Transforming Performance – Part 2

Last week in Transforming Performance Part 1 we looked at the first 4 questions that will ignite transformation in your business and life.

And we asked the question: Who doesn’t want to be part of a great, success story? 

Today we will look at the last four questions (q5-8)

Do you pay as much attention to psychology and emotion as you do to technology and efficiency? 

Nobody is opposed to a good deal—a dollars-and-cents value proposition that makes sense.
But what we remember, what we appreciate, what we prize, are gestures of concern and compassion that introduce a touch of humanity into the all-too-bloodless calculations that define so much of modern life. In a world being reshaped by technology, what so many of us crave, what truly stand out, are small gestures of kindness that remind us what it means to be human. As Mother Theresa famously advised: “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.” 

That’s why leaders who aspire to do “great things” never lose sight of the small things that make such a huge impression inside and outside the organization. Pret a Manger, the fast-growing, fast-casual British sandwich shop, works diligently to create an atmosphere of high energy
and good cheer that generates what its CEO calls the “Pret buzz.” Mercedes-Benz USA, which sells some of the best-designed automobiles on the planet, understands that extraordinary performance is as much about authentic emotion as advanced engineering. “Every encounter with the brand,” CEO Stephen Cannon declares, “must be as extraordinary as the machine itself.”Which means that all 23,000 people who work for the company or at its dealerships must be “driven to delight” everyone they encounter. Are you trying to move products, or are you trying to move people? 

Do the values that define how your organization works reflect the values proposition around which it competes? 

The most successful companies I’ve studied don’t just think differently from everyone else, they care more than everyone else—about the people they serve and the messages they send, about how everyone conducts themselves in a world with so many temptations to cut corners, fall back on procedure, and reward efficiency over empathy. You can’t be special, distinctive, and exceptional in the marketplace unless you create something special, distinctive, and exceptional in the workplace. When it comes to “programming your culture,” argues high-tech entrepreneur Ben Horowitz, the goal is to be “provocative enough to change what people do every day.” 

USAA, the financial-services juggernaut that does business with active and retired members
of the U.S. military and their families, is so successful in the marketplace because it programs
its culture so powerfully in the workplace. New employees eat MREs (Meals Ready to Eat) to
get a taste for life on the front lines. They try on military backpacks and Kevlar vests, the better to appreciate the physical burdens soldiers carry with them. They read letters from soldiers home to families, and letters from families off to soldiers. USAA immerses its employees, managers, and executives in the complex lives and emotional needs of the people they serve, so that every- one understands the level of connection to which the company aspires. 

Do you know how to elevate and energize how your organization competes, by elevating and energizing how your people behave?

Are you as humble as you are hungry? 

If there’s one lesson at the heart of the organizations I’ve studied over the years, a perspective on success shared by leaders with vastly different personalities, it’s that exceptional performance begins with extraordinary insights. But that doesn’t mean it’s your job to come up with those insights. In businesses (and social movements) built on new ideas, generating and evaluating ideas is everybody’s business. That’s why humility and ambition need not be at odds. Indeed, humility in the service of ambition is the most effective mindset for leaders who aspire to
do big things in a world with huge unknowns. As one CEO cited by Harvard Business School leadership guru Linda Hill explained, “My job is to set the stage, not perform on it.” 

In Downtown Las Vegas, for example, Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh is trying to set the biggest stage imaginable—an entire urban neighborhood of artists, entrepreneurs, geeks, and other creative types, that surround his company’s new headquarters. None of these creative types will work for his ecommerce company, but all of them will create “opportunities for serendipitous encounters” that can energize Zappos and fill it with new ideas. 

We prize collisions over convenience,” he explained in an overview of the strategic logic behind the Downtown Project. “We want to be the co-working and co-learning capital of the world. “The big bet is to get all these different, diverse groups together in a relatively small space,” Hsieh has said, and “make sure they have a bias to collaborate.”

Can you limit your ego to expand your creative horizon? 

Are you prepared to share the rewards of success with all those who had a hand in achieving it? 

The “winner-take-all” model of success is not just an unsustainable way to organize a society; it’s a lousy way to run a company. How can leaders summon their colleagues to rethink what’s possible in their fields, to do things that others won’t do, if they can’t summon a sense that everyone is in it together? Internet evangelist Tim O’Reilly likes to say that successful companies “create more value than they capture.”Put another way: The organizations that inspire the deepest sense of commitment in the ranks, and thus have a chance to make the biggest waves in the market, are the ones whose members get a seat at the table in terms of decision-making and receive a fair share of the value they help to create.  

The John Lewis Partnership, one of Great Britain’s most admired retailers, is owned 100%
in trust for its employees. To share the wealth, the Partnership distributes a big chunk of its annual profits in a year-end bonus that is eagerly anticipated inside the company and widely reported on by the media. All 94,000 employees vote in elections for colleagues to represent them in their local workplaces and at the highest levels of strategic deliberations. This full-fledged business democracy, complete with a written Constitution, create a sense of shared fate that has propelled the business forward. “The focus of most companies is to improve their financial capital,” argues Jane Burgess, who oversees the democratic processes inside John Lewis. “Our focus is on social capital.”

Have you figured out how to give everyone in your organization a seat at the table and a piece of the action? 

In Transforming Performance Part 1 and in this blog the overarching question that should be buzzing is: What’s your story?

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