.

4. Power, Politics and Culture

Power, politics and culture combine to create a value structure which enhances or retards executive engagement. Power can be coercive, legitimate, personal or sanctioned through ownership and structure. Politics is about formal and informal frameworks in the organisation, the underlying assumptions held by management and employees about the business, and the symbols and messages which reflect both day to day and long term reality.

5. Calibre of Leadership

Leadership is the priceless commodity which differentiates the average from the excellent organisation. The relationship between the calibre of leadership and the capacity for executives to bind to one another and perform optimally is all-pervasive. Contemporary leadership is about providing both visionary and change leadership, establishing strategic direction, building trust and building business partnerships.

Leadership is the lynch pin which can mitigate the negative and celebrate the positive aspects of the working environment. Leadership then connects the organisation’s environment with both the “can do” and “will do” aspects of the individual and that person’s unique temperament, the “will fit”, to drive engagement. Positive executive engagement leads to high levels of personal motivation, intrinsic job satisfaction and ultimately to excellent executive performance. Organisations need to continuously evolve. To do this they need to secure and develop a core asset of best fit, talented executives who can lead, engage, build culture and shape the entity over the longer term as new challenges and opportunities arise.

Read the full blog on Peter Tulau’s LinkedIn Pulse Blog here

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