How to improve employee performance
If it isn’t clear already, my professional focus is on helping organisations build people-centric organisations. To that end, I encourage leaders to consider cognition as an asset class. Much of the market attention is on artificial cognition (AI). But it is human cognition where the most significant value creation opportunities exist.
Not everyone shares this view. Within those leaders who do acknowledge the important role people in respect of business value, few are acting in a manner that suggests they genuinely believe it. The acid test being whether they have talent management represented in their top team.
Think of each worker as a cognitive stream. Preferably, these streams merge to create a cognitive river. Think of innovation as the fish that swim in that river. So job number one for leaders is cognitive confluence, ensuring those streams all flow in a manner that leads to the creation of a corporate cognitive Danube.
Unlike a lake, a river will cease to exist if the streams dry up. So job number two is to maximise the capacity of each stream. Another way to express this is to minimise cognitive leakage. Many organisations today are squandering the cognitive capacity of their people and thus either the river fails to establish itself or the organisation fails to fish.
Not everyone gets this. You and your fellow leaders need to see people as more than just cogs in your factory machine. Your focus is to get the best out of your people, not sweat them to breaking point.
Dwelling on cognitive leakage, here are actions you can take to plug those perforations.
- Stop making people travel to work during the rush hour. I might start out on a Monday morning brimming with ideas and a strong desire to be innovative. But by Wednesday, I will have waded through rush hour traffic / transport five times. Rush hours deplete cognition. Negotiating other people in a manner that doesn’t result in aggressive confrontation takes skill and has a cognitive energy cost. That energy could better be used on improving your clients’ condition.
- Stop making your people use vexing IT systems. Invest in user-friendly tech or invest in teaching your people how to use your systems to reduce wasteful cognitive friction.
- Stop forcing people to work from home, or from the office. Let them work where they will do their best work. This depends on the nature of the work. Is it collaborative or does it require deep thinking?
- Avoid micromanagement. Humans need some degree of autonomy and latitude. Bearing down on your people simply increases their anxiety and causes them to cognitively dry up.
- Optimise the workplace, wherever that is and wherever you can, to promote cognitive flow. Create places for both collaborative and deep work. Think of your workplace as a cognitive gymnasium. So create spaces for people to move, socialise and play. Social spaces in particular are breeding grounds for serendipity.
Perhaps ensuring HR buys into this post-industrial approach to talent management might be the first step?
Trust will be woven into your cultural fabric, once your people see that you care about getting the best from them, rather than simply the most. Trust is the precursor for innovation. And innovation is the precursor for staying in the game.