HomeBusiness DigestSystemic issues that stifle performance

Exiles must come back to rebuild Zim

In this instalment we will discuss the systemic issues that stifle performance of some of the people that may not be seen as good performers. We need to take cognisance of the fact that some of the people who want to perform have the latent potential which may be blocked by forces in the organisation.


The culture of an organisation can be described as the norms, values, behaviour patterns, rituals and traditions that obtain in that organisation. The culture of an organisation determines the way things are done.


It is more like our own traditional African cultures, for those among us who have a link with their roots. Imagine if your organisation was run like a village court at the chief’s quarters. In that situation the young ones, no matter how bright and highly educated, will always have to respect the rulings of the council of the elders.


Those who do not have hands-on experience of this can watch a couple of Nollywood movies and watch how matters of importance are handled in the village court by the Igwe and the council of elders. Though organisations would not have such ancient systems in their operations, they however do have a culture of one form that exists.

Most performance management systems measure the output that individuals produce at the end of a given period. They measure what it is that is produced, which we shall call the “what”. It is important to measure the “what” output because in most cases that is what contributes to the numbers and productivity measures. A salesperson is measured by the quantity of the units of the commodity that they sell.


In a soccer match, the manager of each team is worried about the goals that their own team scores. They want to see the results on the scoreboard. That is a typical focus on the “what” of the performance.


However, the referee focuses on the way the game is being played, the “how”. As they are expected to be neutral it should not be their business as to which team will win the “what” (results) battle at the end of the day.


Therefore referees and their assistants are concerned with the “how” part of the game, while they also record the “what”. If you are the manager of one of the teams on the field of play, you may find yourself frustrated if one of your best goal scorers is sent off the pitch for a foul.


But remember, the referee is worried about how the game is played. It does not matter that the winning goals are likely to come from a particular player, that individual will go for an early shower if they display bad behaviour on the pitch. So then, who is doing the refereeing job on the performance issues in your organisation, and how are they doing it?

The good thing is that you do not necessarily need a referee for your performance management system. The refereeing element can be built into the system with controls that check for the “what” part of the performance. It is important to point out that the “what” of performance relates to the behavioral elements, thus how one behaves whilst executing the duties at hand. We started this article talking of the staffers who have the latent potential which may be blocked by forces in the organiation.


We pointed to the culture as a potential impediment. The individual behaviour patterns, alongside norms, values, rituals and traditions form the culture. We will focus on the “what” from the perspective of the behaviour patterns at the core analytical point of the individual. All individuals in an organisation, irrespective of where they feature on the performance level continuum, may have behaviour patterns that are toxic enough to impair the performance of others.

Even your top performer may be the most toxic individual. A celebrated top performer may be achieving personal success through self-centred attitudes such as hoarding information and competing internally with colleagues. Imagine a sales person who paints the picture that all the other team members do not know their product save for themselves only.


And what of the office worker who also gives the impression that everyone else is dumb except themselves? The offending individual would still achieve the numbers to show for their performance.


The rest of the team would obviously be affected by the behaviour of the star performer. In most instances the offending star performer would be untouchable as complaints against them would be perceived by the leadership as jealousy by other team members who are not equally competent.


Remember the analogy of the soccer team? It is only the referee who can show a red card to a player who has just scored a winning goal, much to the dismay of their own team manager and supporters. The referee’s role would be to regulate behaviour that hinders the freedom of others to perform their own roles.

The equivalent of the referee in the workplace would be controls in the performance management system for measuring behaviours. When these are in place, the system will measure the “what” and the “how”. Appropriate weightings for both the “what” and “how” would ensure that it is not just about the numbers but the effect one has on others. One could wonder as to how the “how” part can be measured. It is important to set the parameters.

In short, the “how” is measured on the parameters of acceptable behaviours. These ideal norms need not be a laundry list of idealist etiquette, rather they should be a few carefully thought-out acceptable behaviours. The behaviours are a description of the ideal person who would be a model employee. The areas ordinarily covered by the behaviours would be, among others, teamwork, compatibility, supporting and developing others as well as self, and delivery customer service. A common watershed of the behaviours is usually the values espoused by the organisation.

If your organisation does not measure the “how” behaviours of performance, you may be running a mafia family business, where success at all cost matters irrespective of casualties.

Delivering the results matters, but how they are achieved is equally important. All employees should be given a conducive environment to perform well, no holy cows should exist.


Sam Hlabati specialises in Systems Thinking and Reward Management. You can contact him on samhlabati@gmail.com

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