Move performance from good to great to exceptional

Strategic HR Review

ISSN: 1475-4398

Article publication date: 9 August 2011



Archer, S. (2011), "Move performance from good to great to exceptional", Strategic HR Review, Vol. 10 No. 5.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2011, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Move performance from good to great to exceptional

Article Type: How to … From: Strategic HR Review, Volume 10, Issue 5

Practical advice for HR professionals

Most people in organizations bring a version of themselves to work that is the same as the day before and the week before and the year before. Broadly, this can acceptable and even spells out the potential for consistency, which has a value.

However, more fundamentally it also indicates a mentality and a state whereby people have ceased to learn or self-improve. It also signals a leadership weakness in not getting the most out of people. Even the most ardent “followers” in an organization are capable of learning and grateful for the day when they say that they have learned something. Most of all, when people say they have learnt something they feel a sense of rejuvenation and energy and this will positively influence performance. When people learn something about themselves that helps their lives, then that is extremely powerful. So what can companies do to effect genuine change from employees and improve performance?

1. Expand their imagination

The first thing to focus on is to get employees to expand their imagination and this is not as difficult or patronizing as it sounds. The fact is that most people’s imagination becomes limited by narrowness of experience and a lack of pressure. Open questioning employees can drive out what they know. The trick is to connect them with a reality to which they can relate, although this does not have to be strictly relevant to their own situation or the organization. Use stories to show them how other people have applied themselves to challenges and raised the bar. There are some fantastic stories of businesses and teams adapting (e.g. retailers moving to online or the Code Breakers at Bletchley Park) and teams working together in extraordinary ways (e.g. Apollo 13).

What we are doing here is moving employees to a greater state of belief that higher performance and achievement is not only possible, but also it can be attained without difficulty and can be sustainable. When pressed to answer open questions (how, why, what, where) they will come up with the answers to challenges and in so doing they will discover for themselves that their knowledge of the role and the business and their experience of life can bring about change in behavior and outcomes. People do not habitually ask open questions – least of all of themselves so this is a level of engagement that is extremely powerful. In a team situation the peer pressure can additionally really work to bring out imaginative solutions. Brainstorm with examples and stories – this will trigger the change and increase energy levels.

2. Prove that change and improvement can be attained

You then need to prove that change and improvement can be achieved. Demonstrate this with proof from within the organization or proof from similar organizations or proof from other situations that are analogous as they will be credible anchors to which people can relate. Stories that resonate with people are those that focus on how challenges were met and what the benefits were – they will always help create belief. In addition, people will understand when they are “walked through” previous case studies as if they were a part of the journey. This will bring reality to the concept and make them connect with the thought processes and the accessibility of finding solutions to improving performance.

3. Involve them in proving to themselves that they can achieve more

Tell me – I will listen; show me – I will understand; involve me – I will learn. There is no substitute for hands on experience and practice. Create some practice scenarios along the lines of real ones that may need fixing. This will enable them to practice and they will not have the pressure or baggage of the real situation. Create some “easy win” lead ins to help get this started and enable them to see that open thinking and open team working can and does create remarkable effects and outcomes.

4. Make it relevant

The next step is to ratchet up the activity by placing real world challenges that affect them in their hands. Of course, a framework to keep the mission tight and focused is essential, but if it is outcome focused this should not be a problem.

People must be told not to be fearful because that is a natural default for many. They will lack confidence and may lack belief that they have the authority to make judgments that may affect an organization. If you are to task people with this challenge, they must feel free to take the thinking to the level of implementation.

5. Have them work on what they can do differently tomorrow – and sustainably so

When the stretched thinking process is applied the often un-noticed aspect of it is the implication that it can have on the way things are done and what is done. Assuming that the steps above have worked then there will be things that not only need doing but also there will be things that need stopping. Not stopping the old way of doing things is in fact one of the biggest reasons for any change initiative to fail. People are confident that the old way is satisfactory and lack confidence that change will be a good thing – no matter how rational it appears. Managers and all levels of leadership must be aware of this and push through the behavioral change.

Stephen ArcherDirector of Spring Partnerships.

About the author

Stephen Archer is Director, Spring Partnerships, which he founded in 2003 with Gareth Chick. He is a business graduate with a specialization in marketing. He was founder and managing director of Archer Young Marketing and has also worked as a senior partner of Archer Solutions, consulting in the areas of channel marketing, research, organizational alignment, CRM and strategic consulting. He is a member of the Chartered Institute of Marketing and the Institute of Directors. Stephen Archer can be contacted at:

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