Top Performer Perspective: Dealing with Bureaucracy
How many times have you heard someone say something like: “It’s just too hard to get anything done in this organization”? Or maybe you’ve said it yourself. Organizations create bureaucracy. Bureaucracy creates friction. Friction makes it hard to get things done. We all understand that—well, maybe not all of us.
We recently met with a top performer in a Global 2000 organization. We had already connected with several people in various leadership roles, so we thought we had a pretty good handle on what to expect from our discussion with the top performers. Leadership had primed us to expect some complaints about the administrative hassles of getting work done. So we probed the top performer about how she deals with those difficulties.
Imagine our surprise when she responded: “It’s not really a hassle. It’s just the way things are around here.” She clearly did not share the view that bureaucracy prevented her from accomplishing her goals. Instead, she had what we’ve come to call the hygiene perspective of bureaucracy.
That perspective is shared by top performers across roles and industries. Getting things done in a bureaucracy is just a hygiene factor: It is the way it is, so get used to it. Don’t complain about it. Just do what you have to do so you can move on to other, more valuable tasks that produce outcomes that really matter.
Now this was our question to leadership: if you thought a problem was impacting performance, then why haven’t you already done something about it? But that’s a topic for another day.
Question to ponder:
- How do you view bureaucracy?
Common Traits of Top Performers
One of the questions we’re frequently asked is “what do top performers have in common?” Leaders understand that each role is unique and that top performance in each of those roles is also unique. In other words, content is king (how a top performer produces excellence), and context is queen (the specifics of the role, the organization, and the mission). But people still want to know whether there are some commonalities that apply across multiple roles. Said another way, are there traits that can help determine whether a person is likely to be successful in any role in which he or she is placed?
So to that end, we’ve taken a look at scores of roles across dozens of organizations to see what commonalities emerge. Somewhat to our surprise and delight, there are, in fact, several characteristics that stand out as common attributes or traits. We do not represent these traits as exhaustively or conclusively proven predictors of success. Nor are we positioning the lack of any given trait as a diagnosis of why someone may not have excelled. All we are saying is that top performers in disparate roles from different organizations across multiple industries often share a few core traits that warrant further discussion, particularly if you are trying to recruit and select talent for your organization. We readily admit that we have a built-in selection bias—we are looking at the traits of proven top performers. We also admit that our sample only includes a certain type of role: roles that leaders have decided are crucial for driving organizational success. But with those caveats, we will share our observations over the next several blog posts. We welcome your feedback, your challenges, and your questions as we jointly seek to gain insight from these observations.
Questions to ponder:
- Do your top performers seem to have a few core characteristics in common?
- Do you select people based on characteristics, skill sets, experience, or a blend of all three?
Can Outcomes and Competencies Coexist?
Recently several of us were discussing the question of whether outcomes and competencies can coexist. If you’ve followed our blog for long, you’ll remember that we’ve written about how competencies are too general to help improve the performance and productivity of people in specific roles. But the question still comes up frequently, so here is our answer.
Yes, they can coexist. This happens when we acknowledge that the two approaches are completely different and can help organizations meet different challenges. For managers who are striving to improve their hiring processes by recruiting better, stronger candidates that fit a desired set of characteristics, competencies can be very helpful. A well-designed set of competencies can provide a model for the type of employee an organization is seeking. A significant but rarely considered nuance in that process is the notion that hiring can be either internal or external. The implications are that competencies can also help when creating career-development models for people as they define their journey through the various roles in the organization.
However, once employees land in a role, the competency model will not help them perform in that role. Many organizations make the mistake of attempting to use a general competency model to help people become excellent in their roles. Only an outcomes model can do that.
Question to ponder:
- Is your organization clear on the difference between competencies and outcomes-based competence?