Changing Tools for Changing Times

pipe-wrench
With changing economic times comes the need to provide tools that are flexible to change along with them. Many organizational tools that were designed for yesterday’s performance standards and not proving flexible enough to be effective for today’s market conditions.

For instance, competency-based performance management systems are proving to be too rigid for these current changing economic times. Although they have beneficial components built in, like including competencies that are applicable to an entire company, they also can be limiting.  They also have beneficial components like dealing with things like strategic thinking, developing others, creating vision, etc., but they may not prove as effective when things slow down and organizational needs change dramatically.

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In a slowing economy, the organization that is set up to effectively deal with fluctuating demand dynamically changes to match market conditions. Unfortunately, the organizational support processes that is geared to serve an organization in a more robust set of economics conditions rarely changes along side the rest of the adaptive organism. These inflexible, un-dynamic systems simply remain the same.

Examples include a performance plan that emphasizes succession planning and developing bench strength when the new realities of the workplace environment show that the needs of the organizations have taken an about-face. Imagine using these tools when faced with 50% headcount reductions. Or what about polices that boast of promoting from within, while training programs are reduced and continuing education budgets are cut.

Having unwieldy tools like this at hand is like asking for a scalpel to perform delicate surgery and being handed a 4-pound pipe wrench to do the job. It just doesn’t seem appropriate.

If a performance management system encourages development, promotion from within, succession planning, and training, does the reward for leaders adhering to these behaviors continue to match the expectation of the organization?

If there is a lack of alignment between organizational expectations and leadership behaviors, what does the lack of alignment do to the management team’s morale? Who needs to address these issues?

Questions: How do you modify the organizational systems/processes without redoing all of the work done on the existing system (training, recruiting, performance management, etc.)? How do you make your toolkit more adaptive and flexible for real life economic.organizational needs? What is your leadership doing about this?

Posted on April 2, 2009 by Contributing Author Kyle Weldon

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2 Responses

  1. Kyle: Good for you for opening this discussion. About five years ago I applied the Army’s two up-two down succession planning model. We need to think more what the next two moves are for individuals and what experiences and education they need to get there. Another way of looking at this is to look at a specific position, who is one or two down and needs to move up. You know the old saw about yesterday I couldn’t spell supervisor now I are one.

  2. Hello Kyle,

    I think that you are directionally correct as you look at today’s environment, but I would disagree with some of your assertions. This is an “and” conversation, not an “either/or”. Although you don’t give any specific examples to support your conclusions, you do give the impression that conventional support activities be suspended and a different set be implemented when business conditions change.

    If an organization values high performance and employee development, those values shouldn’t go away during business downturns. Those values might play out in different ways than they do in robust times, but the baby shouldn’t go out with the bath water. Would you suspend having leaders and followers discussing performance issues when performance now takes on an even more critical dimension? Would you suspend any and all leadership pipeline activities for HP’s when today’s conditions offer the opportunity to help them develop real life experiences in the challenges of this environment?

    Would you throw out all training activities for employees due to budget cuts when there are plenty of low or no cost learning opportunities that can be utilized?

    If some the conventions of your current performance management system don’t seem relevant, find or invent others that fulfill that system’s intent while addressing the realities of the business environment. Eighty percent of our development and growth is on the job. If some of the activities in your succession planning system aren’t affordable and the pipeline is now only half full, look at more on the job learning opportunities for those still in the pipeline. Don’t think that you don’t have the time or money to continue developing people – lots of opportunities are out there.

    I remember a CEO who, during an economic downturn in his industry, told his workforce that all of them would have to learn how to behave in ways consistent with lower revenues. He added that when economic conditions returned to “normal”, he expected everyone to behave as if the downturn never ended. But he added that he didn’t want any change in mission, the values the organization embraced or drive toward the organization’s vision. Due to his ability in getting and keeping commitment, the organization went to work reinventing the “hows”. Not everyone was up for the challenge of change and some left the organization. However, many people saw the situation as an opportunity and came to the fore.

    You mention strategic thinking. If an organization is doing it’s scenario planning properly, all possible business scenarios are addressed so that when any scenario comes into reality, the strategies are known in advance and the organization doesn’t have a baby/bathwater, knee jerk response.

    Dan DeLapp
    The AEGIS Consulting Group
    “Enabling Leaders to Develop and Grow”

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