There is a big difference between the conditions that can accompany strong organisational performance in benign economic times and those that yield sustained performance, through good times and bad. This was the conclusion reached by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development after a two-year research programme, Shaping the Future, tracking six organisations undertaking change programmes over a two-year period. The final report identifies ten keys to long-term performance.
1. The organisation change response needs to be truly agile and enduring, not a knee-jerk reaction that quickly dissipates: Change should manifest itself as a proactive agility, creating organisations that are open to new directions, aware of the limitations and risks of not changing, and equipped to keep moving and adapting.
2. There is a fine balance between alignment and flexibility: Although aligning employee, customer and other stakeholders’ values, behaviours and objectives with a wider organisational purpose is important, over-focusing on this alignment can create barriers to the flexibility needed to enable the organisation to change.
3. Shared purpose can only be achieved by finding human connections beyond short-term profit or efficiency targets: By fostering among employees a genuine sense of shared purpose and meaning at work, stronger connections, engagement and performance can be delivered.
4. Collaborative leadership brings sustainability, so organisations should avoid defaulting to a directive and driven approach to leadership in tough times: Reinforcing a collaborative problem-sharing approach can drive longer-term, sustainable change, agility and engagement.
5. ‘Middle management’ have a valuable transforming and translating role but are often sidelined, bypassed or cut out in change processes: Suitably skilled middle managers can play a key role as transformers and translators in bringing change to life.
6. An over-focus on today’s needs is not true talent management; it’s talent tunnel vision: Identifying and developing the capabilities individuals will need in the long-term is crucial to meet the organisational imperatives of tomorrow.
7. Truly understanding employees’ locus of engagement can avoid the risk of overattachment and underperformance: Organisations need to get under the surface of employees’ engagement and better understand whether they are truly engaged with the organisation and its core objectives.
8. Perceptions of unfairness undermine employee engagement.
9. Process-heavy organisations are often insight-light: Overemphasis on backward-looking targets defends existence but doesn’t prove worth. Organisations need to cull data that doesn’t add value and be curious with the remainder to uncover real insight.
10. Leaders don’t always know best about the long-term vision: Effective mechanisms for upward communication – that filter important signals from the ground from the background noise – can provide real insight and challenge for leaders, and inform longer-term planning.