Creating And Leading A High -Performance,  High-Commitment Organization

The Process Reengineering effort set in motion several months ago looks like it will lead to a more responsive, more flexible, customer-oriented company, with greater competitive advantage. One measure of success will be how well you are able to create an organization characterized by high performance combined with high commitment to a new GTE or what I have been calling “The New Game.” 

In our work with managers and their organizations around the world, we rarely find high-achievement without a bone-deep commitment at all levels to something extraordinary. Creating and maintaining a high-performance high commitment workteam or organization is the most important challenge to American managers and leaders today. So much rides on whether or not it can be achieved. 

Why? Because the continuous achievement of extraordinary results through people who are committed to a purpose beyond themselves is what business is all about. We are currently not doing a very good job of it in virtually every industry. Leaders either manage by the numbers and leave the human side of the equation off entirely, or else try to create a “feel good farm” where the actual work output is spasmodic or insufficient. Holding these in creative tension requires new models of leadership and organizational work-life.

The Championship Rowing Team: What it Takes to be a Winner An excellent example of how this works in practice can be found in what it takes to put together a championship eight-man rowing shell. We see collegiate and Olympic rowing teams straining and pulling, each shell facing the same conditions of water and wind, to try to cross the line first. We offer to you that the ingredients for success there are the same factors which research has shown to be present in high-performance/high-commitment organizations. 

“The Table Stakes” In High-Performance, High-Commitment Organizations

1. Talent

First, you need raw talent, people with the mastery of the skills needed to get the job done, or people with potential who are eager to be trained. A team without good people as a baseline has little chance of succeeding. Talented employees willing to grow and improve are the basic building block, the sine qua non (the “without-which-you-get-nothing”) for organizations. 

But there also needs to be a blending of talent. If everyone rowing in the shell is built exactly the same, the chances are that someone is out of place. You need different kinds of people to win, each in a good spot for them. Another senior executive in a U.S. client organization who served as coxswain in an 8- man Olympic shell told me recently that when he looks at people in his organization he sometimes catches himself thinking about where he would put them in his boat. “That guy would make a good Stroke.” “She’d be perfect as Number 6.” He reports that one of their main competitors in college took people from the football team to man a shell, and, while they were very strong, they never won big. Because, he saw, they needed different kinds of talent for each position in the boat. 

As Herb Shepard, my late friend and pioneer consultant colleague used to say it, “A committee of two like-minded people is overstaffed!”

2. Purpose: An “Impossible Possibility”

Having a shell full of great rowers is necessary, but not sufficient, for success. A champion team also needs a goal or target, a purpose (often one which appears to outsiders to be absurd), which draws them out of themselves and into levels of performance they would not otherwise have achieved. This vision of a possibility becomes the energizer which puts the ups and downs of practice and the wins and losses in perspective.

One of my mentors was futurist and educator, Ed Lindaman, who served for a number of years with NASA as Program Planning Director for the Apollo Program before becoming President of Whitworth College. He said that when President Kennedy promised in early 1962, “We will put a man on the moon by 1970 and bring him back,” he set such a goal, a vision of a possibility which called out the best, often against great agreement about what was “possible” or “feasible”. Very few people at that point believed it was possible. But when the leader makes a promise like that, a new possibility is created in the setting of the promise. Great coaches have that ability in spades: they can create the possibility of winning, set forth an “impossible possibility” as I call it, and instill it in the minds of their players and fans alike. This is one of the key skills of great leaders, a continuous pointing to and holding up an ultimate purpose or mission around which people can gather and invest their commitment and energy.

3. Alignment: Powerful Togetherness

Back to our rowing shell analogy: The experts tell me that the team that wins will row together. There will need to be great alignment in the shell about what the goal is and how the crew is going to get there, forging the individual skills and commitments into a collective accomplishment. 

Individual rowers with great personal skill can find it hard to submerge their own drive to be the star for the good of the team, but all great rowing crews—just like any winning teams—know and practice the synergy and joy of successful cooperative effort. When each blade catches the water in unison and all the pulls are as one single motion, members of the crew find themselves connected to each other by deep bonds of communication, attuned to their colleagues in what can seem to be even psychic levels. 

When my friend Ed Lindaman ran his NASA unit, the man sweeping the floor under the rocket capsule wasn’t sweeping the floor. As far as he was concerned, he was putting a man on the moon by 1970 and bringing him back. . . That’s alignment with a purpose.

The GTE of the future will have a much greater capacity for this kind of collaborative striving. Virtually every Best Practice interview carried out by the Process Reengineering Teams credited the team approach as one of the prime factors in their success.

4. (Appropriate) Technology

If the boat leaks or the oars break under stress, forget the championship! The technology must match the commitment of the crew. A great crew can overcome handicaps from poor equipment until they meet another extraordinary crew; then the difference in technology begins to take its toll. It doesn’t have to be expensive, just functional and it must “feel right” to the crew. 

Resisting a new technology because it isn’t the way it used to be done can be costly. There will always be reasons not to use a new technology. The key is not whether or not to try something out, but how the decision is made. High Performance systems involve the potential users to a high degree in selecting the technology. One company we know of—and they represent many others in this regard—made a switch from one word processing system to another which their IT people said was vastly superior to the one they were using. The secretaries almost revolted. Why? The new system might have been more powerful from an IT perspective, but from the user’s point of view, it was a complex monster to operate for 8 hours a day, even after mastering it! 

Your company’s core technologies must be seen and experienced as appropriate by the users as well as the experts.

5. (Functional) Structure

In addition to the above, there must be an effective work structure for fulfilling the mission, with coaching, schedules for drills, clear roles and goals, methods of monitoring progress and rewards linked to what is needed to succeed. The high-performance, high-commitment team creates an organization that empowers each person to commit to the organization as a whole, with all the policies and systems supporting the transformation of individual effort into collective achievement. 

The form of the organization is based on what it is out to accomplish, and not on a model from the past (unless it makes sense). The restructuring that many organizations endure on a regular basis are the system’s instinctive way of searching for the right combination. The answer, however, can lie in the organization’s insufficiency in one of the other Table Stakes, often in Purpose or Alignment. A new structure can simply become a new shape for the same old situation. More of the same, only different. 

The Reengineering effort has produced some striking new models for structuring the work in each of GTE’s major core processes. If these recommendations can be put into action with commitment and intelligence, the new organization ought to be better able to do what has to be done.

6. Intuition and Logic 

There is another element, however, which, when it occurs, marks a breakthrough to the highest possible levels of performance: balancing intuition and logic, feeling and fact, the integration of the inner world with the outer world. It is not an either/or; it is a both/and. Not everything can or should be worked out solely on the basis of logic. Human logic is a closed system, and one that resists new information unless it fits with what we already know. Data needs to be weighed, not just counted.

“Our thinking has created problems which cannot be solved by that same level of thinking” – Albert Einstein, no slouch when it comes to logic!

Only by developing and trusting the ability to get outside their pattern of thinking can managers truly enter the world of extraordinary achievement.4 Until then, they are capable only of what they can logically predict, and results become a matter of probability, with circumstances determining to a large extent what actually gets accomplished. 

The high-performance-high commitment system values and utilizes both the hand and the heart.5 To reverse the Watergate-era quote attributed to Nixon aide, Chuck Colson, “When you’ve got ’em by the hearts, their hands and minds The high-performance-high commitment system values and utilizes both the hand and the heart. To reverse the Watergate-era quote attributed to Nixon aide, Chuck Colson, “When you’ve got ’em by the hearts, their hands and minds will follow.” Get your employees by the heart and they’ll do anything for you and the mission. 

7. Leadership

Since people learn how to operate in a system by looking up, the way senior leaders do things is one of the most important forces in creating a successful organization. You have heard about “walking the talk” many times. This is a big issue in most American companies and still is in GTE. 

Senior executives, Area Presidents, VP’s and AVP’s, must model what they want others to do. It’s that simple. Otherwise those below won’t do it. People may pretend to do it, or comply with the rules, but they won’t be truly congruent about it and the results will show it. They will play by what they believe to be the rules of the “real game”. 

If the new organization requires teamwork at high levels of cooperative effort, that must be seen to happen at the top. If the new system demands putting the organization’s needs first and personal turf desires second, the top management team must show their capacity to do it first. If The New GTE means thinking and leading from a breakthrough mindset, characterized by continuous improvement and “outside-the-box” thinking, senior managers must show the way. 

The High-Commitment, High-Satisfaction Part

Most managers can get into the high-performance part of this equation, but high-commitment and high-satisfaction sometimes appear less relevant, or at least more debatable. “Why bother with commitment and satisfaction? Shouldn’t people today be satisfied just to have a job?” Look into your own experience for the answer here. The clear truth is that people who are challenged and committed to do something important and are satisfied in and through their work, those people work harder and get more done. It’s that simple. To go back to my roots, in the biblical creation story, it says things like “the Lord created the oceans, and then stepped back, looked, and saw that it was good.” The original word translated “good” there is TOV, and a better translation would be, “Yes! That’s what I’m talking about! Oooh, that felt good! That’s a good expression of what I’m about! You want to learn something about me? Look at my ocean! That’s TOV. . .” It’s a word about intentional effort, profound satisfaction, and commitment to make something important—and good— manifest in the world of action. It’s like hitting “the sweet spot” in tennis, or being part of a workteam that accomplishes the impossible in record time. We are not talking here about a shallow feeling or a manipulated “high,” but that deep sense of goodness that comes from knowing that you have made a difference and contributed to something worthwhile. You’ll go way beyond the call of duty for that in your life. . . And so will your people. 

Look for ways to promote TOV. The clues are not in money or fringe benefits, but in the work itself, in your people knowing they and their work are appreciated because they translate intentions into action and are making a real difference in something they care about.

Getting From Here To There

Superficial changes will not get you there, and the Re-engineering at GTE effort is a good example of a breakthroughs process, generating fundamental shifts in the way people think about what is happening. 

Moving an organization from where you are now to where you could be is the natural role of leadership. You have begun with a no-holds-barred assessment of the present state, including a thorough fact-finding process with key people representing the length and breadth of the organization involved in the analysis. The Re-engineering Teams have become forerunners of the type of committed teamwork and action needed throughout the company. They are already “there,” playing The New Game, in a real sense. A lot could be learned from watching them work and finding out how they got there. 

There will need to be intensive training of key people in the essential skill areas of high-performance, high-commitment management. People don’t just naturally fall into new ways of thinking and behaving; they resist, and precisely at those points where they need breakthrough the most. You will need to champion development work in things like:

Teamwork—working collaboratively with internal customers and suppliers as well as with colleagues so that the work of the whole is greater than the sum of the individual efforts.

Coaching—getting other people to perform beyond their past capabilities.

Performance Management—tracking and use data to improve performance. 

Breakthrough Thinking—learning how to “get out of the box” of outmoded ways of thinking about problems, and creating new solutions which change the game

Conflict Resolution—sensing and handling breakdowns in such a way that breakthroughs are created, seeing conflict as energy for creating positive change. 

In addition, a system of congruent rewards and acknowledgement needs to be put into place. It must be for real and everyone must know it. A window dressing program designed to look good will not work. The President and all senior executives must lead by example, placing themselves in a position to model what they are preaching. In Japan, it was 20 years before the first Quality Circle for shop-floor workers went into action. The first 19 years were devoted to the top executives getting their act together. 

Promotions and awards must be connected to what makes for high performance and high-commitment. People should get promoted for creating committed, productive teams who produce extraordinary results. They need to be acknowledged in tangible ways for creating breakthroughs, whether in technology or in the human factor dimension.

Why Bother?

It is actually fairly simple: only high-performance, high-commitment organizations are going to be around in a few years. Most of us have only had rare opportunities to be a part of something like what I am describing. Perhaps you are already on your way. 

Another deep thinker said something like, “What shall it profit a person to gain the whole world, but lose their whole self in the process?” What ultimate good does it do if you work hard, make your numbers, but burn yourself out— and all your people, too—in the process? You are presented now with an opportunity to create a breakthrough in both productivity and your sense of satisfaction, your TOV, which comes from and drives what you accomplish. 

It is not that you need to stop working hard, just stop working hard on those things that aren’t TOV. Working smarter means just that. If you want to work smarter, take a hard look at the seven ingredients listed above:

1. Talent 

2. Purpose 

3. Alignment 

4. Technology 

5. Organization 

6. Blending Intuition and Logic 

7. Leadership 

and go to work on these. 

Your people are a huge, largely untapped reservoir of energy, commitment and ideas for greater productivity.6 In one situation here in the USA which I know about, a manufacturing plant manager began a reengineering effort whereby each worker was asked to come up with ideas for increasing the plants’ output. They needed to increase their net 10% from somewhere— anywhere. The employees went to work in small groups creating mini breakthrough suggestions. 

But the Plant Manager got scared; he doubted the employees’ ability to succeed. So he also asked his engineering department to address the same problem, just in case. They developed a very thorough plan, as you would expect, but it required several years to implement and would have meant a complete redesign of the plant, something which was not possible at that point. 

The Plant Manager decided to go with the many little changes created by the employees, some very radical in their concept. They shut down the line for one hour, the changes were made, and production instantly went up 11% and has maintained that level for over a year. 

The “little people” have big ideas. Just ask them.

What’s Next?

1. Consider making the commitment to develop everyone on your team in High-Performance/High-Commitment skills and concepts, including how to enhance talent, purpose, alignment, technology, organization and intuition. This needs to be done in a simple, well-planned process, starting with the Senior Leadership Team, then to middle management and to employees at all levels. It could take some time—two or three years—to do properly, but the rewards would begin to show up immediately. 

2. Know that you can actually achieve extraordinary results and feel a deep sense of accomplishment, even joy, from your work at the same time. Remember those TOV situations you have experienced in the past. It is not only possible, but relatively simple. Challenging and hard, but simple. Just address these principles and watch for results. 

3. Open yourself more to your own inner life, the core of your being, your values, your beliefs, your commitments, your loves. This is where true productivity and true satisfaction lie, inside your deeper self, not out there in some new technique. 

4. Take care of yourself. In airplanes, the flight attendants announce, “In the case of an emergency, if oxygen is required and your are traveling with someone who needs assistance, first place the mask over your own mouth, then tend the other person.” Managers or leaders who are not taking care of themselves cannot take care of their people. 

You can achieve great short term results by driving yourself and your people with threats and promises, but in the long haul, you’ll all be exhausted, results will drop off, and no motivation program will work anymore. Authentically care about your people and their performance and you can achieve great things. Care only about performance and you will achieve acceptable things, killing, if not the body, then the spirit of achievement, first in yourself, then in your people.

Meanwhile, Back At The Rowing Crew

Imagine your organization as a high-performance crew, each manager, each employee, each team, each Area and Region and District, Headquarters, everyone pulling in unison, empowering, trusting, communicating with their teammates. What could be accomplished? 

Or better yet, what could NOT be accomplished? 

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