Mr. Z’s organization is a high-tech manufacturer that certainly seems exceptional. They are growing despite our current ‘tricky’ economy which is, as I have often said, a result of their employing truly talented managers and staff combined with their ‘we can always get better’ continuous improvement culture. Mr. Z, a member of the senior management team, contributes to leading this culture, and his devotion to his own performance development is shown in his enthusiasm in having me help him to further expand on his already impressive skillset. The growth-oriented, progressive nature of both the organization and Mr. Z certainly fits with CAES and our approach.
A few months ago, Mr. Z’s organization hired me to evaluate and enhance his performance capabilities as part of a specific certification project. As part of a team, my associate would focus on the evaluation and development of Mr. Z’s technical skills, and my emphasis would be toward his non-technical side, with part of my role being to make suggestions regarding any performance enhancement initiatives that would elevate his already exceptional performance even further.
As we approached July our program was on track. I had completed my non-technical evaluations, and had also integrated my results with my associate’s technical review. I had gained consensus on my findings with Mr. Z, after which I wrote our performance development document (Learning Plan) where we identified some agreed upon performance enhancement initiatives. As always, I tried to focus on a few key performance traits that, due to their nature, would influence some other performance characteristics.
In Mr. Z’s case, one area that I felt would be a good place to start was increasing his awareness of people and in his environment. Please don’t misunderstand, Mr. Z’s environmental awareness is above-average for most engineers and other highly technical people. But due to his high growth potential, and expanding leadership role, I felt that increasing this performance characteristic would accelerate his further development in such ways as;
further expanding his ability to see the interrelatedness of processes and events (see the bigger picture),
gaining a better understanding of the people he works with and their motivations,
developing even greater communication skills, active listening skills and influencing techniques,
enhanced interpersonal relationship development,
gaining more awareness of his personal productivity strengths and weaknesses, and
increasing his overall leadership and managerial performance capability.
In other words, should Mr. Z see his environment, and the people within it, in slightly different ways he could increase his performance effectiveness when interacting with them.
Knowing that we were going to miss about four weeks around Mr. Z’s July vacation, and not wanting to lose momentum, I suggested an approach that he could try while on his holiday. I offered some ideas that I felt would not only contribute to his development of enhanced awareness, but would also make his vacation even more enjoyable. As usual, Mr. Z jumped at my suggestions, and also proposed that he would get his wife involved as well.
The Return of Mr. Z
Four weeks later I met with Mr. Z. Before discussing the results of his vacation ‘assignment’, he immediately updated me on what was happening at his work. Careful not to read too much into it, I did notice that he seemed to be more attuned to the environment as he described the people and events, there was more detail in his explanation, he was prioritizing what was most important in he evaluation, and he often mentioned the subtle differences in his impressions despite the fact that he had only been away for two weeks. It was possible that he was seeing things in a new way, or at least a little differently.
After we had finished with the organizational updates I asked him about his vacation. Clearly excited, Mr. Z then proceeded to give me numerous examples of how he, his wife and his children had applied my suggestions and how they had worked for them. He then said … “Thank you for helping us have the best vacation that we have ever had”. I certainly had not expected this. What had started as an exercise that was simply intended to help Mr. Z to practice techniques which could later be applied in his work, had transformed into an immediate result where not only he, but his whole family, had a better vacation experience.
So What Happened?
First of all, it is important to remember that, change only happens if people actually put in the effort to implement suggestions made. And while this may seem obvious, too often people attend educational sessions, participate in developmental programs or receive coaching suggestions that they later fail to implement (or experiment with) which significantly diminishes the value of the information received. Not only did Mr. Z try the suggestions, he added to them by making his own adaptations, such as including his family, and expanding on how the ideas could be used, which as a result made them even more applicable and successful. Here is a list of some of the results that were experienced due to Mr. Z’s family’s increased awareness on their vacation;
everyone focused more on being in the moment and noticed more detail in their experiences
each experience was more vivid, had a greater impact and will be more easily remembered
they expanded their horizons by being more willing to try activities that were typically out of their comfort zone
family members were better able to prioritize information, and to make better, more informed, decisions
effective communication, active listening and group collaboration increased
interpersonal relations became stronger, there were increased incidents of mutual support, and interpersonal conflicts decreased significantly
they better understood the needs of other family (group) members, gained more understanding of the differences between them, and adapted their interactions accordingly
they grew beyond their usual thinking, attitudes and approaches, interpreting and responding in more accepting ways
their stress decreased, and they were better able to react to unforeseen stressful situations
Now the priority is for Mr. Z to take what he has learned from the vacation ‘assignment’ and apply some of the concepts within his work environment. The more frequently that he does this the more his efforts will move from being a ‘remember to do’ exercise to becoming an unconscious habit. When that happens he will have elevated this performance characteristic and increased his overall performance capability.
“A Little Help from Our Friends”
In many of Mr. Z’s examples I found that the family members were often helping and supporting others to maintain their awareness. When we lose our focus, and awareness, from time to time, we can all benefit from the support of others to help us ‘get back on track’. Often stress, and our emotional response to it, can inhibit our ability to maintain the awareness that is needed to perform effectively. Applied in the work environment, it is valuable to have people around us who we can trust to give honest opinions at times when we might be misinterpreting information or overreacting.
One of Mr. Z’s examples’ involved a situation where his wife had lost her wallet, which to most of us would be extremely stressful. She was understandably upset, but Mr. Z supported her by helping her to reduce her negative response and to refocus her awareness on what really mattered … “There is no sense getting angry about this, we need to accept what happened and move on to a solution”. That said, the family then all ‘pitched in’ to help resolve the situation and, once done, immediately resumed enjoying their time together.
While we are all human, and we all know that getting angry about a situation is unproductive, we can easily lose our focus and let our emotions get the better of us. With this specific example, Mr. Z unknowingly reminded me of the importance of my letting go of the bad and moving onto the good. If we don’t our performance capability will never progress. And while much of my work involves providing support to my clients, it often happens that my clients, like Mr. Z, provide support to me as well. Yet another reason to work with truly talented high performers. They help other people.
Jim Gilchrist B.E.S.
CEO, CAES Career Advancement Employment Services – Managerial, Individual and Organizational Performance Enhancement
Burlington, Ontario, CanadaManagement Consulting