Technological advances, workforce dynamics, and new economic realities in a global marketplace are combining to make a motivated, productive workforce more important than ever, said Susan Lucia Annunzio, ’79, president and CEO of the Center for High Performance.
Annunzio’s presentation at Gleacher Center February 1 was cosponsored by Chicago GSB Executive Education, Kellogg Executive Education, and the Human Capital Institute.
Annunzio likened work groups that consistently made money and drove innovation for five years within a workplace to “healthy cells.” Workplaces generally also have some unhealthy cells, but most groups in companies today fall somewhere in the middle, she said.
Anuzio said her company asked, “Might we be able to put these healthy cells
under a microscope?” The result: the Global Study of High Performance, the first study of its kind, she said.
The company contacted more than 5.5 million potential participants and identified more than 3,000 people for the study, “which is a huge sample,” Annunzio said.
“We got the highest paid, best educated people from the top companies of the world,” Annunzio said.
The study showed that while 77 percent of surveyed employees labeled their work group as “high performing,” only 10 percent could support the claim with objective
evidence over five years.
“The first thing we found out is that (high performance) is not about the leader,” Annunzio said.
Instead, high performance requires a proper environment. Researchers discovered that the environment of these healthy cells is discernible, quantifiable, and holds particular attributes, which correlate to profitable growth. The absence of those attributes correlate to a lack of profit. Moreover, these characteristics were
replicable: if nurtured, they can spread. Other good news: the data is not country or industry specific.
So what fosters an environment for healthy cell growth? For one thing, leaders should supply clarity about what an employee is supposed to do, but not how to do it, Annunzio said. In other words, “Treat smart people like they’re smart,” she said, so that people feel valued.
Communication must be open. “The stories in the hallway after the meeting have to be the same as the stories in the meeting,” Annunzio said. “The biggest communication in any company is the meeting after the meeting.”
For another thing, healthy cell environments occur when critical thinking is optimized. A high performance worker not only can get information, but can also sort through it to figure out what is most important, Annunzio said. “There is very little information hoarding,” Annunzio said. Workers get “all the information they need to do the job” and company actions match their words about their value system.
Another characteristic: employees seized opportunities in healthy cell environments. In high performance groups, “new ideas were sought and tried,” she said. “Change was constantly being anticipated and seen as an opportunity for growth.” Such groups learn to identify an intelligent risk.
Companies today often evaluate employees and then work on developing areas where a worker is considered weak. Instead, high performance groups go for the “best and highest usage of their employees,” Annunzio said. “High performing groups work
like sports teams.” A team wouldn’t recruit a star pitcher and then ask him to play third base, she said.
When composing a winning team, it’s important to “get people on your team who think differently than you do,” she said.
Annunzio said companies should be careful about what they measure.
“I believe that you should be measuring what makes happy employees and what makes money,” she said, “and that they shouldn’t be mutually exclusive.”
What kills healthy teams is spreading the group’s high performing individuals
over different teams. Also, such mixes of talent are destroyed when budgets,
resources, or team members are cut. In today’s economy, Annunzio said, companies
may be tempted to cut the very parts of their business that make money and drive