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Your Team’s Journey to Peak Performance
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The BIG Idea Behind Your Team’s BIG Numbers

People, culture, talent and teams – typically called the ‘soft’ or ‘messy’ stuff – can and should be scientifically measured and managed.  It requires the same (if not greater) level of science, sophistication and skill as any other aspect of business. 

The ‘Soft Stuff’ is Messy & Unmeasurable!!

Traditionally people, talent and teams has been called the ‘soft stuff’.  By contrast other aspects of management, such as strategy, systems and structures were classified as ‘hard’.  That is ironic, given that the people stuff is often the hardest (or most difficult) of all. 

Add culture, personalities and politics to the mix – then the people stuff isn’t just hard, it can be messy and unmeasurable too. That however is the old way of thinking, and it is a dangerous and self-fulfilling philosophy.

Soft Vs Hard – A False Dichotomy?

The world of management has traditionally been divided into two realms – as shown below.

The ‘Hard Suff’The ‘Soft Stuff’
Strategy, Structure & SystemsPeople, Culture, Talent, & Teams
49% of Success51% of success
It’s Logical & AnalyticalIt’s Messy – Often Defies Logic
Easy to Manage & ControlDifficult to Manage & Control
Easy to Measure (many KPIs)Difficult to Measure (few KPIs)
The Solution is Technical (tools, techniques & skills)The Solution is Adaptive (attitudes & behaviors)

This ‘hard’ – ‘soft’ dichotomy has a natural appeal:

  • Managers have been trained to make decisions based on logic and analysis – to find what is broken and fix it as if they were working on a machine. But people are not machines. Human behavior is complex and unpredictable.  People often say one thing and do another, for example.
  • The org. chart reveals the formal organization and its visible structure, but the organization is also a complex social system that is difficult to manage or even define. 
  • The opportunities and challenges facing the organization have an adaptive, as well as a technical element.  That is to say tools, techniques & skills are only a part of the solution.  For example, strategy aims to shape the future of the organization, however ‘culture eats strategy for breakfast’.  Executing on strategy often ‘comes up short’ when it requires changing attitudes and behaviors.

Natural appeal aside, ‘hard’ – ‘soft’ dichotomy is not very helpful to the modern leader

It Matters too Much to be Unmeasurable!

Whether it is ‘hard’ or ‘soft’, people, culture, talent and teams is estimated to account for around 51% of organizational success and performance. That figure is based on research from the big consulting houses1, as well as academia2. It is also borne out by our own work3. So, whether it is ‘hard’ or ‘soft’, there can be little doubt of its importance.

For managers to consign something that accounts for 50% of success to the category of ‘unmeasurable’ and ‘unmanageable’, would be a gross dereliction of duty.

Measuring the Soft & Messy Stuff

While a variety of KPIs and metrics are used within organizations, few specifically relate to the executive team and its own performance or performance potential.

KPIs and measurement dominate the ‘hard stuff’, but are typically absent when it comes to people, culture, talent and teams. However, if ‘what gets measured gets managed’, then the lack of measurement in respect of the soft stuff is a warning sign.   

There are KPIs for the business, but what are the key indicators of the performance and potential of an executive business team?

Any Key Success Factor, if neglected, becomes a risk to success. The ‘soft’ stuff needs to be attended to with the same science, sophistication and skill as any other aspect of business. However, for many leaders, talent and teams is a blind spot, one that follows logically from the way business executives have been trained, as well as how they are measured and rewarded.

By a more scientific approach to managing the soft stuff we are not talking about a return to the ‘cog in the machine’ principles of the long de-bunked scientific school of management. Indeed, we are not talking about ‘management’ (in the traditional sense) at all, but rather leadership. The aim is to create an environment where people can unlock their full talent, passion and skill.

Measuring the Soft Stuff

Just as your strategy, project or initiative needs numbers so does your team.  Numbers that will tell you how it is doing, allow you to set goals and to track progress.

We are among the growing number who believe that measurement, analysis and data should be applied to Talent and Teams as it would be to any other area of the business.

That any investment in a team should be based on an analysis of needs, a clear set of goals and an estimate of the potential business impact.

There are KPIs for the business, but what are the key indicators of the performance and potential of an executive business team?

This we explore using a framework of analysis centered on 4 BIG numbers relating to the collective performance and the potential of your team, including metrics relating to its health and vitality too.

The 4 BIG Numbers - a new set of KPIs called KPPIs (the extra P is for potental)

These are a special kind of KPI –  KPPIs – the extra p is for potential

There is a BIG idea behind the BIG numbers. That people, culture, talent and teams – typically called the ‘soft’ or ‘messy’ stuff – can and should be scientifically measured and managed.  It requires the same (if not greater) level of science, sophistication and skill as any other aspect of business.

This measurement is not for the sake of control, but for the sake of better undemanding and greater awareness. It is not Taylor-like clipboard measurement, but illuminates the system within which people are operating and the situational factors that shape their performance and their potential.

Why Look at Collective Performance Potential

More and more work is being done by teams, yet there is little management sophistication applied to this area. Indeed, it could be argued that many organizations are ‘functionally blind’ to teams. For example:

  • The battle for talent has focused on hiring the best – the so called ‘A players’. But individual high performers often struggle with teamwork and collaboration.  Besides, can a few ‘A players’ really have sufficient impact when most people are operating at less than two thirds of their full potential?   
  • People are brought together and expected to perform as a team. Little attention is given to ensuring that the team is set-up for success – that the right people are in the right roles, doing the right work, working together in the right way and so on. The result is frequently disappointment and frustration. 
  • While an accurate inventory of physical assets is considered essential, many leaders struggle to answer questions such as how many teams there are, which ones are performing, and which ones are not, or even the difference between a ‘group’ and a ‘team’.
  • Important projects and initiatives require effective cross-functional collaboration. This necessitates that more work is done outside the traditional hierarchy in a matrix of teams that span functional boundaries.  That is a real challenge for top-down hierarchical organizations.

Individual performance is complicated, with a variety of factors at play, such as skill, motivation, discipline and so on.  But the performance of a team of people is even more complex still.  It requires more than simply bringing a group of individual high performers together and calling it a ‘team’.

  1. McKinsey data puts the performance impact of ‘the soft’ (using the term organizational health) higher at 53%. see: Scott Keller & Colin Price, ‘Beyond Performance: How Great Organizations Build Ultimate Competitive Advantage’, Wiley 2011. []
  2. See: Alex “Sandy” Pentland, ‘The New Science of Building Great Teams’, HBR, Apr. 2012.  This research in a call centre environment suggests that patterns of communication among teams (in particular levels of energy, exploration and engagement) account for as much as 50% of the performance gap between the worst and the best.  Link:  https://hbr.org/2012/04/the-new-science-of-building-great-teams/ar/1 []
  3. Ray Collis & John O Gorman, Growth Pitstop, ASG Press, 2016 []

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